Meeting of the Parliament 31 May 2012
European Strategy and Minor Rule Changes
Land Registration etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
Land Registration etc (Scotland) Bill
Scottish Executive Question Time
First Minister’s Question Time
Scottish Executive Question Time
The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-03113, in the name of Alex Salmond, on Scotland’s future. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. When the First Minister is ready, I invite him to speak for 13 minutes—an exact 13 minutes, if you please, First Minister.
The First Minister (Alex Salmond): I will abide by your strictures, Presiding Officer.
I have just come back from launching Scotland’s climate justice fund with the former Irish President, Mary Robinson, as I mentioned earlier that I would be doing. The Scottish Government is providing some £3 million for the fund. I know from the debate on 1 March that the initiative is supported unanimously across the chamber. It is therefore interesting to think for a second about how this Parliament came to be in charge of climate change and now of climate justice. As I understand the position, when in 1997 the rules were drawn up for devolution under the Scotland Bill, they specified which areas were to be reserved. At that stage, climate change was not on anyone’s radar as one of the key issues, so it was not specified in the bill and therefore was not reserved. As a result, one of the most important issues on a planetary scale was devolved to this Parliament.
This Parliament has taken forward that responsibility incredibly well. We unanimously passed the climate change targets, and we are one of the few Parliaments in the world that have managed to do that. This year, we have gone further and established a pioneering climate justice fund to bring about some equity in the distribution of the impact of climate change. I think that every single party and parliamentarian can take pride in that. The question that I ask is this: if this Parliament can seize the initiative on one of the most profound environmental, economic and moral issues that the world faces, is it not ridiculous that we cannot take decisions on full taxation, defence or welfare spending?
When this Parliament met on 12 May 1999, Winnie Ewing famously reconvened the first session of the Scottish Parliament after 292 years in abeyance. That day was a milestone in Scotland’s journey, and the motion that is before us today marks another. Today, for the first time since the beginning of the political union, the elected representatives of the Scottish people who are gathered here today in this Parliament will be asked by a Scottish Government to agree that Scotland should become an independent country that will stand alongside the other nations of these islands in a situation of equality.
Today, the members of this Parliament will be heard as the elected representatives of the people of Scotland. The people who by definition know most and care most about our country, and who are best placed to determine the nation’s future, are the people of Scotland.
I believe that the Parliament has achieved a great deal in its short lifespan. The smoking ban, the world-leading Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and the new legislation to help to tackle Scotland’s relationship with alcohol are just a few of the many, many advances.
However, this Parliament is not yet able to make many of the key decisions that affect the lives of our fellow countrymen and women. Since devolution, we as a Parliament and we as a people have shown that we can make a success of running our own health service, schools, local government, police, courts and much else besides. Indeed, Dennis Canavan has made that very point. His vast experience across two Parliaments—26 years as a member of Parliament at Westminster and a further eight years as a member of this Parliament—has led him to conclude as a convert that Scotland’s future lies as an independent nation.
The point is that if we are capable of doing all those things responsibly and successfully for ourselves, why on earth should we not run our economy and our pensions, and represent ourselves on the world stage? Why should we not be able to make the decision to rid Scotland of the obscenity of nuclear weapons?
The First Minister: Willie Rennie is out of date. The Prime Minister, who leads his coalition partners, has said that he is “not fussed” about the date of the referendum. All the parties have now accepted that the referendum will be in the autumn of 2014, so all the huffing and puffing over the past year did not mean anything at all. It was a fake argument from a fake Parliament in Westminster. Unlike Willie Rennie, I trust the people of Scotland with these decisions. I know that they will make better choices for Scotland than a Westminster Government could at any given time on any given day.
Last week, the Scottish National Party and the Labour Party, which represent nearly three quarters of the electorate, voted together in the Parliament to attempt to mitigate the consequences of Westminster’s misguided and damaging welfare reform programme.
The First Minister: Of all the people who have regrets about the Liberal Democrats, their thousands of erstwhile supporters will be up there rather more than me. Perhaps Johann Lamont should issue her regrets about being hand in glove with the Tory party at present. We know that she was not at the Alistair Darling meeting, as there were six men at it, but we know that her deputy was there. Representatives of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are in cahoots against the wishes of the people of Scotland.
As I was saying before I was so fortunately interrupted, the key word as far as welfare reform is concerned is “mitigate”. The question for all of us is this: why should we be limited to mitigating—to lessening—the impact of Westminster policies on thousands of families across our nation? Those who oppose the motion would have us stand back and say that that is all that we can do, but I say that it would be far better if the Scottish Parliament had the power to stop the Tory dismantling of the welfare state.
There is a message and a clear vision. Westminster continues to spend billions on weapons that could destroy the world; Scotland should spend on social provision that could be the envy of the world.
Last Friday, the co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, Patrick Harvie, and I took part in the launch of the yes Scotland campaign, which will be the largest community-led campaign ever mobilised in this country. Already, 15,000 people are backing the yes Scotland declaration and more than 3,000 volunteers have signed up to support the campaign.
Ruth Davidson (Glasgow) (Con) rose—
The First Minister: I will give way to a member of a party that may or may not have 3,000 members left.
Ruth Davidson: Does the First Minister count among his number my deputy, all the political editors of Scotland and everyone else whose Twitter picture was harvested and used so egregiously against their wishes in support of that campaign?
The First Minister: No. We have managed to extract them all from the website. We have taken oot Donald Duck, Osama bin Laden and Johann Lamont. They have all been taken oot of the website.
I think that there is a bit of envy. I have been looking at the Twitter followers of various people. At the latest count as of this morning, the First Minister—that is me—has 20,490 Twitter followers. In the only poll in which the Liberals come second in the whole of Scotland, Willie Rennie has 2,405 followers, Johann Lamont has 2,383 followers and Ruth Davidson has 1,988 followers. My advice to the Conservative Party is that if it tweets more interestingly and tries very hard, it will get more followers.
The range of support is impressive. Brian Cox is supporting an independent Scotland, even though he is from a Labour background. On Friday, he spoke powerfully about his own political journey.
The First Minister: I have taken three interventions so far. I am not sure that the member’s intervention would be any better than the first three.
Tommy Brennan, one of Scotland’s greatest ever trade union leaders, is backing independence—[Laughter.]
The First Minister: I do not know whether that laugh was for Tommy Brennan but, in my opinion, he did more for Scottish industry than any member on the Labour benches.
Paul Leslie, a former Conservative councillor, is supporting independence. Most people round his way are former Conservative councillors, so I understand.
Peter Dodge, a crofter, Julie McElroy, a disabilities campaigner and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, chair of the Scottish Asian Women’s Association, are also supporting independence.
What unites all those people from across society is a common cause and a shared purpose. We believe that the people who care most about Scotland—the people of Scotland—should be in charge of the nation’s future. No one, but no one, will do as good a job for our country as the people of Scotland themselves. That is why being independent will enable our country to make the progress that it needs to make so that we can realise our potential and build a nation that is fairer, greener and more successful than it is today.
The timetable is laid out. Next year, the Scottish Government will publish a white paper setting out the details of the independence prospectus. It will present the Government’s case for independence and the starting point for the nation—how we will be governed. It will be the prospectus that is put before the people in 2014.
That prospectus will be a single-chamber Parliament, with a First Minister and a Cabinet selected by Parliament as it is today; elections that use the same system of proportional representation; local government with the same powers and responsibilities; and a High Court and a Court of Session that resume their historic roles as the supreme courts of Scotland. The prospectus will set out a Scotland that is a member of the European Union, that has the Queen as our head of state and that has sterling as our currency. On our first day as an independent country, that is how Scotland will be.
I remember campaigning with the Labour Party—not with the Tories—in the devolution referendum. We made it clear that the job of the referendum was to specify the nature of the devolved Parliament—then it was up to the people to decide which party would run that devolved Parliament. Once we set the structure of the state, the people of Scotland will decide whether they want a social democratic Scotland with the SNP, a socialist Scotland—perhaps not with the Labour Party, but people will put forward that position—a green Scotland, a free enterprise Scotland, or a Scotland with whatever combination of policies the Scottish people choose.
For all of us, the single most important question to ask ourselves in representing our people is this: is it not an essential truth that the people best placed to run this country are the people of Scotland ourselves? If we lead this nation as a Parliament should and speak out with a clear voice today, we will be better placed to build a Scotland that transcends the experience of this Parliament and betters the lives of every man, woman and child in Scotland.
That the Parliament agrees that Scotland should be an independent country; sees it as the responsibility of this generation to hand over a better country to the next generation than the one inherited, and believes that it is vital for the people of Scotland to take full responsibility for the decisions about the future of Scotland. [Applause.]
Johann Lamont (Glasgow Pollok) (Lab): I never thought that the First Minister had self-esteem issues, but reading out the number of followers that he has on Twitter to prove how good he is is a whole new level of anxiety for the First Minister.
The First Minister started by talking about the importance of working together on climate change. The message from that is that, in the world that we live in, the more we co-operate and the more we come together to identify the key problems and act on them, the better, rather than making our prospectus one of separation.
The First Minister also raises the issue of the reconvened Scottish Parliament. This is not a reconvened Scottish Parliament. This is the first Scottish Parliament that is elected under universal suffrage, which allows women as well as men to be here. It is not an exclusive club for the landed gentry in Scotland. It says everything about the First Minister that he imagines that there is any connection between that Parliament and this body, which was created to make a difference to the lives of people.
The fact of the matter is that, as someone who passionately believes that sovereignty lies with the Scottish people, I also believe that we have an independence whose proof does not require the First Minister to be given a new title. We, as a nation, were never conquered. The United Kingdom has not been imposed on us. It is the choice of Scots to share power with our neighbours on these small islands, as we are stronger together. Indeed, had Scotland been a separate country right now, I believe that we would be seriously looking at creating the type of union that we currently enjoy—the type of social, economic and political union that has brought us 300 years of peace and stability and allows us to weather the worst economic crisis of our lifetime, following the collapse of the banking sector.
I believe that, without Scotland, the United Kingdom would cease to exist, because we built the United Kingdom with our neighbours.
Margo MacDonald (Lothian) (Ind): Could we start as we mean to go on, with facts? Although Johann Lamont takes issue with Winnie Ewing’s statement that this is the Scottish Parliament continuing, the Speaker of the House of Commons has ruled that Westminster is the English Parliament of Simon de Montfort continuing, and Westminster is a very changed place. Parliaments do evolve.
Johann Lamont: I was making a more important point, which is that this Parliament—a new, modern, thriving place where the people’s priorities are decided—is what we should celebrate, rather than misrepresenting what the last Parliament was about.
As I was saying, I believe that, without Scotland, the United Kingdom would cease to exist, because we built the United Kingdom with our neighbours. That is why I disagree with the First Minister when he says that we are “surly lodgers” in the UK. He might be surly, but someone cannot be a lodger in a house that they have built themselves.
I believe that there are two reasons why the First Minister’s campaign to separate Scotland from our neighbours has stalled—two self-evident truths. The first is that it is not what most Scots want; the second is that it is not all that he was elected to do. I believe that, when he whispered, in the last days of the election campaign, that he would hold a referendum in the second half of the parliamentary session, he did so to reassure voters that separation would not be the issue that would dominate this Parliament, because he knew that that is not what most Scots want. However, dominate proceedings it has. What the First Minister failed to say is that he would spend the first half of the session not governing Scotland but trying to sell us a bill of goods that the majority of us do not want. It means days, weeks, months and now years of endless debates over currency unions, NATO, EU membership and oil prices, of campaign launches and relaunches and of declarations and registers. Today, yet again, we have a debate on separation—this Government’s single obsession; its one and only prescription for all our lives; the eternal answer, no matter what the question.
Johann Lamont: I know that I raised it at First Minister’s question time. I did so because I was optimistic that I might get an answer. Evidently, I did not.
Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): Earlier today, at First Minister’s question time, Johann Lamont raised serious questions that are in need of serious answers. I wish that she would stick to that kind of issue. When will the Labour Party get over the fact that the referendum is going to happen, and that the mandate for it exists?
Johann Lamont: I absolutely accept that, but I say to Patrick Harvie that, while we conduct that debate, we should also be getting on with the business of challenging the key issues of the day. We know that, across the portfolio areas, everything is on pause until we have a referendum. That is a problem.
Johann Lamont: That is simply not true. I suggest that Mr Swinney looks at what I said—[Interruption.]
Johann Lamont: We need a plan for business; we need to be working and talking to the banks; we need to stop cutting housing; and we need to invest in the further education sector.
The problem with the Scottish Government is that, instead of understanding the real debate in which we should be engaged, it is continuing to trade in assertion, not fact, and ambiguity, not precision. Instead of a national vision, there will be an attempt to entice all of us into a communal hallucination. Our vision for the future of Scotland starts with a vision of social justice, a Scotland where everyone can realise their potential, where we have individual rights and collective responsibilities and where the qualities of industry and community are interdependent, not mutually exclusive. It starts with that vision and then asks about the political, social and economic machinery that we need to achieve it. The starting point is not a border drawn on a map. Social justice does not have a flag; equality does not need a passport. We ask what world we want to build and then ask what tools we need to build it.
Johann Lamont: I think that I have taken enough interventions for the moment.
The nationalists judge their strength by their tools, not by the quality of what they can build. The SNP’s case for leaving the United Kingdom has changed over the years. Policies change for all political parties, but the fact is that the SNP cannot build a logical case for Scotland leaving the UK because the foundation of its argument is blind faith. People in this country have great sentiment, but too many families know that they cannot feed their children on sentiment and that a school, university or hospital cannot be resourced solely by blind faith. The best choices for our future are rational, logical and rooted in reality.
What does the SNP say about the currency of a separate Scotland?
Johann Lamont: No.
It appears that the pound is no longer the millstone around our neck that it was just a few years ago; it is now the currency of choice, so we will retain it. The First Minister says that that will be welcomed because of our contribution to the rest of the UK’s balance of payments, but he has not discussed that with the Bank of England. The Deputy First Minister says that we will have a representative on the monetary policy committee, but that has not been discussed either. The First Minister says that in a separate Scotland the Bank of England will be the bank of last resort, but he has not discussed that with the governor of the Bank of England. He is claiming a certainty for the people of Scotland that he has simply not established. Indeed—
Johann Lamont: He is happy to take Scotland on a leap of faith, knowing that he does not have the answers to these questions.
The fact of the matter is that we have a vision for Scotland in which we stand—[Interruption.]
Johann Lamont: I believe that we stand taller as part of the UK in a partnership in which we share risks and rewards and on a platform on which we can build the just and fair society that we all want Scotland to be.
I move amendment S4M-03113.3, to leave out from “agrees” to end and insert:
“believes that it is in Scotland’s best interest to remain part of the United Kingdom; believes that the UK is stronger together and weaker apart; further believes that Scotland has achieved a great deal as part of the UK and can achieve so much more, and further believes that by remaining in a devolved UK the next generation will inherit a more prosperous, confident Scotland.”
Ruth Davidson (Glasgow) (Con): I congratulate the First Minister on the tone he has struck in this debate. If we are measuring followers, he might like to know that more people were in the gallery for education questions than there are for the debate on this historic motion.
At some point in the next two and a half years, Scotland will be asked to choose and its decision will determine not only the standard of living that we enjoy but the standard of living of our children, our grandchildren and generations to come. If that decision is to separate from the rest of the UK, there can be no turning back, change of mind or reversal at the ballot box in five years’ time. England, Wales and Northern Ireland will go one way and Scotland another.
Given the fundamental nature of the question and the monumental effects of a vote to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, the very least that we should be able to expect is a clear articulation by the proponents of separation of what they mean by independence and what a separate Scotland will really look like. In fact, probably the most remarkable thing about the debate on Scotland’s future is the unwillingness—or perhaps even the inability—of the SNP to define exactly what it means by independence or to give any indication, as exemplified by the First Minister’s performance at lunch time, that it has undertaken any preparatory work at all to check that what it asserts will happen is even possible.
On one hand, the SNP argues that independence—separating from England, Wales and Northern Ireland—would transform Scotland but, on the other, it argues that very little would change: sterling would still be our currency, we would continue to have membership of the European Union and the Queen would remain our head of state.
Let us deal with some of the issues that have been raised in the debate, and let us deal in fact. A newly separate Scotland, which would have a large fiscal deficit and would be saddled with significant public debt, would not only face the loss of its AAA credit rating but be left with a choice between increased borrowing costs—
Dave Thompson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP): The member mentioned the large fiscal deficit that Scotland will have after independence. Does she agree that Scotland’s fiscal deficit will be in direct proportion to the fiscal deficit that the rest of the UK will have?
Ruth Davidson: Even if we accept the SNP Government’s definition of Scotland’s geographical share of North Sea oil, Scotland faces an overall fiscal deficit that amounted to £10.7 billion in the most recent financial year. Senior economists predict that the position will worsen next year, because of the situation with oil revenues. If we add to that the fact that the fiscal deficit would worsen—this is where we get on to the UK—when an independent Scotland was obliged to assume its £80 billion share of the UK’s net public debt, the economic reality becomes pretty clear.
Ruth Davidson: I will make progress, thank you.
We would be left with a choice between increased borrowing costs and rapidly reducing our debt level through deeper cuts in public spending. There would be higher mortgage rates, higher personal taxes and cuts to public moneys.
On top of that, there is the fundamental matter of currency, on which I will gladly give way to the First Minister.
The First Minister: I know that Ruth Davidson will have read the “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland 2010-2011” report. She is quite right—we are in the height of recession. Scotland had a deficit of 7.4 per cent as a percentage of gross domestic product, whereas the figure for the UK was 9.2 per cent. In other words, if we were borrowing at the same rate as the UK, we could borrow £2.6 billion less or we could spend £2.6 billion more. Ruth Davidson said that she wanted some facts; I am sure that she has seen the GERS report and I am sure that she agrees with the figures in it.
Ruth Davidson: I am sure that the First Minister will agree that, without the size, the strength and the credit rating history of the UK, a newly separate Scotland would not keep its AAA credit rating.
However, let us move on to the currency. Following the First Minister’s long flirtation with the euro, even he has been forced to admit that it would be a disaster for Scotland, so the solution is to keep sterling and to continue to have the Bank of England as the lender of last resort. If the Bank of England were to be the lender of last resort, what remained of the UK would need to oversee Scotland’s fiscal management. If an independent Scotland were to submit to such control over its monetary and fiscal policy, what kind of independence would that be? There would be more confusion, more risk and more needless uncertainty. That is not a future that I want for my country, because Scotland deserves better.
I love my country. My country is Scotland, and I bow to no one in my commitment to Scotland and the wellbeing of our people but, like most Scots, my pride in my country and my sense of patriotism are not threatened by the British component of my identity—far from it. Like the majority of Scots, I celebrate it and draw strength from it. Among the greatest strengths of the UK is the diversity of its cultures, which is reflected in Scotland. We have Asian Scots, French Scots, Italian Scots and German Scots, but the one thing that you cannot be in the SNP’s vision of the future is a British Scot.
This debate is about the future. It is about the future of my family and of everyone else’s family. Let us imagine for a moment that Scotland had not been a partner in the UK for the past 300 years, but that it now had the chance to join it. Through membership of the UK, Scotland would gain trading opportunities and access to international markets, as a result of which it would secure jobs and investment. It would gain the advantages of an integrated economy and the ability to weather the economic storms that have devastated small countries, and it would have the clout on the international stage that membership of the G8 offers, which would allow us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies as part of the most successful military alliance in the world. It would gain safety and security through having an integrated defence force, backed by special forces, and security services, such as MI5 and MI6, that are the envy of other nations—[Interruption.]
Ruth Davidson: Who but the most starry-eyed of nationalists would deliberately not choose those advantages?
Ruth Davidson: Those are precisely the advantages that the First Minister and his Government are calling on the Scottish people to surrender.
This debate is about the future. We are stronger together than we would be apart. The United Kingdom has massive achievements to its name and a positive future through working together, pooling our resources and sharing our rewards. I want the next generation to inherit a more prosperous, confident Scotland, and that is why I must support the amendment in Johann Lamont’s name.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: If members will allow me to, I inform them that the debate is heavily oversubscribed—[Interruption.] Could I have some order please?
The debate is heavily oversubscribed. I remind members to keep their speeches strictly to their allotted times. Even then, I warn them that it might be necessary to curtail the length of speeches towards the end of the debate.
Linda Fabiani (East Kilbride) (SNP): It is a privilege to be able to stand up in the chamber and debate the future of Scotland. This is our national Parliament and it is relevant to everyone in our nation. We have the biggest opportunity in 300 years to regain our sovereignty and improve the lives of those we serve. We need and want independence so that Scotland can continue to grow and develop as a nation and society, with decisions being taken in Scotland by those who live here. It is obvious to me that that would be in our own best interests, but it would also be in the interests of the wider world. The choice for Scotland is quite clear. We can choose to remain a bit player through the United Kingdom, being unable to advance our own interests, let alone influence the international agenda, or, as an independent country, we can take responsibility for our own actions at home and abroad. For example, we can say, “Not in our name,” and truly mean it; that is hugely important to me.
Members of the yes campaign might have differing views on how Scotland will develop in the years ahead, but what we all have in common is the fact that we trust the people of Scotland to deliver a better outcome than we have at present.
We should be clear; the choice that is facing Scotland is the exciting opportunity of independence or the status quo. I hope to hear from those who argue the case for staying in the UK a positive view and justification for entrusting Scotland’s future wellbeing to the Westminster Parliament and maintaining the status quo.
We can see that the status quo is hardly positive when we consider the UK’s economic situation and the draconian cuts that are being forced on us nationally, communally and individually. The ability of a people to shape the ethics of their own democratic society is a precious right and responsibility.
When Johann Lamont commented on child poverty earlier this year, she said that she wanted it to be tackled elsewhere in the UK as well as in Glasgow. I also want child poverty to be tackled in Liverpool, Manchester and elsewhere in the UK, and I want it to be tackled in Lagos and Mumbai. There is no excuse for a continuing lack of action in Scotland. Scotland should have the power to act on child poverty. Perhaps representatives of the Labour Party in Scotland will tell us why they prefer to see that power being controlled by a Conservative chancellor instead of by the people of Scotland.
Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab): As the member knows, I have an interest in child poverty, as do all the members on this side of the chamber. Why has progress on child poverty stalled under the member’s Government when levels of child poverty went down when Labour was in power?
Linda Fabiani: In the final three years of the Labour-led Executive, the level of poverty was unchanged, despite the unprecedented growth in the budget. If Labour could not get to grips with poverty during the good times, it must recognise the need to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
Perhaps the representatives of the Labour Party in Scotland will also tell us why they prefer to see the most needy in our society being vilified by a Westminster and UK Tory-Liberal coalition than to give the people of Scotland the opportunity to strengthen our economy, utilise our assets, and realise our ambitions for a simpler welfare system that makes work pay and lifts people out of poverty.
The article of faith espoused by those who defend the status quo, that a positive future for Scotland’s economy depends on our continuing membership of the United Kingdom, is redundant. Stability, flexibility and investment, as previously demanded by Alistair Darling, are not words that immediately spring to mind when one looks at the UK’s public finances; nor do they spring to mind when one considers the records of current and previous UK Governments.
On television recently, Ruth Davidson tried to make political capital out of her claim that Scotland’s welfare spend exceeds our oil revenue. Perhaps one of her team here could follow that up with an apology for the historical Westminster squandering of Scotland’s oil wealth. Perhaps they might also explain why the people of Scotland should expect any more benefit from the next 40 years of oil revenue, or from our renewable resources, if we allow them to remain under Westminster’s control.
The myths perpetuated about Scotland’s seemingly unique inability to look after its own affairs are legend. Recent scare stories on defence abound, although there is nothing said about the thousands of defence jobs lost to Scotland under current arrangements, with direct defence expenditure running at about half of what Scottish taxpayers contribute each year. Taking the power to switch expenditure away from costly nuclear weapons is the right thing to do. People cannot say with honesty that they want to stop Trident while campaigning to renew and maintain Scotland’s contribution to that immoral system and harbouring weapons of mass destruction.
There is only one way to give Scottish communities access to resources, and that is by bringing control of them here to Scotland. I believe in independence for Scotland. I believe in raising our sights and having ambition for our nation and its people. Most of all, I believe that it is vital for the people of Scotland to take full responsibility for decisions about the future of Scotland. That is why I support the motion in the name of the First Minister of Scotland.
Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab): The SNP’s proposition is clear and straightforward, and so is the alternative. We may have different views about the implications of “an independent country” or “a devolved United Kingdom”, but we all understand the choice before us and we all recognise the process by which the Parliament reaches a view.
That is as it should be, because democratic decision making requires a process that is agreed by all parties and a choice that is understood by all who vote. If MSPs are entitled to those things in this debate, surely the Scottish people are entitled to an agreed process and a clear choice on Scotland’s future.
The Scottish Government proposes to define the process by an act of the Scottish Parliament, although the Scotland Act 1998 provides that the union of the Crowns of Scotland and England is a matter reserved to Westminster, and so is the Parliament of the United Kingdom itself. Everyone accepts that, under current arrangements, those aspects of the constitution are reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
There are different legal views, though, on whether a referendum on ending the union is also by definition a reserved matter. For politicians, as opposed to lawyers, surely the position is perfectly clear. Section 29(3) of the Scotland Act 1998 says that
“the question whether a provision of an Act of the Scottish Parliament relates to a reserved matter is to be determined ... by reference to the purpose of the provision, having regard ... to its effect in all the circumstances.”
In other words, if the purpose and the potential effect of introducing a bill to hold a referendum are to bring the union of Scotland with England to an end, the bill must relate to a reserved matter. It could not be enacted here unless the UK Government first modified the list of reserved matters through an order made under section 30 of the 1998 act.
Lawyers can argue the pros and cons of purpose and effect in a court of law, but surely no member of the Scottish National Party, in this Parliament or elsewhere, could look their constituents in the eye and deny that the purpose of an independence referendum was to end the union of Scotland with England.
If SNP ministers cannot deny that that is their purpose, they cannot reasonably legislate to achieve it without a section 30 order to provide a legal basis on which a referendum can be held.
The First Minister: On the issue of clear process, was there not a clear process in a referendum in the city of Aberdeen? When will he accept the result?
Lewis Macdonald: I am glad that the First Minister raises that issue. He reminded us yesterday that Union Terrace gardens have been at the heart of Scotland’s third city since the days of Queen Victoria. The outgoing SNP-led Administration on Aberdeen City Council held a referendum on proposals for development in the gardens. The gardens referendum was a model of precisely how not to hold a referendum that has important lessons for us all. It was held without the benefit of a legislative framework, as the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 did not apply, and the Electoral Commission had no statutory role. There was no agreement among the major parties on what the rules should be. We cannot afford to have those drawbacks repeated on a national scale.
As the First Minister knows, there was no way to
“restrict campaigning to those who have formally chosen to participate and abide by the rules”,
as the counting officer reported after the event, and no way that the counting officer could limit spending by unregistered bodies.
Kevin Stewart: Mr Macdonald is rather unfair about the conduct of the referendum, which was carried out by Crawford Langley, who is one of the leading lights among returning officers in the country. There was agreement on the process from all parties, apart from the Labour Party, and from those for and against the proposition. What is wrong is that the Labour Party cannot admit defeat in a referendum. Will it do the same in 2014?
Lewis Macdonald: That brings me directly back to the parallel between the recently held referendum in Aberdeen and the proposed referendum.
In the Aberdeen referendum, the franchise was given to some 16 and 17-year-olds who happened to be on the electoral register, but not to others who were not on the register. Sixth-year pupils to whom I spoke could not understand why anyone would think that it was fair to give the vote to some people of their age and not to others. The disturbing thing is that the same proposition is in the SNP’s consultation and no one has yet offered those young people an explanation.
Lewis Macdonald: Earlier this week and again today, Alex Salmond asserted that Labour councillors in Aberdeen should give more weight to the gardens referendum than to their democratic mandate from the local electorate. That view is profoundly wrong, because local elections are held on a statutory basis under agreed rules with enforceable spending limits, while local referendums are not. That is why today’s Press and Journal reports the view of Mr Salmond’s old friend Professor Matt Qvortrup that
“Labour’s council election victory this month trumped the referendum result”.
Lewis Macdonald: The Aberdeen experience emphasises the need for Scotland’s next referendum to be held on a sound statutory basis. Ministers must not repeat the mistakes that were made in the gardens referendum. It is the Scottish people’s democratic right to decide Scotland’s future through a process that is supported by all major parties, with rules agreed in advance, and a single unambiguous question.
Lewis Macdonald: If the result is to command respect, the process must do so, too.
Mark McDonald (North East Scotland) (SNP): I have been weighing up how best to respond to Lewis Macdonald’s comments on the referendum in Aberdeen. Frankly, the best way is just to ignore them and allow the people to deliver their verdict, which I am sure they will continue to do through the letters pages of The Press and Journal and the Evening Express. Those letters have almost unanimously been opposed to Labour’s actions in Aberdeen.
Mark McDonald: No—do not be silly.
In the Sunday Herald this weekend, an advert appeared in which a diverse range of individuals from across Scotland’s many sectors and communities voiced their support for independence. They included a number of individuals from my region of North East Scotland, again from a diverse range of backgrounds. From the business community, there was Stewart Spence, the owner of the Marcliffe hotel in Aberdeen, and Richard Tinto, the managing director of Tinto Architecture in Aberdeen. Both those successful businessmen from the north-east said that they believe that Scotland’s future is best as an independent country.
From the faith and community activist area, there was Abdul Latif, a highly respected member of the Muslim community in the north-east and the Aberdeen mosque, saying that he believes that Scotland’s future is best as an independent country.
From a military background, there was Andy Brown, a war veteran and the president of Aboyne Royal British Legion, saying that he feels that Scotland’s future is best as an independent country. When I saw Andy Brown sign the declaration, it brought to mind my grandfather, a veteran of world war two, who fought with the Gordon Highlanders during the campaign in Burma. For those who will read this Official Report and who may not be familiar with them, the Gordon Highlanders were the regiment that was scrapped by the Conservatives. That decision destroyed some of the fine traditions of that regiment. The Labour Government carried through that policy by destroying other regiments, and that will potentially be carried further by Philip Hammond. Successive United Kingdom Governments have shown a disgraceful disregard for Scottish military history.
Although my grandfather was a veteran of the British campaign in world war two, he was also a believer in Scottish independence. Not because he was ashamed, embarrassed or opposed to what had happened in his past, but because he recognised that what had happened in terms of a shared campaign and history could be celebrated as an independent country, and, furthermore, that nations would continue to co-operate in the best interests of the international community as independent, mature nations. That was his firm belief and one of the reasons why he supported independence. I am sure that that is a reason why Andy Brown, too, supports independence, as do a range of other individuals from military backgrounds who have either signed the declaration or stated their support for independence.
Sadly, my grandfather passed away in 2010. He did not live to see me being elected to the Parliament, nor to see the start of the yes campaign, but I know that he would be happy that that campaign has started, and with the range of people who are backing it.
I became a father in 2008 and my second child arrived in 2011. The arrival of my children has strengthened my belief that we need independence because I want to build a better Scotland, not only for everybody else’s children but for my own. I look at them and the future that lies ahead of them. I look at what the UK Government is doing in so many areas, such as welfare and disabilities, and that makes me anxious and worried for my children’s future.
An independent Scotland could build a more socially just nation for our children. That is why people who firmly believe in social justice, such as Dennis Canavan, are backing independence. They recognise that a socially just future is far more possible in an independent Scotland than if we remain anchored to the United Kingdom and the cuts that are being imposed on us.
I listened to the Labour Party when we debated the concept of welfare cuts being undertaken. They said that it was okay, and that if it came back to power, everything would be all right—just as it was in 1997 when one of the first acts of the Labour Government was to slash disability benefits. That is what social justice means to the Labour Party at UK level. I firmly believe that there are members on the Labour benches who are committed campaigners for social justice, but they must recognise that remaining a part of the United Kingdom dilutes rather than enhances that opportunity.
There are many successful, small nations across our planet, and it does not behove the anti-independence parties to throw insults about the arc of insolvency, or to laugh at and deride the trials and tribulations that some of our neighbours, including Ireland and Iceland, have gone through. Those small, independent nations have encountered difficulties, but they do so and continue to do so, and come through them, as small, independent nations. They weather the storms as independent nations—yes, as part of the international community, and often co-operating together in a range of ways, but they remain true to their state as independent nations. We can quite clearly see that the figures demonstrate that the small, independent nations are recovering at a much greater rate than the large, lumbering beast that is the United Kingdom.
We are clear on the SNP benches that Scotland’s future is best served when it is held in Scotland’s hands. I campaign for independence because I want to build a better and more socially just Scotland, to the honour and the memory of my grandfather, and, which is important, to secure the future of my children.
Drew Smith (Glasgow) (Lab): I am grateful to be called to speak in this debate and to follow the previous speakers, particularly Linda Fabiani, who I thought made an impassioned case for the reasons why she believes what she believes. If the First Minister had followed suit, the debate might have had a slightly better tone.
I respect the SNP’s position on independence for Scotland, even if I disagree with it. It is legitimate to argue for a separate Scotland. I have no fear that a Scotland outside the UK would not be able to survive; I simply take the view that a Scotland working in partnership with our neighbours could be even more successful.
Drew Smith: I have just begun, so if you will forgive me, I will continue.
I said that it is legitimate for the separatists to argue their case, but it must be argued; it cannot simply be asserted as we have heard in this debate and earlier today. There are serious questions that those who promote change must be able and prepared to argue, but so far we have seen precious little attempt to do so. The celebrities at the cinema were not keen to answer questions about what independence might mean for Scotland and, as Johann Lamont said, on television just a few days ago the Deputy First Minister was unable to answer more questions. Similarly, just yesterday, the SNP was unable to answer in the chamber basic questions about how Scotland might have weathered the current euro crisis.
It is perhaps one benefit of putting the proposed referendum off that the Scottish Government will have a long time to think about and cobble together some answers to those questions, because the people of Scotland are already asking them. I say to SNP back benchers that the questions will keep coming from the people of Scotland.
Mark McDonald: I respect the fact that parties will need to lay out policy agendas for what they would do as the Government of an independent Scotland. When will the Labour Party start to do that? Does it not believe that it will ever govern in an independent Scotland?
Drew Smith: I do not intend to set out the policy priorities of the Labour Party in an independent Scotland that I do not believe will come into existence. The argument that it is incumbent on us to argue for what we would do after something that we do not believe in comes to pass is completely illogical. I appeal to SNP members to grow up and to take the debate slightly more seriously.
The delaying of the referendum is a shame, but I welcome the fact that I and other members who were elected last year will be in the first generation of members of the Parliament who can look forward to a clear answer to the constitutional question, one way or another. All my life, support for a separate Scotland has hovered at around a third, while support for the SNP has fluctuated, so I do not think that it is very likely that Scotland will choose to leave the United Kingdom. However, I do not take that for granted, and we will have to wait and see.
Although I lack faith in the SNP’s prospects, particularly in light of the strength of its current arguments or assertions, I do think that there is an opportunity to ensure that a rejection of separation is not just a negative result for the SNP.
Drew Smith: I would prefer to carry on, Mr Hepburn.
This debate and the eventual referendum could be an opportunity for Scots to affirm our place in Britain. Given that ordinary people in this country were not asked by the previous Scots Parliament, of which the First Minister is so fond, for their views on the treaty of union, the debate could just as much be an opportunity for Scots to democratically join the union rather than leave it.
The Britain of 2012 is a different place—as it will be in 2014—to that which was created in 1707, just as the Scotland of today is a different place to the Scotland of 1999. I was a schoolboy when this place was created, and all my adult life this place has existed and taken decisions—some good and some bad—but they were decisions taken for Scotland, here in Scotland. The union of today recognises the will of the Scottish people for a Parliament of their own. Home rule within the union is in my view the best of both worlds. Devolution has allowed people who live in Scotland, who, as the First Minister puts it, care most about Scotland, to take decisions. This place has led the UK with action on land reform, smoking, free tuition, protecting our national health service from marketisation, concessionary travel, personal care, opening railways and creating a national theatre. To pretend that the Parliament is impotent is to do down all those achievements.
I am proud of devolution and of the role my party played in delivering it, but I do not think that we on this side of the chamber should or can sit back. I welcome a debate about powers for this Parliament. The modern call for a Scottish Parliament came out of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and the destruction of industries like coal and steel and the communities that relied on them. It was as much about factory closures in the 1980s and 1990s and the campaigning of the labour movement as it was about emotional or cultural nationalism.
It is true that the world has turned many times since those issues dominated debate in Scotland, but as someone whose school playground was in the shadow of a shut pit, the story of devolution is not, in my view, finished.
The Glasgow that I represent is an uncertain place for many, and changes in who does what may be needed in the future. However, much more important than the question of who does what is the question of what is to be done. This debate is distracting us from that question. I recognise that the SNP has a mandate to put the question about independence, but there is frustration among people in Scotland that will continue—the SNP has to accept that.
Drew Smith: Of course, Presiding Officer.
The convention scheme that created this place was well worked out and understood, and a Scottish Parliament with tax powers was voted for by the people. In contrast, the separation case is vague and often vain. The reality is that we can share power and devolve it from Holyrood as well as to Holyrood.
Drew Smith: I am sorry, Presiding Officer.
In my view, the campaign for Britain is a positive one, and it is one that we will win.
Humza Yousaf (Glasgow) (SNP): Life is marked by milestones. It was almost exactly a year ago that I made my maiden speech in this chamber, and the feeling of great honour that I had on that occasion has never left me, regardless of the issue on which I have been speaking. It is a real privilege to contribute to today’s historic debate.
Another milestone in my life was the Iraq war, which was the catalyst that drove me towards an interest in politics and led me to where I am today. Members may suggest that that was an unfortunate consequence of a decision that was made by Tony Blair, but I leave that for others to determine. I remember joining throngs of people from across Scotland to take part in a huge protest against the invasion, with over 30 coaches leaving from Glasgow alone. We joined over 2 million others who took to the streets of London to voice our anger at what was an illegal invasion predicated on a lie. I remember, after the protest, at the naive age of 18, thinking that things had to change. Surely, 2 million people could not be ignored—but ignored we were.
It was at that moment that I became fully convinced about independence. Never again should we be in a position where our sons’ and daughters’ lives are put at risk for a war that goes against the sovereign will of the Scottish people and for which there is no legal basis. I am not saying that a future Government in an independent Scotland will not make decisions that I do not agree with; I am saying that it is surely better to have the decisions about our children’s future made by those who care most about their interest—the mothers and fathers of Scotland and the people of this nation at large.
Ruth Davidson: As the member is making judgments about things happening in Scotland versus things happening in London, I am interested to know why he was on the march in London when there was a march in Glasgow on the same day.
Humza Yousaf: I assure the member that I went on many marches in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and London.
I am proud to be an international nationalist and believe that Scotland can play an even greater role in the world arena as an independent country. Observe the huge impact that small European countries have already made on the global stage. We need only hear the phrases “Oslo accord” or “Geneva convention” to realise how much of an impression we could make. Unfortunately, in the current union, Scotland is forced to carry the baggage of the United Kingdom, rather than become the beacon of peace that we aspire for her to be. If we go to the middle east, we see what deep scars Iraq has left us with. In the subcontinent, the mere mention of Afghanistan evokes a vitriolic response. We are also hardly flavour of the month in Europe, with a Prime Minister who is hell-bent on bowing to the pressure of a Eurosceptic back bench just to keep Boris away from number 10 for another few years. In contrast, Scotland is respected across the world. I look forward to the day when, as an independent country with the full range of foreign affairs powers, Scotland stands proudly with the eyes of the world upon us as world leader after world leader takes their turn to sign the Glasgow treaty or the Edinburgh accord to secure a safer and more stable future for generations to come.
The debate about Scotland’s future is also about the values that we wish to espouse as a nation. Scotland has always had an egalitarian thread interwoven with entrepreneurialism, innovation and enterprise as part of her fabric. The story of Ali Ahmed Aslam, who came to this country in the 1950s as an economic migrant from Pakistan, invented chicken tikka masala—our nation’s favourite dish—by adding a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup to a dry curry and then, because of that success, went on to become the proprietor of one of Glasgow’s most successful restaurants probably sums up all those values in one go.
Scotland has been on an incredible journey, particularly over the past 10 years, in which we have been treading a vastly different path from the rest of the UK. Whether with the previous Lib-Lab coalition’s introduction of free nursing and personal care or the current Scottish Government’s introduction of free education and action to keep the NHS public, we have managed to entrench social welfare and egalitarianism with the powers that we have. That is in complete contrast to the political landscape of the UK, where a two-tier NHS is being created, financial barriers to education are being erected, a social welfare system is being created that is leaving the disabled community living in fear, and our civil liberties are being steadily eroded.
The evident truth is that we do things differently here in Scotland. Think what we could achieve if we had control over our own economy, tax and welfare. Imagine how we could unleash in full that entrepreneurial thirst and egalitarian spirit. That is not to say that we are better than our neighbours. It is simply about being true to our traditional social democratic values.
Humza Yousaf: No. I will continue.
As Drew Smith said, those values are not only the vanguard of the SNP. They are the foundation of many of the parties here.
During this debate, we are far too often obsessed with point scoring. I claim no moral high ground on that front. As representatives of the two main parties, we are quick to forget that there is much more that unites us than divides us—just ask a certain Robert Cunninghame Graham. I therefore find it remarkable that the Labour Party is on the other side of that debate. From my discussions with Labour activists, supporters and elected representatives, I know that they are motivated not by a burning desire to preserve the United Kingdom but by the laudable social democratic values that we both share.
If only they could see that independence gives us the greatest opportunity to act on those shared ideals. No longer would we have to spend hundreds of billions of pounds on pointless wars and weapons.
Humza Yousaf: We could spend it on driving down social inequality, reducing poverty and creating jobs—things that we are all passionate about.
In conclusion, the debate about Scotland’s future is much bigger than any political party or individual in this chamber or any other.
Humza Yousaf: It is about the people. It is about their hopes, their dreams, their ambitions and the chance to hand over a better nation to our children. I hope that we do not waste it.
Annabel Goldie (West Scotland) (Con): Having been in the Scottish Parliament since 1999, I suppose that I should not be surprised by this debate. As many do, I feel that the SNP independence project has been around for a long time: but then, it has been around for a long time.
I recall the SNP rhetoric of the past four decades—much of which has been colourful—not to mention the cocktail of slogans. “Free by ’93” sticks in my mind. That did not happen. In 1997, it was “Yes, we can”. Well, they did not. Then there was “It’s time”, but when or for what never became entirely clear, and that slogan was ditched. When the SNP formed a minority Government in 2007, at least we got the pledge of a referendum bill, but that was ditched, as well.
It would be tempting to yawn and say, “Here we go again. The 10 Salmond assertions for a better Scotland—number 1 being independence.” However, this time it is real. There will be a referendum. Scotland will be asked to make a massively important decision and slogans alone will not be enough. There must be an informed and mutually respectful debate. If I may say so, the First Minister’s somewhat vainglorious contribution earlier this afternoon does not augur well.
The SNP has one not inconsiderable difficulty. Whether it likes it or not, people know how the UK works. They know how Scotland benefits from that partnership, and according to a recent YouGov poll they overwhelmingly support that arrangement. The SNP has a lot of explaining to do, a lot of information to provide and many questions to answer. That means that, when legitimate questions are asked or legitimate concerns are expressed, they cannot be sneered at or dismissed with scoffing contempt. I have observed with concern that, when anyone poses such a question or expresses a reservation about delay in the referendum or about separation itself, an SNP lexicon comes into play. No answer is given, but people are accused of blundering into politics or their suggestions are described as being “ludicrous”, as “scaremongering” or as “fanciful”.
I have never rubbished the idea of a separate Scotland. Theoretically, Scotland could be independent, but to me the real debate is about what serves Scotland best. Is it our remaining within the tested and enduring partnership of the United Kingdom, or is it separating from that partnership and being an independent country? Drew Smith made that point well.
It is known that I support our remaining in the United Kingdom. I shall fight that corner over the forthcoming months, but I will try to do so by seeking to make informed comment and to ask legitimate questions, which must be answered before voters can make an informed decision at the ballot box in the referendum.
Let me illustrate the problem. If Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond say that they are confident that Scotland, if we separate from the UK, will have a place on the Bank of England monetary policy committee, that is assertion, not fact. It will become fact only when the Bank of England confirms that it will happen. We should remember whose bank it is; it is not the bank of Scotland and certainly not the bank of Salmond but the Bank of England, which will, post-independence, be a foreign country. The assertion is meaningless unless Alex Salmond can show that he has discussed the matter with the Bank of England, and the assertion remains just that unless the Bank of England agrees with it.
Alex Salmond asserts that an independent Scotland will seamlessly, on separation, become an independent member of the EU. He bases his assertion on legal opinion. He is perfectly entitled to do that, but he should explain that what that really means is that one judge supported that view in 1992, a director general of the EU fisheries directorate supported the view in 2007 and a former secretary general of the European Commission has supported the view. What is not mentioned is that numerous organisations and entities, legal luminaries and constitutional experts—14, the last time I counted—disagree with that view. Therefore, for the moment the SNP’s stance on the EU is assertion, not fact, and unless Alex Salmond has raised the issue with the Commission and had his assertion accepted, assertion it remains.
Like Drew Smith, I do not mind debate. I do not dismiss the SNP’s right to make its argument; it is entitled to do so. I have never objected to rhetoric and knockabout, which I enjoy as much as anything. However, at the end of the day, this debate cannot proceed without substantive information and reliable facts. Any attempt to dodge that, eliminate it or gloss over it not only does a true disservice to this Parliament, but does a profound disservice to the people of Scotland.
In the days of slogans, soundbites and rhetoric, much fun was enjoyed. Those days are over. Slogans, soundbites and rhetoric alone will not wash; they are not enough. We are moving on to informed argument and fact, and it is high time that the SNP provided both.
Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP): After that speech, I speak more in sorrow than in anger. What we hear from the unionist parties is condemnation of Scotland and a use of language that deliberately tries to undermine Scots’ belief in their own country.
Kenneth Gibson: The unionists talk about separation. We in the SNP do not want to separate; we want to participate in the United Nations, in the European Union and in the institutions of the world. No one talks about their separation day; they talk about their independence day.
How many members have talked about working in partnership? We want to work in partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom. Why cannot we do that as an independent country? We are not an equal part but a subsidiary part of the United Kingdom and we want to change that.
In recent weeks we have watched a Labour Tweedledum and a Tory Tweedledee lead their parties into a shotgun marriage, along with their wholly-owned Liberal Democrat subsidiary, which is dedicated to holding Scotland back.
Kenneth Gibson: At the very first door I chapped in 2006, after being selected—
Kenneth Gibson: I will give way in time, but not at this point, and I will decide whom I give way to.
When I was selected as candidate for Cunninghame North, an elderly gentleman told me that he would not vote SNP because Scotland was
“Too poor, too wee and too stupid.”
He used those very words. Given Scotland’s phenomenal contribution to every field of human endeavour, from the Scottish enlightenment to science, medicine, engineering and so on, only a deliberate and determined effort over decades by the north British parties could have led Scots to have such an appalling view of their own country. Indeed, I recall that in the 13 years I spent at school, from primary to highers, not a single Scottish achievement was lauded.
Nevertheless, Scots have become increasingly irked by the “No you can’t” position of unionist politicians. The situation has morphed into one whereby even the most desperate of unionists no longer try to compare a future independent Scotland to Albania, Bangladesh or Sudan, as once was the case, or to say that we could not visit our grannies in England or watch “Coronation Street” post-independence. We have had all those suggestions thrown at us over the years. However, a few of those who are off-message have made daft comments, which range from the suggestion that England might have to bomb Scotland’s airports to prevent a terrorist takeover, to the claim that there will be no national health service post independence to the more subtle suggestion that, of course, Scotland could be viable, but London knows best.
Senior politicians from all three London parties, including our old Etonian Prime Minister, have had to admit in recent years that Scotland has the ability to stand on its own two feet and would be a viable independent nation, while at the same time trying to sow self-doubt and to be scaremongers.
The next two years will be an exciting time for Scotland. I am confident that the debate will capture people’s attention and imagination. Indeed, the eyes of the world will be on us; they already are. The Finance Committee took evidence from a representative of Lloyds Bank in Scotland who said that more people are interested in Scotland than ever before, partly because of this debate.
The yes camp will win and Scotland will re-emerge as an independent sovereign nation. Why? It is because we will set out our positive vision for a nation that will regain power, confidence, prosperity, opportunity, a voice on the world stage and a sense of aspiration, while unionists will fight tooth and nail to undermine our national self-belief and self-confidence. Our message of hope and ambition will trump the unionists.
Of course, although unionists claim on occasion that Scotland may be financially sound, they believe that it should be governed elsewhere. According to the Prime Minister, Scotland is
“stronger, safer, richer and fairer”
in the UK. Even cursory analysis shows that to be nonsense.
Is it stronger and safer? We have Trident. Is it richer? It is so rich that the UK has a national debt of well over £1 trillion, is in a double-dip recession, has an annual deficit of £126 billion and is ranked 19th among the G20 countries in growth over the past year.
We now know, and the Labour members who are so desperate to hold Scotland back should appreciate, that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has made it clear that 88 per cent of the cuts will come after 2015, if Scotland is still part of the union, thanks to the work of Labour here and its Tory allies to destroy Scotland’s ambition.
With our wealth of natural resources, our educated and talented workforce, strong research and development base, export markets, tourism and world-leading educational institutions, we will prosper beyond that gloomy picture.
I apologise to Mr Smith. I should have let him in earlier.
Drew Smith: I am grateful to Mr Gibson for taking the intervention. However, he cannot argue that he wants to have a positive debate, then call the leaders of the Opposition parties Tweedledum and Tweedledee and say, “And if we don’t vote for independence it will be you unionist parties’ fault.” There will be a referendum in which people will make their choice. He cannot have it both ways.
Kenneth Gibson: The difference is that we will put forward a positive vision. We will copy Obama by saying, “Yes you can.” Labour will say, “No you can’t.” We are the people who believe in Scotland. Labour are the people who try to decry Scotland. That is the difference.
That is why we will say that Scotland can be a better place and an egalitarian place. We will say that Scotland can make a contribution to the world. We will put Scotland on a progressive path, tackle our social ills and raise our standard of living. We will not talk about cutting taxes for millionaires while the poor struggle. We will take on child poverty and deal with it. As for the Blairites—they should be sitting on the other side of the chamber with the Tories. That is where they belong.
Vote for the motion and vote for an independent Scotland.
Willie Rennie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD): Drew Smith made a very valid point. Those on the SNP benches who condemn people who have a different point of view should be a bit more temperate in their language. I have never said and have never believed that Scotland is too poor and too stupid. I have never held that view. I have always believed in devolving more power to Scotland. I have campaigned for that for my whole life. Inherent in that position is a belief in Scotland’s abilities to do much more. However, that does not mean that I want to be separate.
The SNP often says that it is normal to be a small country, which I do not deny. Denmark, Norway, Ireland and many other countries are small. However, it is not normal to break up a modern successful country in order to be small. [Interruption.] I hear muttering from SNP members. We are going through tough times now, but to say that the United Kingdom is not a modern successful country is to decry what we have achieved together as the United Kingdom.
Mark McDonald: Willie Rennie says that he believes that more powers should be devolved. What powers does he believe should not be devolved? How does he define those powers and will he explain why such decisions should not be entrusted to the people of Scotland?
Willie Rennie: Mark McDonald misses the point in the language that he uses. I believe in sharing, partnership and working together when that is appropriate. I will describe later some of the things that we have done well together as the United Kingdom.
We should devolve more of the domestic agenda and we should have much more control over our finances, so that we can do things here and we are not limited by other people’s priorities. That does not mean that I want everything here but, just because I do not want everything here, that does not mean that I do not trust Scots to make decisions. The SNP completely misunderstands that fundamental point.
Kenneth Gibson said that we have compared Scotland to Bangladesh and other countries. The problem is that no modern successful country wants to break itself up. The reality is that all the countries that have broken themselves up after the second world war have been involved in communism or war. Of course, I am not saying that Scotland is a war-torn country; I am saying that it is the exact opposite. Because we are modern and successful, we should not break up the United Kingdom. The countries that broke up had nothing left before they broke up. That was why it was easy for them to break up.
Willie Rennie: I will not just now.
The United Kingdom has 15,000 treaties with other countries. We have global regulations and we are a complex organisation that is connected with the rest of the world. Breaking that up would be difficult, which is why nobody else has done that. No other modern successful country has broken up.
Willie Rennie: No.
Another key argument of the SNP is about control and the belief that, just by taking all the decisions ourselves, we would somehow have control. That ignores the fact that we have global markets and that we rely on co-operation and partnership. We want to influence other people, which is why we pool sovereignty.
Willie Rennie: I will not just now.
We want to influence other people, which is why we come together to make the better world that we all want. Just doing things ourselves will not suddenly make things better. England will not suddenly disappear if Scotland goes independent—England will still be there and will still be a force. As long as that is the case, I want to influence our neighbours and work together in partnership.
I will look at some of the things that we have achieved together. We have one of the biggest international development budgets that the United Kingdom has ever had. It is a force for good throughout the world and we are respected throughout the world for what we achieve in international development. I do not want to lose influence over that budget. Despite the Iraq war—
Willie Rennie: No.
I agree with Humza Yousaf about the Iraq war—it was the wrong decision and it was illegal. However, I reach a different conclusion from him. I want to influence what is one of the strongest defence forces in the world and one of the biggest defence forces in Europe.
In foreign affairs, we have embassies throughout the world that have a big impact on the rest of the world. Let us maintain our influence on them.
Of course, we do not get it all our own way—I understand that—but it is much better to be involved, to be in partnership, to work together and to influence what our neighbours are doing. What is great about the United Kingdom is that we take the rough with the smooth and we work together in partnership.
For us, home rule is about devolving much more power to the Scottish Parliament. We have a strong record that we have built over a long period.
Willie Rennie: We worked together with the Labour Party to deliver the Scottish Parliament, the Scotland Act 1998 and many more powers. With that, we get the best of both worlds: we can work in partnership and have more control while maintaining our influence.
Willie Rennie: That is the best of the United Kingdom and that is what we should maintain.
Stewart Maxwell (West Scotland) (SNP): Scotland is one of Europe’s oldest nations, and we have a rich culture and history, but that is not the reason why I support independence for our country. I support independence for Scotland for the simple and unanswerable reason that the people who are best placed to take decisions about Scotland are the people who live here.
Scotland is a nation that is bursting with potential, but it is not doing all that it could do to maximise that potential because we do not have the full flexibility that independent nations have.
Scotland is well known now as the green energy powerhouse of Europe. We have around 25 per cent of Europe’s potential offshore wind and tidal energy, and a tenth of Europe’s wave power potential. We should stop and think about what that means. Scotland can and should be at the forefront of the energy revolution of the 21st century. If we grasp that opportunity, we will generate not only electricity, but much-needed jobs. We will power not only our homes, but our economy. That offers us a picture of a bright future of rising employment, skilled jobs, expertise that we can export around the world and electricity that we can export to the rest of the British isles and mainland Europe.
However, that bright future is at risk because of the transmission charging regime. National Grid charges producers in the north of Scotland to put electricity on the grid, but pays producers in the south of England to do so. National Grid is a private company, and it answers to the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets, which has been set up by Westminster. Scotland has no say in how electricity transmission charges are enforced, because energy is reserved to Westminster. In an independent Scotland, our voice could carry real weight. We could strike a better deal for Scotland and our energy producers. Changes would encourage investment in renewables to allow us to generate even more of the clean green electricity for which other countries are so desperate.
Stewart Maxwell: No. My time has been cut. I apologise to Mr Macdonald.
Of course, it is not only the power over energy production that is reserved to Westminster. I turn now to something that impacts on our most vulnerable citizens. The welfare system is also reserved, which means that the Scottish Government is simply unable to help the poorest, sickest and most vulnerable people in our society in all the ways it would like to help. A fully independent Scotland would be better able to address the problems of Scottish society by aligning the welfare system not only with the taxation system, but with Scottish values.
Under the current arrangements, we have no choice but to accept what is done to us by a Government and political parties that we did not vote for, that we do not support and which we do not want. For example, the UK Government has closed the independent living fund to new entrants and has made the decision to wind it up completely in 2015. That fund is designed to help some of our most severely disabled people to live in the community rather than in residential care. There are 3,559 recipients of the independent living fund in Scotland—a really small number. Do we honestly believe that in an independent Scotland we could not afford to pay for 3,500 disabled people to live full and independent lives? I do not think that that is what we believe. Not only could we afford it, but we would want to afford it, because Scotland has always had a strong sense of community and fairness, and the people of Scotland would not vote into power a Government that made those sorts of cuts. Scotland did not vote for the Government that is making those cuts now, but we are lumbered with it.
Unlike Margaret Thatcher, I believe that there is such a thing as society. I also believe that the type of society that Scotland wants to flourish is one in which we all have a part to play. We have the chance to grow our economy, boost business and develop employment opportunities while supporting our most vulnerable citizens—but not if we continue to be held back by our lack of powers in areas such as welfare, taxation, energy and the economy.
I believe in independence because I want our children to grow up in a country where a person’s worth is measured not by the depth of their pockets, but by the breadth of their ambition—a country where individual success is celebrated, but the care of the most vulnerable is our priority. I want a country where economic success goes hand in hand with social justice.
Scotland can be that country. We can make that happen. All we have to do is say yes: yes to an independent, prosperous and—yes—socially just future for all our citizens.
Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): I, too, believe passionately in achieving the best future that Scotland can have. I want Scotland to succeed, and I believe that we have a successful future ahead of us.
Our country has great advantages in our natural resources, people and academic prowess. If Scotland chose to go it alone, it would be tough, but we could do it. However, as a poll showed last week, a very clear majority of people in Scotland want us to stay within the UK, because another great advantage that our country has is that we work so closely in unison with our neighbours through our membership of the union. We could be a small separate nation, but we would be the poorer for it.
I am not talking about only a shared history in a union in which Scotland has led the world in innovation and in which, together, we have built great institutions and stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the United Kingdom to defeat fascism. It is not just about the UK’s history; it is about the future, as well.
Renewable energy is only one example in that context. As Stewart Maxwell said, Scotland can benefit economically from investing in renewables. We also know that renewable energy needs to be subsidised and that, on our own, Scottish consumers would not be able to pay that subsidy in their electricity bills because that would be prohibitively expensive. By being part of a UK market in renewables, with all UK consumers subsiding renewables production, our renewables market can thrive and grow.
Dr Allan: Will Richard Baker take an intervention?
Richard Baker: I am sorry, but my time, too, has been cut.
Uncertainty about Scotland’s future is not good for our energy industry. As a member who represents North East Scotland, I find that particularly concerning.
Financial services is another crucial sector. If Scotland’s financial services do not recover, our economy will not recover. Financial services are a massive Scottish industry. Some 95 per cent of the customers of financial services businesses that are based in Scotland live in England. People invest in financial services here because we are in the same national market as the City of London; if we were not, those services would not be based in Scotland. That is another benefit of membership of the United Kingdom. We have the security of being part of a bigger economy. When HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland went bust, we were part of a state that could afford to bail them out. Membership of the UK is also crucial for the future of our financial services.
“Independence” is an emotive word. No one desires to be seen as dependent, and I do not believe that we are. We contribute to a United Kingdom in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. However, the SNP is not offering any kind of meaningful independence, as was evident from the losing battle that Nicola Sturgeon fought in the BBC debate on Sunday and in the First Minister’s woeful struggle today to define the SNP’s position on monetary policy. The SNP proposes that an independent Scotland should retain sterling, with the Bank of England as the bank of last resort. The Bank of England would intervene if there was a repeat of the banking crisis. That would mean that inflation targets were determined by UK ministers with no accountability to Scottish parliamentarians—there is such accountability now—and it would mean the Bank of England setting interest rates without taking our economy into account, which would be a worse position than we are in now. Policy would be decided in London with no input from Scotland. What kind of independence is that?
Even that deeply unsatisfactory position might be preferable to the alternative. The SNP says that it will not adopt the euro for the foreseeable future, but that is not in its gift; that would be for the European Union to decide. In this case, monetary policy would be determined in Brussels and there would be full membership of the euro zone. That would mean all the economic difficulties and dangers that we debated only yesterday.
I agree with Patrick Harvie on several points, although not on the key issue of independence. Much more clarity is needed. How can we meet all the demands for more spending on welfare—which many Labour members would like—and slash corporation tax? What kind of logical approach is that to an economy? That is not my idea of social justice.
No wonder the majority of people in Scotland are so unconvinced by the case for independence. Scots are not called “canny” for nothing. It is why so many know that, particularly in these times of economic troubles and uncertainty, Scotland’s leaving the United Kingdom would be a huge and needless risk.
In a global economy in which countries are so dependent on the economic fortunes of their neighbours, the proposition that is put by those who support breaking up the UK is a proposition of the past, not of he future. As the United Kingdom, our countries have pooled our resources and strengths, and each member nation has benefited from that. Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland benefit. We have a shared history and shared achievement through that most successful partnership of nations, and through continuing that partnership together, we will have a more prosperous future for Scotland.
The Presiding Officer: I call Clare Adamson to be followed by Mary Fee. I regret that both members can have only four minutes each.
Clare Adamson (Central Scotland) (SNP): I rise to talk about Scotland’s future—my future, my teenage son’s future, my community’s future and the future of our nation. There can be no greater privilege. Somewhat ironically, I begin by talking about my past. My journey to this point started with a choice. It was a choice that I made in my late teens and it was born of the devastating impact of the de-industrialisation of Scotland that I witnessed in my teenage years.
In my early primary school years, my education ran concurrently with that of my father. A late returner to education, he helped to support our family during his education through enlisting in the Territorial Army. He attended college at the same time as my elder brother, who is now a successful information technology consultant, and my sister, who is now a general practitioner.
I have absolutely no doubt—because it was one of my earliest financial and life lessons—that without free education and the grant system that was then in place, my father and our family would never have gone on to have such successful careers.
It is no surprise that my family were traditional Lanarkshire Labour supporters, because Labour at that time stood for many of their values—free education based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay, being of paramount importance.
As I got older I witnessed the pain of my best friend’s family—her father and brother were miners. I was shocked as I watched the television coverage of the scenes outside Ravenscraig, my home town, where working-class people were pitted against one another and against the police as the Tory Government’s agenda began to bite. It was a country—a community—that was being divided by UK Government policy.
Then came the devastating blow: Ravenscraig was to close while UK steel plants outwith Scotland were saved to meet EU quotas. Steel was an industry that my grandfather had worked in and that supported 10,000 jobs in Lanarkshire. I asked myself, “If Scotland was an independent nation, would the same choice have been made, or would Scotland have protected its indigenous steel industry as Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria did?”
That is when I made my choice about Scottish independence. It was not without some controversy in my family—initially they thought in true “Star Wars” fashion that I had crossed to the dark side. However, it is a great comfort to me that before he died my father stood as an SNP council candidate in Motherwell. His values had not changed, but the political landscape had and he knew that only through independence could those values of social justice and aspiration for Scottish citizens be met.
That is why the words of former Ravenscraig works convener and trade union leader Tommy Brennan, at the yes campaign launch, were so important to me. He said:
“With an independent parliament and government working to build recovery, and able to bring together all the levers of social and economic policy, we can take big strides forward. We can deliver an economic and industrial policy based on Scotland’s particular circumstances.”
That is the future for Scotland that I aspire to.
If the right to vote from the age of 16 is granted—I fully support that campaign—my teenage son will be making his choice about Scottish independence in 2014. I want that to be a choice that is made from confidence, strength, knowledge, creativity and altruism. If I look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I want that choice to be made from the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid because I believe that all Scottish citizens should be free to reach positive self-actualisation, shape their country’s future and fulfil the self-actualisation of an independent Scotland.
The fact that our citizens—as Johann Lamont said—are so worried about feeding their families and are working at the base level of that pyramid of needs is an indication of just how much the UK is not working for the citizens of Scotland.
Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab): I am a proud and patriotic Scot. I am proud to be in the union and I am proud to take part in this debate. Over the next two years, I expect that there will be many debates like this in this chamber about Scotland’s future—debates in which the SNP will gloss over the real issues and concerns that ordinary Scots have regarding separation by telling us, “Take the gamble and it will all work out.”
Since the yes campaign launched, I have received many e-mails from constituents concerned about the future that the SNP fails to express in a separated Scotland. One particular e-mail was from a gentleman in Erskine who fears that his job with Hewlett-Packard will be lost as the contract that he is employed under depends on work coming from the UK Government.
More than 30,000 jobs in defence and the civil service are located in Scotland. How many will remain if Scotland separates? The people of Scotland deserve an honest answer and, honestly, the SNP does not know.
Mary Fee: No, I am sorry; I do not have time.
The SNP needs to make clear its stance on NATO. Scotland, with or without the union, is best served and defended by NATO, one of the most successful alliances in modern history. Since devolution, 12 countries have joined NATO because of its role in the promotion of democratic values; the prevention of conflict, where possible; and the encouragement of consultation and co-operation on defence and security. Why would the nationalists want to walk away from NATO when other nations would jump at the opportunity to join?
On Sunday night, many of us watched the BBC’s big debate. The SNP needs to clarify its position on electing a representative to the Bank of England, as other speakers have said. Although the debate on Sunday night was often contemptuous and contentious, it lacked a focus on the big issues. However, one issue that generated much heated debate was EU membership and the euro. Most of the audience accepted that Scotland would have to apply to become an EU member but the Deputy First Minister refused to accept that. She continued to state that professional advice had been sought, even when the Tories produced a letter showing that the SNP had not sought advice from the European Commission. Given the crisis in Europe, the people of Scotland deserve to know what legal advice the Government has received on joining the EU and on the adoption of the euro, which is a must for all countries joining the EU, including an independent Scotland.
Mary Fee: No, I am sorry; I do not have time.
What is clear is that the SNP refuses to use the powers that are currently at its disposal. The Scottish Government has the power to increase or decrease income tax by 3p. Even an increase of 1p could be used to protect vital services for disabled people, the elderly and the poorest in society, as members of the previous Renfrewshire SNP-Liberal Democrat coalition suggested in a recent hustings with carers. Instead, we have a nationalist Government that wants to lower corporation tax to help businesses to raise their profits and compete with our neighbours in Carlisle and County Durham and across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
If Scotland separates from the UK and enters the EU, what safeguards does the First Minister have to ensure that his plan for a corporation tax cut would be allowed under EU rules? As an important aspect—
The Presiding Officer: The member is finished, I am afraid.
I call Patrick Harvie, to be followed by Margo MacDonald. I regret that each of them can have only two minutes.
Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): There is a challenge.
Why would people who are undecided choose to vote—to actually go out of the door and put an X on a piece of paper? I believe that that can happen only on the basis of a compelling vision. However, that vision has not yet been articulated. There are times when I am concerned that the SNP’s desire not to scare the horses—not to scare anyone off from voting for independence—will also fail to inspire those who can be persuaded.
There is a huge list of issues that I do not have time to address. One of those issues is currency. Johann Lamont has been asking serious questions on that issue, which deserve serious answers. The SNP’s position requires more clarity. Of course, there is time to get there.
I think that Labour has a serious contribution to make to this debate, as was demonstrated by Drew Smith, in particular. However, it will not make that contribution successfully if it obsesses over the language of separation instead of independence. There is a more substantial debate to be had.
Another area in which I believe that the Government needs to make much more progress and provide more clarity is that of an independent Scotland’s written constitution. I believe that, even in its troubles, we can learn lessons from the process that is going on in Iceland—an open, participative, democratic process that is dominated not by elected politicians but by ordinary people who were chosen at random to participate in that process and who have come up with radical solutions that I do not believe that elected politicians and party politicians are capable of coming up with.
I believe that we should set a timescale for a constitutional convention at the same time as discussing the referendum bill, and give the people of Scotland the opportunity directly to shape that economic future.
Margo MacDonald (Lothian) (Ind): Willie Rennie was quite wrong when he said that we would not be better just because we were independent. If people are dependent on themselves, they try harder, achieve more and grow bigger, so we would be better.
Over the years, it has been usual in the arguments about independence to question whether Scotland could go it alone economically without the shelter and financial support of the big strong United Kingdom. We in Scotland must now address a very different question: can we afford to remain part of a UK that is anything but economically strong and which has changed from being a rich country to being one that is getting poorer by the month?
When we talk about our relationship with the UK, we are in fact talking about the relationship between Scotland and England, and the latter is by far the significant political and economic senior. If an inequality of status is presently Scotland’s lot, do any of the people who chant, “Stronger together, weaker apart,” aspire to change that relationship to one of equality? If not, why not?
If the unionists and their fellow travellers do not seek equality of status, that is, I presume, because they believe that, after the referendum, they will somehow be able to wipe out the wastelands and wasted lives in districts of Glasgow and the west of Scotland that have been identified as having extreme levels of poverty and deprivation, which proclaim the ever more impoverished state of the UK, as well as its inherent unfairness.
Are we stronger together when young soldiers are sent to war without proper boots and with guns that do not fire and then have to travel in ineffective motorcades? Not at all. Are we stronger together in that we punch above our weight because the UK sits on the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member, while neglected old people live out their lives to sad, miserable ends in dreadfully miserable homes? We can do it and we know fine that we can do it. The question is, why do we not want to do it?
The people who cry that the UK is rich and that we cannot afford to leave it should remember that the UK spends £126 billion a year more than it earns. Everywhere we look, the claim of its being rich collapses under the facts. For every £10-worth of cuts in the Government’s deficit—
The Presiding Officer: I regret that your time is up, Ms MacDonald.
We move to the wind-up speeches. Mr Carlaw, you have six minutes.
Jackson Carlaw (West Scotland) (Con): I begin on a consensual note—I congratulate the yes campaign on last Friday’s launch and say that I thought that speeches on both sides today, such as those by Linda Fabiani, Mark McDonald, Drew Smith and Annabel Goldie, were fine.
However, I waited for the one indisputable claim for independence to be made by the SNP—that an independent Scotland will have its own entry in the Eurovision song contest—but it never came. As we sat and watched the performance in the Fountainbridge theatre last Friday and saw the former suppressed choirboy himself, nodding along John Redwood-like to the music in an effort to increase his Twitter following still further, the thought occurred to me that surely they—in this centralising force that is the SNP—would want to sing that entry in the Eurovision song contest themselves. The First Minister would lead, John Swinney would be on drums, Mike Russell and Kenny MacAskill would compose the discordant notes, and Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Neil would murder the harmonies. There we were last Friday, enjoying the full cinematic experience in a movie theatre—a palace of imagination and fantasy. There was glitz, glamour and everything that goes with them.
One commentator in the gallery noted that the posters all around bore the legend, “The search for our beginning could lead to our end”. I watched as Patrick Harvie and the First Minister bounded on to the stage—the Tom Cruise and Alfred Hitchcock of the production. [Interruption.] I am sorry—I should have said, minus the hair, the Hollywood glamour and the A-list teeth. They were joined by Alan Cumming, who currently lives in the United States and appears in a production called “The Good Wife”, in which he stars as an unprincipled political spin doctor. He was heard to say that he was at Friday’s event for some on-the-job training. We waited in vain for Sean Connery to appear, but alas no—we only got a postcard. We did not get the original James Bond, but we got the original Hannibal Lecter. Yes, there was Hannibal the cannibal telling us that he is in favour of independence, all with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
Then it was all over and we were none the wiser. Three hundred years in the planning, and we knew nothing more.
I am a unionist who is not afraid of independence, and I say this in support of the debate that will take place during the next two years: the wrong reason for anyone to vote to stay in the UK is because they are afraid of the alternative. Scotland is a proud and creative nation that will make a success of whatever challenge it faces, but that is not the same as saying that it is scaremongering to ask legitimate questions about what an independent Scotland will be like. Those who argue that case during the next two years must be prepared to make it.
I believe in the United Kingdom with all the passion that the SNP believes in an independent Scotland. Some have said that they are devolutionists and not unionists. I believe in the United Kingdom. There was a country called Britain, which was made up of England and Wales. It became Great Britain when Scotland joined; we are literally the “Great” in Great Britain. We then became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I believe that a silver thread unites all the proud culture, tradition, history and ambition of our four nations so that we stand proudly individual but better still united within that United Kingdom.
That United Kingdom is a home to which the Jewish people came at the start of the 20th century, to which the Poles came when they were confronted by the brutality of Hitler, to which Ugandans came when they were thrown out by Idi Amin in the 1970s, and to which many of the persecuted have come in the past 25 years. I believe that the United Kingdom is a unique alliance and the most successful union of four nations working together. It is greater than the sum of its parts. [Interruption.]
Jackson Carlaw: The United States likes to say sometimes that it is the last best hope of mankind on earth. I believe that the United Kingdom has a proud record, too. Louis Mountbatten was the supreme commander of the south-east Asia command in the second world war, the Queen’s uncle, and a victim of terrorism. When he met the American navy at sea, he received a message saying, “Greetings to the world’s second biggest navy from the world’s biggest.” He immediately responded, “Greetings to the world’s second best navy from the world’s best.”
I agree with any proud Scot. Scotland is the equal of any nation on earth. I agree with the First Minister when he says that we are as good as any other country. However, despite all the proud tradition and everything that we stand for, believe in and hope for, as Scots, for our country, I believe that working together with England, Wales and Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, we are better still than the sum of the individual parts.
I have heard the First Minister talking about decisions being taken by people who live in Scotland. The logical extension of that is that people in Shetland and Orkney will say that they should take all their decisions, and the people in Newton Mearns could ask why all the decisions about Newton Mearns are not being taken there. It is a false premise, because we elect representatives as Scots to serve in the various Parliaments of Europe, Westminster and here. With our consent, they take decisions on the issues, and we believe that they take them better together, even when we make decisions for ourselves in the Scottish Parliament. If we had six members of the European Parliament out of 700, it would be like the situation of the SNP members of the Westminster Parliament.
Jackson Carlaw: The only thing that they ever delivered—belatedly—was the Government of Margaret Thatcher.
John Mason: I understand the word “patriotic” to mean putting your country ahead of any other. Would the member put Britain ahead of Scotland if there was a choice?
Patricia Ferguson: That hardly bears answering. It is exactly the kind of narrow-minded attitude that turns people away from the arguments of Mr Mason’s colleagues. I will ignore his remark for now, but will return to it later.
It has become clear to me that while the SNP seems to be struggling to identify—or perhaps it is struggling to agree—why it wants Scotland to separate from the rest of the UK, Scottish Labour is clear about the kind of Scotland that we want to see and we are focused on playing our part in delivering it.
Dr Allan: Will the member take an intervention?
Patricia Ferguson: No thanks, Dr Allan.
Labour believes that the Parliament was created in order that its members could work towards a fairer and more equal Scotland and that we have made good progress in that regard.
My colleague Richard Baker cogently made the economic case for Scotland to remain part of the UK. It is worth remembering that according to the latest Scottish Government estimates, the annual value of exports from Scotland to the rest of the UK is £34 billion, while the value of exports to the rest of the world is £19 billion. The same statistics tell us that the annual value of imports into Scotland from the rest of the UK is £44 billion and the value of imports from the rest of the world is £19 billion. Scotland is importing twice as much from the rest of the UK as it does from the rest of the world. Given those facts, why would we want to give up the opportunity to influence the economic decisions of the rest of the UK?
Patricia Ferguson: No thanks, Mr Neil.
I thank my colleague Drew Smith for reminding us of the relative youth of some of our newer members. They have a slightly different perspective, but it is an important one. Drew Smith’s comments about the consensus on the Constitutional Convention that preceded this Parliament are valid.
Lewis Macdonald was spot on when he talked about the importance of the referendum being fair and legal. It must also demonstrably be so. It seems that there will be plenty of time before the referendum, so let us hope that plenty of effort is put into guaranteeing that it fulfils those criteria.
I listened with great interest to Linda Fabiani, as I always do. Ms Fabiani and I share many political interests in common but on this one we are divided. I know that she holds her views on Trident dearly, as do many people around the chamber. I do not want to see Trident on the Clyde either, but I do not want to see Trident in Portsmouth, Southampton or indeed anywhere else in the UK. [Interruption.]
Patricia Ferguson: I do not want to see such missiles deployed anywhere in the world, but simply to assert that we should not have them in this country does nothing to assist people who hold that view elsewhere.
I was very interested in Mark McDonald’s excellent contribution. I very much respect what he said. I also sincerely respect his grandfather’s contribution in the second world war. Mark told an interesting story about his grandfather’s experience. My father served in the middle east during the war and our predecessors—my father and Mark’s grandfather—fought with colleagues from around the UK to protect this country, and indeed Europe, from fascism. They fought with people from other countries, too, including Australia and New Zealand. However, they are also the generation that returned to this country and were responsible for the creation of the national health service and the welfare state.
My father and Mark McDonald’s grandfather would have disagreed on the issue of separation, but I think that their joint experience would have taught them to respect one another’s position. I think that both of them—I can speak for my father, if I cannot for Mark’s grandfather—would have been embarrassed by Kenny Gibson’s contribution.
Humza Yousaf made an interesting speech—I always enjoy listening to Mr Yousaf. He made valid comments about free personal care and other good policies that have been established in Scotland but I gently point out to Mr Yousaf that those were achieved with the powers of a devolved Parliament. We do not have to wait for an independence situation to arise in order to be able to do good things.
We will not see the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence for at least a year, but for those who want a sneak preview I have one suggestion: look at the opinion polling and trends as they unfold in the coming months. It is becoming increasingly clear that the SNP is trimming its policy to match the trends that the pollsters identify. Previously, the SNP was in favour of a referendum on whether the Queen should be the head of state in an independent Scotland but, as Her Majesty’s popularity is growing among Scots, it seems that we no longer need such a referendum. Previously, the SNP was in favour of the euro and was scathing about the pound but, as the situation in the euro zone has worsened, the SNP’s enthusiasm for the euro has also waned.
Is the SNP simply following the trend, or does it want to try to hoodwink the country into thinking that nothing much will change and that a separate Scotland will carry on as usual with no discernible difference to people’s lives? Either way, the SNP does our country and our people a disservice.
Nicola Sturgeon: I am about to mention Mr Smith, so he should be patient.
I want to mention Linda Fabiani, Mark McDonald and Humza Yousaf, as well as Drew Smith. Although I did not agree with much of what Drew Smith said, his colleagues could learn a thing or two from the way in which he articulated his view. However, the speech that I want to single out is that of Clare Adamson, because I thought that she made the most profound comment of the entire debate. She pointed out that the fact that Johann Lamont and other Labour members use poverty in the here and now—the fact that families right now struggle to feed their kids—as an argument against independence says it all about Labour’s mindset. Poverty in energy-rich Scotland is the evidence that the status quo is not working; it is an argument for independence, not against it.
As everybody who knows me knows only too well, I am a consensus politician at heart. I was therefore anxious to find something in each of the leaders’ speeches with which I could agree, and let me tell members that I succeeded. At one point, Johann Lamont said that Labour had a vision for Scotland. To an extent, she is right. However, the sad thing is that Labour’s vision is of a Scotland where, in Labour’s view, it is better to be governed by the Tories than by the people who live here. That is not a vision for Scotland that I or many other people in Scotland share.
I am afraid that finding something to agree with in Ruth Davidson’s speech was a wee bit tougher but, thankfully, I was helped out by a strategically placed Freudian slip. When Ruth Davidson said that an argument for staying in the union was that we get to share the rewards, it sounded for all the world as if she said that we share their wars, and don’t we just? Therein, Ruth Davidson made one of the most compelling arguments for independence. With independence, Scotland would never again be dragged into an illegal war, as we were in Iraq.
Ruth Davidson’s speech was nothing compared with the outrageous comments of Lewis Macdonald, who seemed to spend half his speech still arguing that Scotland has no right to a referendum at all. When he got to the end of his speech, he appeared to suggest that Labour might not accept the result of the referendum. That is a dangerous road to go down. Those with wiser heads even than Lewis Macdonald would, I hope, retract that suggestion.
Lewis Macdonald: Does the Deputy First Minister accept that my point was that everyone recognises that there is a mandate to hold a referendum, but the critical issue is that it is done on an agreed and understood legal basis so that the result will be accepted, whatever the outcome?
Nicola Sturgeon: I have no doubt that that is how the referendum will be conducted. Let me move on.
This has been a significant debate. This is a historic occasion—in a few moments, the Parliament will be asked, for the first time, to agree that Scotland should become an independent country. Those of us on the SNP side of the chamber will say a resounding yes to that proposition. That is a far cry from the days when there was no democratic voice in this land, when Scotland repeatedly voted differently from the rest of the UK but had no Parliament and no democratic forum in which to express its voice. One of the most striking things about some of the contributions during the debate is how depressingly similar the arguments used by those who oppose independence now are to those used 15 years ago by those who opposed devolution. The only difference today is that the arguments of Lord Michael Forsyth are coming out of the mouth of Johann Lamont.
The referendum will put the decision firmly where it belongs—in the hands of the Scottish people. It will open the door to a genuine debate about our country’s future. That debate, regardless of the view of any individual in it, should be embraced and relished. It is an opportunity to address some of the big questions about the country that we want to be. I hope that that debate is thoroughly positive, although we have seen little evidence that those who oppose independence have anything positive to say.
Patricia Ferguson mentioned the national health service. We are already independent when it comes to running the national health service, and it is only that independence that protects it from the privatisation south of the border. That is an argument for, not against independence. That is the essence of our case—it is better that decisions about Scotland are taken by people who live in Scotland because we care most about and we have the biggest stake in those decisions. That is a grand principle; it is one that I will be proud to campaign for and one that unites the SNP, the Greens and those of no political affiliation; it is one that will not just take on but defeat the Tory-Labour coalition that talks down and holds back Scotland.
That grand principle translates into practical and tangible benefits. Let us look at just three examples of how independence will make a difference to the people of Scotland. It will give us the opportunity to fashion an alternative to the growth-defeating cuts of the Tory-Liberal coalition. With our hands on the levers of fiscal economic policy, not to mention control of our vast natural resources, we could do things differently. We could boost growth and create jobs with tax and borrowing powers.
Nicola Sturgeon: Yes.
Moving swiftly on, let us talk about welfare, which the First Minister touched on. Would it not be better if this Parliament, instead of opposing and condemning, could stand and protect the most vulnerable in our society with a welfare system that suits our values and needs?
Johann Lamont’s deputy said on Sunday night—a point repeated by Patricia Ferguson today—that Labour opposes nuclear weapons. They kept that pretty quiet during their long years in government when they were planning the Trident nuclear missile system’s replacement. I am happy to accept the conversion, but what is the good of Labour opposing nuclear weapons when it wants to lock us into a political system that would prevent us from ever getting rid of Trident from our waters? There is no good whatsoever.
Independence is not unusual—it is the natural state of affairs. I say to Willie Rennie that 150 countries have become independent in the past 75 years alone. Independence is Scotland’s natural future, and the compelling case for independence will defeat the negativity of the Tory-Labour coalition, and Scotland will be a normal, equal, independent country.
The Presiding Officer: Before we move to decision time, I remind members that Colin Beattie failed to appear for his question this afternoon. I have had an apology and an explanation from Mr Beattie. I now consider the matter closed.