Last week, The Scotsman carried a story that the Labour party north of the Wall has changed its mind about universal free higher education.
The paper reported:
Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran attacked the First Minister’s stance on higher education funding as sending “rich kids to university” after Mr Salmond insisted his SNP administration was fairer and more progressive than the UK government because it protected universal benefits. Ms Curran ... said the SNP’s free prescriptions, free tuition for Scottish residents and council tax freeze had limited benefit for the neediest, since they were not targeted, and unnecessarily benefited the richest. ...
Ms Curran said SNP government policies damaged the poorest by cutting college budgets, and failing to invest adequately in childcare. She claimed child poverty had increased under the SNP because of lack of investment in childcare and nursery education, and that Mr Salmond’s administration had cut spending on further education by 20 per cent, harming the chances of the poorest to gain qualifications for university and to secure better jobs. She said:
“Alex Salmond wants to tell people what they can get for free, but he doesn’t tell people what the real costs are. The test for anyone truly progressive is not whether you get rich kids to university, it’s whether you get everyone to university. That’s the purest test of progressive politics.”
It has long struck me as odd that a family which was able to pay tens of thousands of pounds on 7+ years of private education could then have higher education provided by the tax-payer in a very regressive way. The argument, I suppose, is that once the child is over 18, family wealth is no longer an issue. Scottish Labour seem, as last, to have seen through that one. Happily for the party, it offers a principled niche from which to attack the SNP's continuing success. Meanwhile the sons and daughters of the Scottish rich can rest easy.
Since drafting this, I have been struck by the mis-reporting of the student application figures by the BBC, Channel 4, and most newspapers. Liberal elites might want to see a dramatic fall in student applications because of fee rises, but that doesn't mean it will happen – or excuse extravagant language in reporting a "dramatic" fall when it doesn't take place.