Grim news on unemployment

Job centre Image copyright PA
Image caption The number of people out of work in Scotland has increased

Grim news about unemployment today - linked to an intriguing insight into the changing nature of the jobs market in Scotland.

The jobless queue has lengthened because an increase in private sector employment has failed to keep pace with job cuts in the public sector.

It means that Scotland now has 22.5% public sector employment - compared with 24.2% at the outset of devolution.

In order to compare like with like, the latest figure excludes financial institutions which faced an unscheduled transfer to the public sector (and, yes, that is a euphemistic reference to RBS.)

Inevitably, this has provoked argument in the political and business spheres as to potential remedies.

For every one who argues that the public sector should be protected, there are others who say that shrinking the size of the state in Scotland will have long-term benefits - provided sufficient stimulus is provided to the private sector to close the gap.

There is also another argument regarding blame.

Will political blame attach to the UK government, whose overall control of the economy is exemplified by the Budget due next week?

Rivals for power

Or will opprobrium pursue the Scottish government, whose ministers argued that their objective was to mitigate the impact of UK-led stringency?

Labour is in no doubt. In Scotland, their attack is not focused upon their historic ideological opponents, the Conservatives, whose leader is the current incumbent of Downing Street.

Rather, they turn their criticism upon their contemporary Scottish rivals for power, the SNP, whose leader resides in Bute House.

That is, of course, with two objectives in mind.

Firstly, Labour is fighting the SNP head to head in election contests such as the coming local council polls.

Secondly, Labour's aim is to challenge the SNP's command of the economy - and, thereby, to undermine confidence over the longer-term in the prospect of independence.

Labour's Johann Lamont says that the SNP's "Plan MacB" is plainly not working.

Bolster the economy

My understanding of Plan MacB was that it was an alternative programme urged upon the Chancellor by Alex Salmond, not a current strategy being deployed by the UK government.

But no matter. Labour's point is that the SNP has made a poor situation worse.

In response, the Finance Secretary John Swinney says that he is using every lever at his disposal, including transfers from revenue to capital, in order to bolster the economy and create jobs.

He turns the Labour argument on its head and urges action at Westminster level.

Alex Salmond has noted in the past that most of Labour's programme for jobs in Scotland involved decisions taken at the UK level.

The short-term argument over blame may resolve itself to some extent in the council elections.

The long-term argument over confidence is fundamental.

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