I believe that the Union delivers for the people of Scotland, That’s what I said when setting out Scottish Labour’s opposition to another divisive independence referendum in the two day Parliamentary debate on Scotland’s Choice.
Scottish Labour MSPs will vote against the SNP’s plan in the Scottish Parliament.
You can watch or read my full speech below:
I wish that this was the start of a two-day debate on education in Scotland. We could focus on the need to close the attainment gap, put forward proposals to give young people the best chance in life, and come up with innovative ways to lift 260,000 Scottish children out of poverty. Instead, we are back talking about the only thing that has ever really mattered to the SNP.
Nicola Sturgeon wakes up every single day thinking of ways to engineer another referendum, because leaving the UK is the only thing that matters to her—not improving education in Scotland or lifting children out of poverty, but independence. It will always come first, and the truth is that it always has.
When the first majority Labour Government established the NHS and the welfare state, the SNP wanted Scotland to leave the UK. When the last Labour Government introduced ground-breaking antidiscrimination laws, maternity and paternity leave, the national minimum wage, tax credits, rights at work and civil partnerships, the SNP was arguing for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. When the UK Labour Government delivered a Scottish Parliament—the expressed will of the people following a referendum—the SNP still campaigned for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. Brexit is not the motivation for another referendum; it is just the latest excuse.
We have heard a lot from the First Minister about mandates, but people have noticed the shift in the SNP’s language. It used to demand that the will of the Scottish people be respected, but the will of the Scottish people was clearly expressed in 2014. In that first referendum, 85 per cent of our fellow citizens voted: they voted by a clear majority to remain in the United Kingdom. More than 2 million Scots, in the biggest mandate that has ever been given to any political leaders in Scotland’s history, voted to remain in the UK. That is the will of the Scottish people, and that is what should be respected.
We have heard from the First Minister about the need to respect the will of this Parliament. If only she had respected the mandate that was given to the Government by Parliament before now. If she had done so, several local NHS services would be free from the threats of closure that are hanging above their heads. The First Minister would have banned fracking and would have scrapped the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. Parliament has had its say on Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council. Will the First Minister respect that? Parliament voted to demand a change of course from the nationalists on education. Given that education is apparently her defining priority, surely the First Minister will respect that.
When Parliament votes for another referendum—as it inevitably will, thanks to the perpetual crutch that the Greens provide—let us not pretend that that reflects the will of the Scottish people, because it does not. The people of Scotland do not want another divisive referendum.
Last week, the First Minister said that the 2014 referendum was not divisive. She obviously did not speak to many people beyond her party faithful, because my experience and that of the very many Scots who have taken the time to tell me about it on the doorstep, in the street and by email, is that this country—their country—felt more divided then than at any time in their lived memory. Families argued, colleagues fell out and communities were split down the middle. No bus, train, pub, community centre, workplace or living room escaped that fallout, and last Monday—the first day of this campaign—felt just as hostile and polarised as the 847th and final day of the last one. Where will it end?
Some of those who voted to leave the UK and the majority of those who voted to remain in the UK do not want to go back to the divisions of the past, but if there is to be another referendum—if the First Minister must drag the people of Scotland back there—the Labour Party will campaign with everything we have to remain in the UK.
Let me tell members why. If the First Minister wants a different result from the last one, she might listen to people who do not agree with her. I believe in the United Kingdom—not as a symbol of past glories or purest ideology, but as a living, breathing union of nations that delivers for the people of Scotland. It delivers for the pensioners, whose income is secured through a UK state pension and benefits system. It delivers for the shipyard workers, who are in jobs because of UK defence contracts, and it delivers to the staff in East Kilbride, who deliver aid to some of the poorest countries in the world on behalf of all of us. It also delivers for the schools that are built because of the extra money that we receive by being in the UK; for the NHS that we built together and which is sustained because we pool and share our resources across the whole of Britain; for the businesses, large and small, that are able to thrive because of the access that they have to our UK single market; and for the scientists who carry out life-saving medical research because of the funding that they receive from UK research councils. Those are the things that I value most and those are the things that being part of the UK has delivered for families across Scotland. It has delivered so much prosperity and security.
At a time when so much of the world is ravaged by division and when the trend in too many places is separation, I value the fact that our four nations come together to share sovereignty and resources, and that we recognise that together we are stronger—more so than we ever could be apart.
I say to SNP members: it is not this union of nations that is intrinsically unjust or unfair—it is the actions of the powerful people within it. I hate what the Tories are doing to Britain. I have never felt anger like it. [Interruption.] The austerity programme is destroying public services that we all value and which the poorest people rely on. The SNP cannot escape from the facts: Scotland’s leaving the UK would make things much worse for the poorest people in Scotland. In the six years during which I have sat in this chamber, I have never once heard a convincing argument to the contrary.
The problem for Kevin Stewart—and, indeed, for the rest of the SNP’s MSPs—is that they want to replace Tory austerity with turbocharged austerity. The truth of the matter is that separation would mean £15 billion-worth of cuts—15 thousand million pounds-worth of cuts to schools and hospitals. The Government’s own figures tell us that. It would mean cuts to pensions—John Swinney told us that—and it would mean an end to the UK defence contracts that keep thousands of people in work.
Those are the facts, but the nationalists do not want to hear them. They will howl and they will rage, and they will question the patriotism of those who back unity over division, but they cannot escape the reality. We are a stronger, richer, fairer and better nation by remaining in the UK.
Tomorrow evening, Scottish Labour MSPs will vote against a divisive second independence referendum. That was our manifesto commitment to the people of Scotland, and we will honour it.
I move amendment S5M-4710.4, to leave out from “and therefore mandates” to end and insert:
“; believes that a strong Scottish Parliament within a federal UK would meet these needs; recognises that the overwhelming will of the Scottish people is that there should be no second divisive independence referendum; believes that far from giving Scots a choice, a second independence referendum would only increase uncertainty and cause greater division as the UK faces a hard Tory Brexit, and asserts that there should be no second independence referendum.”