Today I Spoke about an alternative vision for Scotland future, a radical Labour future. I described my dismay at the SNP’s unwillingness to use the powers that we have under devolution to build a fairer more prosperous Scotland. I made it clear that Independence is a constitutional change and that it is strong policy and not constitution which will allow us to shape the future Scotland we want to see. I believe that only the Labour party rooted in social justice will be ambitious enough to develop a radical agenda for our future.
In the debate I stated:
I remember the late Donald Dewar saying to me that devolution is a journey, and it is a journey that we are on. I do not disagree with Clare when she says that Scotland can be an independent country; of course it can. I have never argued that Scotland cannot be independent, but the issue is whether it is in Scotland’s best interests to be independent, or whether it is in Scotland’s best interests to be in a union with the rest of the United Kingdom and, as part of that, to have a strong devolved Government in Edinburgh. That has always been the position that I have supported.
As we move forward in the debate, there are legitimate concerns that cannot just be dismissed as scaremongering or project fear. The Scottish people deserve better. There are legitimate issues around Europe, pensions and the pound. As I have said before, I do not believe that it would be in Scotland’s interests—never mind those of England, Wales or Northern Ireland—if an independent Scottish was part of a currency deal with the rest of the UK.
Those are legitimate questions. However, I say to Annabel Goldie that every time that David Cameron and his Cabinet of millionaires come up to Scotland to tell the Scottish people what they cannot get, the yes vote increases. It would be advisable for them to think before they speak about the messages that they bring to Scotland.
If we look at the United Kingdom’s welfare reforms, members of the Scottish Parliament accept that there is a need to reform the welfare system, but the way to do that is not to drive people into absolute poverty and to have the massive increase in food banks that we have seen starting up in every part of Scotland.
It would be difficult for me to stand on any campaign platform and say that my vision for the future of Scotland and how we would achieve that vision would resemble that of the Conservative Party. My vision for Scotland is that we eradicate poverty, and social stability sits alongside economic stability, but I have not seen that type of vision being proposed by the SNP Government in Scotland. If we are going to address poverty, we need to address the housing crisis. However, during my time in local government the SNP Government cut the housing budget and money that was coming into local government in Fife.
If we look at jobs, training and skills, we can see that the further education sector is being cut right across the country. In my constituency, we have jobs but we do not have the people with the skills; the large companies in my constituency are using recruitment agencies all over Europe to bring people here, and they are building special accommodation in Fife to house those people. Something does not add up, so we need a national skills strategy. The vision for the future of Scotland must surely be based on full employment, and in order to achieve full employment we must have the skills and opportunities that go alongside that. I have not seen that type of vision coming from the SNP Government, but the Labour vision that I want for the future of Scotland has those things in it.
We need a radical overhaul of education. A progressive policy on education would look at the less well-performing schools, which tend to have a clear link with deprivation and poverty. Fife Council made a deliberate policy decision during the past couple of years to target more money on deprived areas, and by using the free school meals quota we managed to target that money, because it is recognised that there is a clear correlation between underperformance in some of those areas and poverty. I have not seen that kind of radical agenda or approach coming from the Scottish Government.
In looking to the future, those concerns have to be addressed, but the big issue for me is about the vision that we want in Scotland for the future. I want full employment, housing that is available at the point of need and a strong health service, and the question for me is how we can best provide those services and achieve that ambition—is it through an independent Scotland or through a strong Scotland as part of the United Kingdom? For me, it is the latter. That is what it comes down to, and that is what I hope the debate will be about as we move forward, so that we can debate all the concerns that are out there and we can put forward the vision. Ultimately, it will be for the people of Scotland to decide on 18 September, but I will certainly make the case for a stronger Scotland within the United Kingdom.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3FC4OHx1ho&list=UU90_CGdTLQ6GKx8Gen-kbKA