Scottish Labour's Johann Lamont attacks SNP benefits policy

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said the debate was needed now

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has renewed her attack on the universal provision of some benefits by the Scottish government.

In a speech to Labour's conference in Manchester, she said that the current approach hurts "hard working families".

Ms Lamont accused the SNP of making the poor pay for "election bribes" that benefit the better off.

Later in the day, Labour leader Ed Miliband told the gathering that he did not want Scotland to leave the UK.

Last week, Ms Lamont spoke about the need to end a "something for nothing" culture.

In a speech to party members in Edinburgh, she questioned policies which resulted in the children of rich families not paying tuition fees, or which saw the better-off receive free prescriptions.

Her address to the Manchester conference, the first by an elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, was a further attack on the free-for-all policies being pursued by First Minister Alex Salmond and his government.

Before making her way on stage, Labour MP Harriet Harman said she was delighted to see that Ms Lamont had wiped the "smug, arrogant" smile off SNP leader Alex Salmond's face since taking on the leadership role.

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Not everyone, Johann Lamont has told the Labour conference, is going to like the policy prescriptions she is outlining. As she is undoubtedly only too well aware, that includes members of her own party. It includes parliamentary colleagues at Holyrood ”

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Ms Lamont said: "Every day we see more clearly that the costs of Salmond's slogans are being borne by hard working families struggling to make ends meet, borne by the elderly and vulnerable seeing their care slashed, borne by the student who can't get a place in further education."

She added: "This SNP government is making the poor pay for the election bribes that benefit the better off, but won't tell us this side of the referendum where he goes to find another £3.3bn of cuts.

"Conference, Scottish Labour is not afraid to be honest with the people of Scotland, and not afraid to expose Alex Salmond and his Tartan Tories who try to wear our clothing while punishing the people they should be protecting.

"The SNP might not have the courage to be straight with the Scottish people but we do.

"I won't wait until after the referendum to be honest with the people of Scotland. We need an honest debate now about how we protect the most vulnerable from the cuts."

Ms Lamont stressed that not everyone was going to like the solutions, but she said that was "unavoidable".

The Scottish MSP's appearance at the Labour conference comes the day after a speech by the Labour First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones.

He said free prescriptions would remain a commitment for Labour at the next Welsh assembly election.

Mr Jones pledged the NHS would continue to be safe under his stewardship, "holding true to Nye Bevan's vision after six decades".

He said the examples being set by Labour in Wales were vital to the whole country, demonstrating the party's confidence, competence and ideas.

In his keynote speech, Mr Miliband talked about the common bonds of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom.

On the issue of an independent Scotland, he told the gathering: "I want to be quite clear about this, Scotland could leave the United Kingdom.

"But I believe we would be far worse off as a result. Not just in pounds and pence but in the soul of our nation.You see I don't believe that solidarity stops at the border. I care as much about a young person unemployed in Motherwell as I do about a young person unemployed here in Manchester.

"We have common bonds, we have deep bonds with each other. The people of Scotland and the people of the rest of the United Kingdom. And by the way, if you think about the people of Scotland and the Olympic games, they weren't cheering on just the Scottish athletes of Team GB, they were cheering on all the athletes of Team GB."

He added that the Labour Party must be the "people who fight, defend and win" the battle for the UK.

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