Scotland politics

Scottish Labour unveils council pledges

Putting the SNP in charge of councils is like getting Rangers owner Craig Whyte to do your tax return, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has said.

Ms Lamont's comments came as she launched her party's local authority election campaign, with a pledge to tackle the "unemployment crisis".

Mr Whyte has come under fire for his part in the financial collapse of Rangers, now in administration.

Ms Lamont accused SNP ministers of passing UK cuts to Scots councils.

However, she also accepted the SNP was likely to "do better" at the May 3 election compared to the previous ballot in 2007.

Making a speech in Edinburgh, the Labour leader urged her opponents to set aside debate over the independence referendum and concentrate on vital, local services for people.

She said local authorities were underfunded, and accused Mr Salmond of passing on 89% of Westminster government cuts to councils.

"Putting the SNP in charge of a council is like putting Craig Whyte in charge of your tax return," she said.

'Out of work'

Ms Lamont said Labour was launching a series of local election manifestos across Scotland, with headline policies including creating new jobs and training opportunities, spending more on schools and greater support for childcare.

She also said she wanted proper support for carers and better social care for pensioners as part of a list of "ambitious, realistic pledge, the length and breadth of the country".

"We are in the midst of a Scottish unemployment crisis," said Ms Lamont, adding: "Behind every statistic is the tragedy of a family losing an income and a person suffering the indignity of being out of work."

Image caption Ms Lamont said councils must focus on creating jobs

Ms Lamont said tackling unemployment was "at the heart" of Labour's plans, and included pledging a job, training place or apprenticeship to 16 to 24-year-olds in Glasgow, and a commitment to offering apprenticeships in Dumfries and Galloway and the Highlands.

She went on to say that, while First Minister Alex Salmond had won the right to hold the independence referendum, which he wants to stage in autumn 2014, social justice was "coming a poor second".

"Over the next two-and-a-half weeks at least, let's try to put the debates about borders between our two countries aside and talk about the social barriers which blight lives," she said.

"Let's have a battle of ideas. Let's discuss how we deliver social justice at a time of scarce resources.

"Let's talk about real lives, real communities and how we can work together to improve them."

A key aim of Labour's election strategy is keeping control of Glasgow City Council, which has been run by the party by a generation, in the face of a strong SNP challenge.

Labour said the SNP saw victory in the council election as a stepping-stone to independence, rather than as a way to deliver frontline services.

Ms Lamont also said of the SNP: "They will get more councillors this time because they've had slightly more confidence or courage to put up a bigger number of candidates.

"Last time they were very, very cautious - so using the last set of elections as a baseline is perhaps slightly false."

After the last election, Labour formed the administration in three local authorities and went into coalition in eight others.