Scotland in the United Kingdom

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 22nd March 2007.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:15 am, 22nd March 2007

Good morning. Our first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5779, in the name of Margaret Curran, on Scotland in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I am delighted to be back in the chamber to open this morning's important debate. On the eve of the election, let us address the fundamental question that will be presented to Scotland's electorate: should Scotland stay in the union, or should we divorce and go our separate way? I will argue that Scotland's best interests are served through our continued partnership in the United Kingdom.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Can the Executive get its motion right?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

From a sedentary position, Mr Swinney is trying to provoke me.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It has worked so many times in the past.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I was about to say that that is not a difficult thing to do. However, although the SNP talks about the words of the motion, Labour members are happier talking about the chancellor's budget and what it has achieved for Scotland.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Can the member clarify for the chamber which version of the motion she will discuss?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

We will focus on the substantial issues that face the Scottish electorate, not the words of a motion. It is clear that the road to separation will be costly, taking Scotland backwards and distracting us from dealing with the real issues that face the Scottish people.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

No. Scotland's separatists argue that our partnership in the United Kingdom has failed Scotland; apparently, we have been held back and undermined for many years. That does not quite match the facts. Under the union, we saw the 18 th century enlightenment, when Scots such as David Hume and Adam Smith led intellectual debate across the world. Under the union, Scottish discovery and enterprise flourished through the achievements of Watt, Logie Baird and Fleming, which still make Scots proud today. Under the union, we have seen the growth and influence of Scottish values and identity at home and across the world. Under the union, we have seen the Edinburgh International Festival and the fringe grow in international stature year on year. Under the union, Scotland is number 2 in the European league for employment. Under the union, Scots have been prominent in the worlds of the media and politics, as we saw yesterday, when Gordon Brown dominated the stage. All that has happened within the partnership that is the United Kingdom.

It is a changing partnership that demonstrates the capacity to renew itself and to adapt to new challenges. Scotland has faced challenges. Labour and Liberal Democrat members came to the Parliament to make devolution work. We came here to change lives, not perpetually to change the constitution. We came here to tackle poverty, to support enterprise and to deliver world-class education, and that is what we have done. We have created new opportunities and have stimulated new aspirations. In this session, we have achieved a new school every week, record attainment levels and universities in the world-class league. More people are in work than ever before, business performance is making Scotland dynamic and competitive, and we are leading the world in financial services and life sciences. We have prioritised health, improving services and tackling inequality with unparalleled levels of investment. Lives have been saved by our efforts to combat cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I want to support the minister today, but I am not sure that her going through the Executive's record is the best way of getting me to do that. Where do her comments leave our justice system, of which the Executive has made an absolute shambles?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Phil Gallie's timing is perfect. I was about to say that we have tackled the tough issues—in the face of much resistance. We recognised, as the Tories did not, the existence of antisocial behaviour and were determined to tackle it. We gave voice to people who had found no one who would listen to them. We empowered communities with the force of law. We introduced tough powers on knife crime and licensing and we introduced tough powers to help the victims of crime.

We have taken social justice to the top of the political agenda. Some 130,000 children have been lifted out of poverty; the number of pensioners in poverty has been reduced by 46 per cent; and older people's lives have been improved by the provision of free central heating and free travel. We have regenerated our most disadvantaged communities by targeting funding and transforming our cities. All that has been delivered by devolution—a strong Scotland with a strong United Kingdom.

When Scotland was isolated by the Tories, when the Tories did not listen to us and Mrs Thatcher did not respond to issues in Scotland, what did members of the Executive parties do? We reframed the constitutional settlement and we campaigned for devolution. Where were the Tories and the SNP then? They were nowhere to be seen. We delivered devolution.

Where has the Scottish National Party been as we worked hard to fulfil the promises of devolution? More particularly, where has Alex Salmond been? We all know the mantra of the SNP—we have heard it often enough. For SNP members, this parliament is never good enough, more powers are always the answer to complex issues and separation is always the solution. The SNP wants to break up Britain—first, last, and always.

I have laid out some of the achievements of devolution. Let us consider the other road that Scotland could take. We are entitled to examine the consequences of a vote for the SNP. Last weekend we found out that the SNP would introduce tax increases in Scotland with immediate effect. That is what separation would mean for us: everyone else gets a tax cut, but we would get a 3p increase.

What about the other costs?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Will the minister give an accurate statement to the Parliament by acknowledging that the SNP's commitment is to abolishing the despised council tax, which has increased by 60 per cent under this Administration, and to putting in a system that is fair and based on the ability to pay?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Mr Swinney is easily provoked, too. I think that he is so animated because we have exposed the real consequences of SNP policy, which would mean not only a 3p increase in income tax but drastic cuts in local services. It is time for the SNP to spell out exactly what those cuts would mean for families throughout Scotland. The position has been confirmed by expert after expert, as has the financial gap of more than £11 billion that would affect Scotland under the SNP. The individual bill for each family in Scotland would be more than £5000—and that would be just the beginning. The SNP's policies would affect every individual, family and business in Scotland.

Members should make no mistake about what would happen under the SNP on 4 May. The party would take the first steps of its strategy for divorce.

We should imagine the scenario: every issue would be a constitutional one and the purpose of Government would be to gain a yes vote in the referendum.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Is the minister arguing that the SNP's economic policies would bring penury or that independence, if the Scots chose that, would impoverish us?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

It is sad that the SNP never gave Margo MacDonald the opportunity to advocate her policy for independence. The policies of the SNP will be disastrous for Scotland, and Scotland's best future lies in partnership with the United Kingdom. With the SNP's policies on health, education and housing, there would be a battleground with Westminster, rather than improvement and betterment for the Scottish people.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Does the minister recognise that many of my constituents who receive pensions from Westminster are very worried about what might happen to those pensions under an SNP-run independent Scotland?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

That is a very good point, and it was very well put. That is an example of exactly the kind of issue and detail that we need to think through.

This is the key test and the fundamental question that the voters will be asked to decide on on 3 May. Do we continue our revitalisation of Scotland or do we divert our energies, skills and resources to do constitutional battle? Scotland, at the beginning of this new century, needs to look forward and live in the modern world of independence and partnership.

We undoubtedly have many challenges to face, ranging from the scourge of drugs to the challenge of climate change. Those issues cannot be tackled through romantic nationalism and media soundbites. Rather, we need decisive leadership, effective polices and a partnership that delivers prosperity and stability.

We have had much debate about leadership in Scotland over the years.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I have one fundamental question: where is Alex? I am not sure why the Scottish Parliament was not good enough for Alex Salmond before, and I am not sure why he wants to come back now. There are no limits to that particular cult of the personality. The last leader who put his name on the ballot paper was Tommy Sheridan. Here we have Alex Salmond doing exactly the same thing. He is such a modest man that he wants to be in two Parliaments at the same time. He is quite an interesting man.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Yes, with three jobs.

This debate illustrates the real choices before the Scottish people: tax and turmoil or prosperity and progress; improving education or confronting the UK Government; beating crime or negotiating break-up with the rest of the UK; creating the costs of separate regimes on pensions, regulation, defence and the rest or focusing on how to improve our children's health and keeping our communities thriving.

I have seen the changes taking place in my constituency in the east end of Glasgow. I have seen the educational opportunities that exist now that people never had before. We have some of the highest-performing schools in the east end of Glasgow. We have quality and choice in housing, which had been denied to people for too long. Businesses are flourishing, there are job opportunities and levels of poverty have been slashed, and the area is connected to a thriving city and a prosperous country. That is Scotland's future—partnership with the United Kingdom, not the costs and risks of independence. We will take Scotland forward as a thriving and prosperous country.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that the United Kingdom is a mutually beneficial relationship for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England; notes that devolution "is a process, not an event"; notes the additional powers that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament since 1999; notes that the majority of people in Scotland oppose separation from the rest of the UK; believes that such a course would result in either cuts in vital public services or massive increases in taxation; believes that Scotland should retain the benefits of being part of the UK; and notes the respective positions of the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties on the powers of the Parliament.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 9:28 am, 22nd March 2007

I will move the only amendment in my name.

Behind this debate is the question whether a constitutional arrangement devised three centuries ago, in questionable circumstances in a pre-democratic age is still appropriate for Scotland or, for that matter, England, in the 21st century. Expressed another way, it is time for Scotland to move on.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

It is a bit early in my speech. I hope that I have said something controversial already.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

Does Mr Morgan not recognise that Scotland has a new constitutional settlement that is only 10 years old, not 300 years old? Is it not time to allow that constitutional settlement to deliver for the people of Scotland?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

That is one of the questions that I will address in my speech. It is interesting that Bristow Muldoon's coalition partners do not seem to agree with him on that point. I noticed in the papers a few months ago that the member for Livingston chairs Labour's Scottish policy forum. I admit that that news greatly encouraged me.

The case for independence is positive and forward looking. It is based on modern values of national self-determination, equality, co-operation and mutual respect. Independence will put Scotland on an equal footing with England in Europe and in the wider world. It will give us the responsibilities that we need to achieve progress for Scotland politically, economically and socially. It will enable us to do things differently and better when we need to and not just when the Scotland Act 1998 allows us to. Links between Scotland and England will continue, not least because of our common membership of the European Union, which enshrines freedom of movement, of trade and of investment across all boundaries.

It is clear that Labour has a problem in coping with those concepts. One can tell that it is serious, because only last weekend, Geoff Hoon became involved in the argument. As members may recall, he was a close colleague of Tony Blair and was Secretary of State for Defence but, like many of Tony Blair's close colleagues, he has experienced a downwards spiral in his parliamentary career. In his most recent demotion, to Minister for Europe, he was first led to believe that his new demoted post would be in the Cabinet, but then he was told that he could not be in the Cabinet but could attend Cabinet meetings and see what was going on. Never mind. Even though Tony Blair no longer rates Geoff Hoon, he is wheeled out to rubbish Scotland's position in Europe, as if anyone would believe what another failed Blairite minister says on the future of Scotland's constitutional position.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The member does not focus on the substance. Geoff Hoon pointed out that House of Commons library research says that if Scotland were independent, referendums would be required in France and perhaps in Italy and in Spain before it could return to the European Union. Apart from taking us out of the UK—our biggest market—the SNP would take us out of Europe, too.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Is the member finished? All the legal opinion is contrary to what he said. The member wilfully denigrates the good will that there is in Europe towards Scotland; that would welcome us into Europe.

I move on to the last part of the Government's motion. Normally, we are blessed with only one Executive motion for a debate, but on this occasion we have had the rare fortune to have two motions. As the Minister for Parliamentary Business knows, it is not in my nature to rub salt into wounds but, helpfully, the Conservatives have lodged the original Labour position in their amendment, so both options are in the Business Bulletin. That is helpful, because surely the point is not just whether incompetence or inconsistency led to the fiasco. The coalition parties appear to seek another term in office, yet both motions offer a remarkably vague proposition.

When I saw the first motion, I thought that Labour might just have begun to move forward towards the main stream of opinion—that of nearly 70 per cent of Scots, who tell us that the Parliament should have more power over day-to-day life. However, Labour members have reverted to type and allied themselves with the 12 per cent who think that we are fine as we are. At least no one can accuse Labour of courting electoral popularity.

We are back at the position that Mr McConnell enunciated only last October in Haddington, when he said that the Scottish Parliament must

"make the fullest possible use of those powers before demanding lots more."

Even in motion number 2, Labour does not rule out more powers—it is just that they can be applied for only after some unspecified time and after some unspecified test is met. The truth is that on that matter as on many other policies, Labour is happy to nit-pick at the proposals of other parties, which want to move Scotland forward, but is remarkably ideas-free in its own policies.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

We have had this debate many times in the chamber. As I made clear earlier, our frustration with the SNP, and the reason why we think it is not ready to put its proposals to the Scottish electorate, is that it will never put the case for independence. That is Alasdair's job today. The debate is "Scotland in the United Kingdom". He must put his case—put up or shut up.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am trying to put that case, and address the motion, and address the amendments.

It seems to be okay for the Labour Party to hint at the possibility of extra powers for the Parliament at some stage in the future, and okay for its coalition allies to be hardly any more forthright; but as soon as the SNP has the temerity to do what Government motion number 1 said and ask for any extra powers, that is the equivalent of bringing the constitutional Government of the whole of the United Kingdom grinding to a halt. Never mind that some of the powers are ones that Labour itself has wanted, such as the need to move on firearms legislation north of the border, and on the return of the £40 million that used to come to Scotland as attendance allowance; and never mind that the vast majority of people in Scotland, not only nationalists, would probably agree that some powers should come to Scotland—powers such as the power to set up our own replacement to public-private finance schemes, and the power to lead in Europe on fisheries negotiations rather than sitting outside in an anteroom listening to the negotiations on loudspeakers.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

No, I cannot give way any more, Elaine. I am sorry.

Things are clearly bad. As Tuesday's edition of The Scotsman told us:

"Jack McConnell's right hand was balled into a fist like a boxer's. His left hand was on a colleague's shoulder."

We are not told what he did to that colleague with his right hand, but it could have been something severe, because we are told later that the First Minister said, "We are angry." Unfortunately, the First Minister did not make it clear whether that was a use of the royal we, whether he was including Gordon Brown, or whether he was including his coalition partners. However, it is a fair bet that, if he was angry on Monday, he must have been incandescent when he saw the first version of today's motion on Wednesday.

To satisfy Mr Kerr, I want to make it clear that the decision on whether or not Scotland should be independent belongs to the Scottish people. That decision should be able to be expressed in a referendum and not in an election to a legislature. By its very nature, the result of an election is the outcome of a debate on a whole range of subjects. Not only does the SNP believe that the decision belongs to the Scottish people, the SNP trusts the Scottish people to make the right decision. That is why we will offer the Scottish people the right to choose in an independence referendum in the first four years of an SNP Government. Polls have shown that 80 per cent of Scots, whether they want independence or not, believe that a referendum is the right way to determine Scotland's future. It is a constant source of amazement to me that so-called democratic parties—even the one with the word "Democrats" in its name—should seek to deny that option to the Scottish people. Just because there was no democracy in 1707, it does not mean there should be no democracy in 2007.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am in my final minute, minister.

We are told, as if it were the clinching argument, that the discussions surrounding a referendum decision would be "a distraction". That is now Labour's favourite attack on any proposition that it does not like. Mentioning the vote on Trident at Westminster was "a distraction"; asking for any more powers for this Parliament is "a distraction"; and holding a referendum on independence would be "a distraction". We have had 2,000 years and more of civilisation, but the Scottish people apparently cannot cope with more than one concept or argument at a time.

I suspect that the people of Scotland will not be distracted by the nonsense from the Labour Party. What the Labour Party does in its arguments is insult the intelligence of the electorate. The party has shown itself to be unfit to govern and unfit to be entrusted with the future of this nation.

I move amendment S2M-5779.2, to leave out from "United Kingdom" to end and insert:

"current constitutional arrangements do not offer the right solutions to the challenges facing Scotland, that the natural state of independence, enjoyed by our most successful neighbours, offers the best opportunities for Scotland and that the people of Scotland should have an opportunity in a referendum within the next four years to make their own decision on whether or not Scotland should be independent."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 9:39 am, 22nd March 2007

The Scottish Conservatives never make any secret of the fact that we believe in the union. It has given us 300 years of peace and prosperity and led to Scotland making a tremendous contribution to the wider world. We look forward to hundreds of years more of shared success with the other peoples of these islands.

However, I admit that I am somewhat confused this morning, because yesterday the Executive lodged a motion in the name of Margaret Curran, supported by George Lyon. It was a fine motion, if I may say so, which extolled the virtues of the union, said, quite rightly, that devolution is a process, not an event and, crucially, talked about extending the Parliament's powers where appropriate—a stance that the Scottish Conservatives were happy to endorse. Yesterday afternoon, I set about diligently drafting a gentle addendum to the motion in order to strengthen it.

Imagine my surprise when, within the course of the afternoon, the motion was mysteriously withdrawn and another motion was lodged, without the crucial wording about the extension of powers.

What could be behind that unprecedented development? Did the Executive inadvertently lodge the wrong motion? Did Mrs Curran, in an uncharacteristic lapse, give too much ground to the Liberal Democrats when she drew up the wording? Did she not think to check with Jack McConnell what his position was before she lodged the motion?

All was revealed this morning when I opened my copy of The Herald. That fine journalist, Robbie Dinwoodie, as usual, got to the truth of the matter: it was, apparently, a clerical error. That is fine. I am glad that we have cleared it up. However—oh no—Mr George Lyon, who is strangely absent from the chamber this morning, disputed Mrs Curran's version of events. He said, of the motion:

"It was agreed and signed off in the normal way. Labour saw it on the order paper this morning and panicked. I can see no way in which this could be described as a clerical error."

Which is it? Who is speaking for the Executive? Is it Mrs Curran or the absent Mr Lyon? Perhaps we should be told. If Mrs Curran would like to intervene, I would be delighted to give way.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

In the interests of Parliament, I am happy to clarify matters. However, I am fascinated by the Tories' contribution to defending the union. God help us if we had to rely on the Tories to defend the union. Mr Lyon was not around yesterday. The motion was not signed off by ministers. That is the absolute fact.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Even if Mr Lyon was not around yesterday, he was still available to give quotes to Mr Dinwoodie of The Herald . He was happy to speak to the press, but not to his ministerial colleagues.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Perhaps I can shed light on the process. Mr Lyon was here yesterday for the vote on the Cairngorms National Park Boundary Bill—his name appears on the voting record this morning. Perhaps Mrs Curran could clarify that in a further intervention on Mr Fraser. She is perhaps in even more of a mess on this issue than she was to begin with.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The fact is that this is an absolute shambles. If this Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition cannot sort out something as simple as lodging a motion for debate, how can we trust it to run the country?

We Conservatives are nothing if not helpful. Our amendment simply restates the original wording of the Executive motion. I trust that Mrs Curran, Mr Lyon and all those on the Executive benches will be happy to support their own wording. There is a particular test for the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that, true to their principles as they always are, they will want to support the wording of our motion, which represents their position. I am sure that they will not want the Labour Party to dictate to them once again what they should say.

All this is a great pity, because this could have been an occasion on which three major parties in the chamber could have been united in support of a positive case for the United Kingdom.

Margaret Curran set out her defence of the union based on the Executive's record, which is not the strongest ground that she could have chosen. That is the problem: the more the Executive bases its defence of the United Kingdom on its record, the more it puts people off and the more the union is at risk. We Conservatives do not think that the union should be set in stone forever as it currently exists. We have already seen a significant change in the past 10 years, with the advent of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and we are open to the idea of further change, if it is in the interests of preserving the union.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I hope that Mr Neil will forgive me, but I have already taken a number of interventions and I need to make progress on the substance of the debate.

In recent weeks, we have seen Labour and SNP politicians bandying around figures about the balance sheet on an independent Scotland. We have had debates on the Government's revenue statistics, on North sea oil revenues, and on the question of who subsidises whom. Frankly, the debate is sterile and unenlightening and it is turning the public off. We need to engage in a more mature debate about Scotland and its place in the union. We need to articulate new arguments for the union that are not based simply on economics or finance.

Scotland is a successful nation and one of the most ingenious nations ever. We gave the world television, the telephone, penicillin, whisky and golf. Adam Smith, who is buried a few hundred metres from the Parliament, gave the world capitalism and free markets. We did all that in our own right within the United Kingdom. The key point is that we do not want to separate ourselves from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the view of the majority of Scots, and any poll that suggests otherwise is a product of disaffection with the Lib-Lab pact rather than disaffection with the union.

I compare the union to a marriage. I do not sit down with my accountant on my wedding anniversary every year, work out whether marriage has been to my financial benefit, and on that basis decide whether to sue for divorce. It is irrelevant to me whether or not I am better off married, because I am married for all sorts of other reasons. Most people want to be married primarily for love, support, comfort and companionship rather than simply for economic reasons. I feel the same way about my Britishness.

Scotland and England have 300 years of shared history, traditions and culture that bind us together with the other nations in the UK. Millions of Scots have family members who live south of the border, and millions of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have friends and relatives in Scotland. We speak the same language, use the same currency, eat more or less the same food, watch the same television programmes and have substantially the same culture. We should not think that those arguments are less important than financial arguments.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

No—he is winding up.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

What sense would there be in dividing us in Scotland from our neighbours in the rest of these islands, with whom we have well-established family, cultural and historical links? Doing so would be an insular and narrow approach in a world that is growing smaller, not larger.

Scotland has benefited enormously from the union in the past 300 years, and we will continue to benefit in the future. At the election in a few weeks' time, the good people of Scotland will do what they have done on every previous occasion and reject the narrow nationalist position of the SNP.

I have pleasure in moving amendment S2M-5779.3, to leave out from "; and notes" to end and insert:

"whilst, where appropriate, increasing the powers available to the Scottish Parliament."

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 9:47 am, 22nd March 2007

After hearing Executive politicians say for so long that the last thing the country needs is more constitutional debate, I welcome the fact that they changed their minds and brought a constitutional debate to the chamber in the last days of the session. Margaret Curran was her useful forceful self, but it is disappointing that her arguments in defence of the union were a little thin. Did she say at one point that an independent Scotland could not run an Edinburgh festival? Surely I am mistaken about that.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

The contention is that the union has failed and undermined Scotland. My argument is that Scotland has flourished. We have a strong Scotland in a strong UK. The Edinburgh international festival is an illustration of the strength of Scotland. It is clear that the union has not damaged our interests.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

My response is that an analysis of whether the union has been a good thing over 300 years of history is not the same as an argument about what is best for Scotland today, tomorrow and in the years ahead.

The Executive parties know my position. I cannot support the motion. I believe that there is a case for independence that does not rely on the politics of national identity. A country of the size and scale of Scotland can more easily achieve the fundamental change that is necessary to develop sustainably for the future by acting for itself on the widest range of issues. It can more effectively advocate for global justice by acting for itself on the world stage. That is my position and the Green position, but I want to examine the other parties' positions.

The Executive's motion—after its false start—now highlights the fact that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have different views. That is all well and good. For me, the most difficult aspect of the motion is the assertion that the majority of Scots are against independence. We have seen polls one way and polls the other way, but the question has never been put to the vote. We have never given all Scots an opportunity to engage in a debate on that issue alone and to put an X in a box to state their preference. Why are the Executive parties against giving people that opportunity? Because, they say, more constitutional wrangling would produce conflict and chaos.

Let us remember that Labour's suggestion that any Executive that sought to open a dialogue with Westminster about reserved issues would bring about conflict and chaos came in the same week that its Minister for Education and Young People, in a very welcome intervention, added his voice to the general outcry against the dawn raids that families in Glasgow are living in fear of. Mr Henry finds it possible to engage with London on a reserved matter, calling for a change to UK asylum policy, and the Executive has done so on other issues as well. However, we are asked to believe that any future Executive that did the same thing and engaged with London on reserved issues would spark off conflict and chaos. I find that to be a difficulty with the Labour position.

The Conservative amendment seeks to restore the motion to its original form. I do not believe that that is due to the Conservative team suffering from the same clerical problems as the Executive team; I think that the Conservatives are making a different point. Either way, their amendment is a slight improvement on the motion as it stands and is supportable. Even some on the Executive benches might think that in their heart of hearts.

One aspect that always puzzles me about the Conservatives' position is that, although theirs is the one party that goes to the polls with the word "unionist" in its title, the fact that they have not won an election in a wee while is politely not mentioned. No one takes that as a rejection of the—[Interruption.] If members do not want to hear the argument, they can carry on shouting. No one takes the Conservative result in a general election as a rejection of the union itself—and rightly so, as voters have so many other reasons to reject Conservative candidates. We do not take an election result as a referendum on a specific issue.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The Conservatives won elections consecutively and stayed in office for 18 years with the word "unionist" right at the helm. We are going to outface Labour on that point.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I said that the Conservatives had not won an election for a wee while—that is all.

I want to move on to the Liberal position—I was going to throw in a few other adjectives, but I will restrain myself. The Liberals are open to bringing more powers to Holyrood and to the renegotiation of the current settlement, even proposing a fundamentally new framework of federalism within which that might operate. If anyone else in the UK wanted federalism, that one might even fly. However, they remain utterly closed to the one overriding point of principle, insisting that the only people who should be excluded from the debate are those outside the chamber—the rest of the Scottish population. The Liberal Democrats argue that it is the political parties, and not the public through a referendum, who should determine Scotland's constitutional future.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

That is rubbish. We live in a representative parliamentary democracy. On 3 May, the people of Scotland have the chance to vote for Patrick Harvie's party, the SNP or the Scottish Socialist Party, all of which advocate independence. That will be the voice of the people—Patrick Harvie should not misrepresent our position.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

As the Green party amendment points out, a parliamentary election is fought on a range of issues, on which people will vote as they see fit. Their motives are their own, not those that we as politicians ascribe to them.

In the election in May, some will vote for a change of Government because they are thinking about personalities, attitude and style of government, weapons of mass destruction or getting their bins emptied. Others will vote for a continuation of the Liberal-Laberal status quo but be open to the idea of independence, merely placing it further down their list of priorities. The election is not a verdict on any one issue, and nor should it be. It is a judgment on individual MSPs, candidates and party programmes in their totality.

That is why independence is an issue to be settled by referendum. I wish only that at least one party that supports the status quo was willing to put its arguments to the test and face the Scottish public on that issue—and that issue alone—in a referendum.

I move amendment S2M-5779.4, to leave out from "the United Kingdom" to end and insert:

"all political parties receive electoral support from people with a range of views on the constitution; considers therefore that the constitutional future of Scotland is a matter best decided by the people of Scotland through a referendum; believes that, regardless of the constitutional future chosen by the people of Scotland, there is a strong case for devolving power from government to local communities throughout Scotland, and considers that government in Scotland, whether under the current devolved arrangements or in an independent future, can do far more to empower communities than has been done to date."

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP 9:54 am, 22nd March 2007

The Executive's case for the union consists of three elements, essentially. It says that the union provides political stability, security for Scotland in an uncertain world and continuing economic prosperity. I want to consider those three elements, which the minister has mentioned.

First, I will deal with stability. According to recent opinion polls, David Cameron's Tories are 15 percentage points ahead of Labour. That was before yesterday's budget con. In yesterday's budget, Gordon Brown took from the poor and gave to the rich. He reduced corporation tax to 28p in the pound—it was 52p in the pound under Tony Blair's predecessor, Mrs Thatcher. A Tory victory at Westminster would be for Scottish political stability what the hyperinflation of the Weimar republic was for fiscal stability. The famous democratic deficit that led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament will not go away. Scotland voted against Phil Gallie and the Tories for 18 years but was lumbered with them, and the Tories used Scotland as a kind of Gruinard island to try out their political anthrax—the poll tax, with all its accompanying problems. Imagine there being a Tory Government at Westminster and an anti-Tory majority at Holyrood. The word "stability" does not spring to mind.

The motion states:

"devolution 'is a process, not an event'".

Devolution is a process that Tony Blair conceded against his instincts in order to prevent full-scale independence. One is reminded of the words of Lord George Robertson—the Rambo of NATO—who opined that devolution would kill off independence for a generation. He was wrong again. The issue of independence will return with a vengeance if David Cameron wins the next Westminster election.

The second reason that the Executive has given for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom is that doing so provides security for Scotland in an uncertain world. However, the truth is that Scotland provides the United Kingdom with a militarism that we do not want. We have the Faslane nuclear weapons base and Scottish regiments fighting in foreign wars under UK direction and Scotland is an arms manufacturing base. Who protects the world from Britain? What must the world think of Britain after last Wednesday's vote on Trident at Westminster? We threaten the world with nuclear annihilation and we have troops in Afghanistan and involved in the illegal occupation of Iraq. We have form in invading other countries. It is to our shame that Scotland is implicated in such threats and slaughter.

The third reason that the Executive has put forward in support of Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom is that we have had continuing economic prosperity under the union. Tell that to the men of Calton in east Glasgow, whose life expectancy is less than that of people in Afghanistan. Tell it to the children who live in absolute poverty—there are 270,000 of them, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. Tell it to the 800,000 people in Scotland who are low paid.

The Executive's motion deals with economic prosperity. It states that independence would

"result in either cuts in vital public services or massive increases in taxation".

That jumped out at me. I thought of Gordon Brown standing in front of the Parliament at Westminster, increasing taxes for working people and ensuring that there will be massive cuts in vital public services. Hideous, ulcerous inequality blights Scottish society, but the most effective measures to combat it are reserved. Labour will not lift Scottish kids out of poverty while there is much more of it south of the border. There is the rub. In our wealthy country, we watch helplessly as the levers for addressing endemic and chronic poverty are outwith our reach.

The Executive talks about additional powers for the Parliament. My goodness me, we need such powers. However, it does not talk about the power to stop nuclear power stations that we do not want being foisted on us, the power to stop asylum legislation that is wholly at odds with Scottish public opinion, the power to stop Trident or the power to stop our soldiers being sent to fight in Iraq. The Parliament does not have enough power to make the changes that we want to make.

I hope that everybody in Scotland who is in favour of independence accepts that the issue is a democratic issue. A majority may be opposed to independence at the moment, but the job of those who, like me, support independence is to persuade our fellow Scots that we would be better off if Scotland were independent. We must persuade them of the case for independence. In that context, I take comfort from the fact that although support for independence goes up and down, the figures reveal time and again that there is an unmistakable underlying trend in favour of it. I also take comfort from the fact that support for independence is far clearer and more profound among younger Scots and working-class Scots.

In trying to persuade our fellow Scots to support independence, we must ensure that we persuade them that the vast majority of people will be materially better off with all our revenues at our disposal. That is what an independent Scotland means to me. An independent Scotland would take cognisance of the views of the majority of Scots. The majority of the people of this country want to scrap the hated council tax, prescription charges and Trident. They want to be non-nuclear, to have free school meals provided and to have wealth redistributed. They want the rich to pay higher taxes, not lower, and they want our Scottish soldiers to be removed from Iraq. We know that to be the political centre of gravity of the people of Scotland. The case for independence is the case for making the vast majority of Scots better off economically, socially, culturally and politically.

However, by quoting big business as they do, my co-supporters of independence in the SNP risk the demobilisation of independence supporters. By promising big business a corporation tax rate of 12p in the pound, they send a vision of a different kind of Scotland from that which the vast majority of people want to see. The SSP's vision of an independent Scotland is a modern democratic republic that is free from the antiquated feudal relics of the past—a peace-loving Scotland, not a warmongering Scotland. We want a Scotland that is socially just and whose priorities are not those of speculators such as Brian Souter, Tom Farmer and George Mathewson, but those of our children. We are currently 21st out of 21 in the United Nations Children's Fund's league table of deprivation. We also want a Scotland that is multicultural and proud of it, which welcomes those who come here and choose to invest their lives and talents here alongside the talents of our people.

Scots are neither better than nor inferior to other nations; we simply want the right to make our own decisions. In my view, the break-up of the British state would be a progressive development for Scotland and the world—a world that we threaten daily with nuclear weapons, now and for the next 50 years; a world in which we invade other sovereign nations without reason; and a world in which we have the fifth-biggest arms manufacturer, which is virtually the only volume manufacturer that we have any more. For me, independence is a giant stride towards liberation from all that.

I move amendment S2M-5779.1, to leave out from "is a mutually beneficial relationship" to end and insert:

"thwarts Scotland's economic, social, cultural and political development; believes that Scotland would be better off if it were independent from the UK; believes that an independent Scotland would remove Trident nuclear weapons from the Clyde, scrap the hated council tax and prescription charges and redistribute the great wealth of Scotland to address widening inequalities and would never have agreed to send Scottish soldiers to fight a war in Iraq that is considered by many to be illegal; believes that Scots have the same democratic rights to self-determination as the people of any other country, and looks forward to a Scotland that is independent, socially just and internationalist in its outlook."

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 10:02 am, 22nd March 2007

I am happy to support the amendment in Margaret Curran's name, noting the respective positions of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties on the powers of the Parliament.

A hundred and twenty years ago, the Scottish Home Rule Association published in the Scottish Review a paper entitled "The Union of 1707 Viewed Financially". In that paper, the authors wrote:

"During last Session of the House of Commons ... the First Lord of the Treasury, discussing an estimate for expenditure incurred in connection with the defence of the Egyptian frontier, stated that the Government came to the conclusion that only a portion of this expenditure had been incurred with the authority of the 'representatives of England' in Egypt, and that for certain reasons the 'English Government' had not called upon the Egyptian Government to pay the sum. The member for Caithness thereupon put the pertinent question, 'Where is this English Government the right honourable gentleman has spoken of?'"

Today, the frontiers may be those of Afghanistan and Iraq, not Egypt, but it is equally frustrating when "English" is substituted for "British" and it will continue to be frustrating even with the Scottish First Lord of the Treasury proudly claiming that "we" won the world cup in 1966. Nevertheless, such frustration is not the reason to break up the United Kingdom, nor will it ever pass.

As someone who was born on the border and now represents a borderland constituency that has more in common with north Northumberland, where many of my former constituents merrily raided and murdered, I am frustrated when I see a Scottish Government funding displays of Scottish culture that is almost exclusively from the Highlands. I have nothing against my Highland colleagues, but Scotland has more than one part just as the United Kingdom has more than one part. The question that will face the people of Scotland in the years to come is what relationship Scotland has with its nearest neighbour.

A hundred and ten years after the Scottish Home Rule Association published its paper, the Labour Government published a white paper putting in train the formal procedure that set up the Scottish Parliament. The white paper did not go far enough, though, and the Liberal Democrat-led Steel commission, which provided the most authoritative review of the fiscal and legislative powers of the Parliament since devolution, came to some radical conclusions. It recommended, broadly, that the funds expended by the Parliament should be raised under the authority of the Parliament, which would mean a transfer of tax and fiscal powers commensurate with our legislative powers. Such a major shift would not only strengthen this institution but provide for a more federal approach to the United Kingdom. The structural flaw in our current devolution arrangements is that the expenditure that all parties will promise in the forthcoming election will be from revenues that are set by the Westminster Parliament. That is not sustainable.

Perhaps an alternative approach is independence, but not a week goes by without a different form of independence being promoted by the SNP. Mr Morgan's colleague who is at the top of the SNP's list for the South of Scotland—she will also contest my constituency—wants a republican, socialist, independent Scotland that, she said last week, should be outside the euro.

The second candidate on the SNP's South of Scotland list published a book last year in which he recommended a new union, in which the British Government would have only the minor powers of foreign affairs and defence. However, those are the very subjects on which the SNP has focused most of its debates over the past four years. In Mr Russell's view, the British Government should still have powers over foreign affairs and the military and the Queen should also be retained. I understand that the proofs of Mr Russell's book were returned to him with annotations from Mr Salmond. Some paragraphs—although not many—were annotated with "RH", meaning "relatively harmless". A few paragraphs had "D" for "dangerous". However, the book was peppered with "VD", meaning "very dangerous".

Mr MacAskill has suggested that UK agencies such as the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency should still have responsibility for Scotland's cars. Most bizarre of all—

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

If the member wishes to quote me, he should quote me accurately. I said that some of those responsibilities could be shared, but Scotland would still have an opportunity to direct matters. Rather than simply accept what was dictated, we would have the opportunity to contribute to giving the directions. That would be power.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Whether the agency is located in Bangalore or Swansea is another matter, but the issue is about control. It seems that Jeremy Purvis would prefer Scotland not to have any control.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I apologise, as the member has just given us a fourth option providing a different model for independence. The SNP seems to be on a roll.

Best of all, Alex Salmond has said that Scotland's fiscal policies should be set by the Bank of England. It is fair to point out that the Bank of England was set up by a Scot in 1694, but it is curious that the SNP leader believes that an independent Scotland today should have its fiscal policy determined by the Bank of England.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

No, I do not have time. When Mr Mather makes an intervention, the managementspeak never stops.

Alex Salmond will never be able to explain why the only powers that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of an independent Scotland would have would be to write a letter to the Bank of England about the interest rates that were set in Scotland. How bizarre—

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Mr Salmond claims that the situation would be only temporary until we entered the euro. However, the Bank of England would set the Scottish interest rate before we got into the euro. That is an absurd proposition. Mr Mather might as well sit down.

Even if the SNP has decided what type of independence it wants, it needs to be honest with the electorate about what type of economy it proposes. On the one hand, the SNP proposes an Irish fiscal model, with low corporation tax. On the other hand, it says that it wants a Scandinavian social model, with perhaps 10 per cent more taxation. The SNP has not decided either what type of independence it wants or what type of economy it wants.

In 1945, George Orwell wrote:

"Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. ... Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality."

Our aspirations go beyond national units. The future challenges that face our children in Scotland and elsewhere in the world require this institution and other institutions around the world to work together. We need to cede some of our sovereignty and pool some of our power to work with others around the world.

I am a patriotic and passionate Borderer, but I also know that this Parliament must develop, with more powers and responsibilities. However, we must realise that we have a shared burden and shared opportunities within the UK, with the UK and with the rest of the world.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We come now to open debate. I will not be able to call all the members whose names are on my screen, but we will see what we can get through.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 10:09 am, 22nd March 2007

I will focus my remarks on one of the issues that Scotland holds most dear—its education system. As we in the chamber all know, the Scottish education system has flourished while Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom over the past 300 years.

The politics of grudge and grievance typified by the SNP portrays Scotland as having been held back as part of the union, which somehow does not allow us freedom and diversity and which suffocates us. We all know that education has been vital to Scotland's success and will remain so in the future. Education is just one of the many areas in which Scotland has distinctive approaches to policy within a strong United Kingdom. Far from being held back by the union that the SNP so despises, we are supported by it in what we do.

We have the best of both worlds in Scotland. We are part of a strong union for those purposes that suit our national interests and yet we are free to determine our own policies and approaches across the widest range of issues. That is the deal that was put to the Scottish people in 1997 and overwhelmingly supported by the people. It is the deal that all the evidence shows the Scottish people want to maintain. The people rightly see no need to take ourselves out of possibly the most successful political union in history, which has let us flourish. The union is not rigid or inflexible but has evolved and will evolve further.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I am very short of time. I am afraid that I will not take any interventions.

Never more so than under a Labour Government have we demonstrated the flexibility of the union through the delivery of this Parliament and home rule for Scotland. It is perhaps the prime example of a union that is capable of adapting, recognising diversity and remaining united at the same time.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the field of education. Scotland has developed a distinctive education system; distinctive comprehensive schools; a distinctive way of training and inducting teachers; a distinctive and much-admired school inspection system that is the envy of the world; a distinctive rigorous and high-standard exam system that is also the envy of the world; distinctive approaches to supporting those with additional support needs; distinctive approaches to the curriculum; distinctive approaches to enterprise education; distinctive approaches to our four-year university degree; and distinctive approaches to student fees. I could go on and on. Those are all examples of where Scotland, within the union, has been supported to develop and meet our priorities. No ambition has been thwarted or limited by the union, but rather the reverse—ambition has been liberated by the union and the fiscal transfers that we get to support our education system.

The break-up of Britain offers education no advantage whatsoever—in fact, quite the opposite. The break-up of Britain that is planned by the SNP threatens our education system, just as it threatens every other aspect of our national life. It means disruption and uncertainty and a huge fiscal deficit that would threaten our spending levels and divert attention from what we must do to what we do not need to do at all.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I am afraid that I cannot; I have only another minute left.

While Labour would introduce an education bill in the first 100 days of the new session, the SNP would introduce a bill to start the break-up of Britain. While Labour would deploy every working hour of our civil service in building up Scottish education, the SNP would use every working hour planning punch-ups with Westminster. While Labour would build new schools, the SNP would see to it that the skills and jobs to deliver those new schools moved south to England where the work would continue. While Labour would establish new skills academies in Scotland, the SNP would deprive our skilled Scottish athletes of the ability to win medals as part of UK Olympic teams—what a priority. While Labour would raise the school leaving age, the SNP would lower school budgets. While Labour would give more priority to science and languages, the SNP would introduce a new tax on work and savings.

No matter how cuddly the SNP tries to appear or how much it tries to play down its independence obsession, the SNP does not come without independence and independence does not come without a cost. Scotland deserves much better.

Scotland deserves much better than the SNP, a party without a single original thought about education. Scotland can continue to see education strengthened; it can do so within the United Kingdom supported by the United Kingdom, just as it has done over the past 300 years. The choice is clear: schools with Labour or separation with the SNP.

As we speak, the people of Gordon are preparing to reject Alex Salmond as their future MSP. I believe firmly that the people of Scotland more widely will reject him too. When they do that, they will help us to build Scotland, not break up Britain.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 10:14 am, 22nd March 2007

Peter Peacock argues for Scottish solutions to Scottish problems in education, but I do not understand why a policy of finding Scottish solutions to Scottish problems is appropriate for education, health, housing and justice, but not for the economy, tax policy, social security policy, defence, foreign affairs and all the rest of it.

There was one sentence in Margaret Curran's opening speech with which I entirely agree. She said that we in Scotland should work in partnership with the rest of our neighbours in the United Kingdom. I agree 100 per cent, but the question is what the nature of that partnership should be. Should we continue with a partnership in which Scotland is subservient to London or should we pursue a partnership in which our status is equal to that of London? The word "partnership" was not used anywhere in Margaret Curran's speech in relation to the European Union. The reality is that we are not just part of a political union called the United Kingdom; we are also part of a much bigger union—a political and economic European Union that now encompasses 500 million people. Our relationship with London must be based on our relationship with the EU.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

One aspect of the SNP's position that has always intrigued me is that it seems to be extremely comfortable with all the other international unions such as the United Nations and the EU. Why, then, does the union that is closest to home and which benefits us most cause the SNP such grief?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

One reason why is that our being part of the UK has resulted in one in four of our children living in poverty. After 10 years of a Labour Government in London, eight years of a Lib-Lab pact in Edinburgh and 300 years of the union, child poverty in Scotland is 10 times the level of child poverty in Denmark, for example. After 10 years of the Labour Government, child poverty in Scotland is four times higher than it was under Harold Wilson. That is the measure of the record of the union and of Labour in London and Edinburgh.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

No—I have already taken one.

The main thrust of my remarks is the EU. We now have three centres of power: Edinburgh, London and Brussels. All the other successful small countries in Europe, including Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Austria, have control over their own affairs when it comes to macroeconomic management, defence policy, foreign policy and all the rest of it.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I will give way in a minute.

If we look at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development table for the 10 richest nations in the world—

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The UK is not up there—it is 17 th on the list. I would have thought that the Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning would have known such facts.

Eight of the 10 richest OECD nations are small countries that are similar in size to Scotland, and many of them have nowhere near the quantity of natural resources that we have. Why is it that even though we have vast natural resources—not just oil and gas, but many others—our economy and our society have been mismanaged to such an extent that the level of child poverty is so high? That is not to mention the fact—to pick up on what Christine May said—that a fifth of our pensioners in Scotland are also living in poverty.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The member referred to a number of small countries in the EU that have control over their economies, foreign affairs and so on. I understand that the nationalists support the European constitution, but if those countries sign up to the constitution, surely they will lose those powers?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The SNP did not support the final draft of the EU constitution because it would have given the House of Lords more control over Scottish fishing than this democratically elected Parliament would have had. There were many other reasons why we were very critical of the constitution's final draft.

We should not listen to Geoff Hoon—he is a buffoon. Instead, we should listen to Eamonn Gallagher and Emile Noël, former directors-general of the EU, who have made the legal and political position clear beyond any doubt: if the people of Scotland vote for independence, we will automatically and without further negotiation become a member state of the European Union. Let us in this election campaign put an end to the scaremongering and nonsense and start telling the truth.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour 10:21 am, 22nd March 2007

When I was growing up in Glasgow, my late father, who was born about a century ago, told me cautionary tales of the general strike, the depression and life's daily struggles before Labour Governments introduced the welfare state and brought in full employment. As he regarded crime as being mostly economically motivated, he found the sporadic teenage gang violence of the relatively prosperous 1960s incomprehensible.

When, at the age of 15, I decided to leave school, I had my pick of apprenticeships. I took full employment for granted in the 1960s. Back then, youth disorder was not so prevalent as to interest me politically; I was more interested in international issues such as the Vietnamese revolution. In fact, I thought that by 1970 we would have had a revolution here. Instead, the Tories won the general election. Ted Heath tried to move away from full employment, but the miners who went on strike, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders workers who staged a work-in and, ultimately, the electorate in 1974 had different ideas. By then, I well understood the importance of full employment. However, I had also become interested in home rule—an interest that I shared for a time with Alex Neil, with whom I briefly marched under the leadership of his mentor, Jim Sillars. I have to say that, when I see the relatively full employment that we have under the home rule of today, I wonder about the bitterness in Alex Neil that blinds him to reality.

After the fall of the Heath Government, Harold Wilson and then Jim Callaghan struggled against inflation and for full employment. However, Callaghan's proposed home-rule legislation was scrapped after the failure of a disgracefully rigged referendum, which was held 28 years ago this month.

The SNP then helped to bring down that Labour Government and ushered in the long dark night of Thatcherism. In 1981 alone, 40,000 people in my beloved home town of Glasgow lost their jobs. Tory initiatives such as the youth opportunities programme, the youth training scheme and the community programme merely disguised the true level of unemployment.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Has it escaped Charlie Gordon's notice that we would never have had Thatcher had we been independent?

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

I have a good memory, and everything that I have recalled in this chamber is true—I can even remember the days when Alex Neil was a socialist.

When the Tories dropped the pretence and stopped disguising the unemployment figures—

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

No—I do not often get a chance to say these things.

A Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer asserted that unemployment was a price that was well worth paying for low inflation. The Tories were not worried about the social consequences; after all, it was Margaret Thatcher who said:

"There is no such thing as society."

However, Scotland today still lives with the social consequences of Thatcherism. The teenagers of 1981 who were given no jobs, no chances and—worst of all—no hope by the Tories are now in their early 40s. They are the parents of today's teenagers, but many of them never accessed the collective discipline and respect that full employment helps to nurture—that gap shows in their parenting. They are Thatcher's children, and their teenage offspring, some of whom terrorise their neighbours, are Thatcher's grandchildren. Despite full employment and home rule, many Scots teenagers cling to a nihilism that manifests itself along a spectrum of noise, vandalism, intimidation and terrifying violence.

Inflation is a quarter of what it was 10 years ago when Labour took office at Westminster. Compared to then, we have 200,000 more jobs in Scotland, 1,000 more police officers on the beat and 500 new community wardens, backed by the raft of new measures in the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004, which the official Opposition in Parliament did not support. Labour is responding to the moral panic that Thatcher's grandchildren have caused in neighbourhoods. We must push on with the aim of full employment, especially for youngsters who are not in education, employment or training. The phrase "Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime" is not an outdated Blairite soundbite—for us, it is about a moral crusade.

There is much more to do and it will be difficult, but that is what government and building Scotland are about. Government is not the same as gambling. Sure, we could gamble on hard-working families voting to pay five grand a year more in income tax or on turning local government into mere local administration by removing its right to raise finance locally, but cutting council funding by more than £1 billion, perhaps to pay for a million wee windmills at £1,500 a throw, would be a move from the quixotic to the chaotic. Councillors, including SNP councillors, are in the front line in tackling antisocial behaviour. They and their communities will curse the SNP if it abandons the respect agenda and plunges Scotland into the recession that its supporter Crawford Beveridge has predicted, and their children and grandchildren will curse the SNP, too.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 10:27 am, 22nd March 2007

Scotland is a great nation of which we should all be proud. Many members have spoken about Scotland's contribution to the world, of which I am immensely proud. Scotland provided the culture that reared and nurtured me and the background that gave me the political philosophy that made me want to become an elected member of Parliament. It is strange that, although we have been given an opportunity to discuss the union, very few members, especially among the Labour and Liberal members who have spoken, have been willing to do that.

Charlie Gordon spoke at length about his early political motivation. I, too, was motivated to get involved in politics back in 1974, when I saw the spectre of an independent Scotland rise with the rising popularity of the SNP. I was still at school then, but that was the first time I argued in debate for the union and against an independent Scotland. Although Scotland has contributed much to the world, it has achieved that within the current constitutional arrangement. The quality of some of the speeches in the debate has therefore been all the more disappointing. Margaret Curran put the union on the agenda—and rightly so, as the debate is a welcome opportunity to do so—but she then spoke about anything but the union. She sought to hitch together inseparably the Executive's record with the union.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Perhaps the member misunderstood me. I was trying to make the case for devolution within the union. I am obliged to point out the successes of devolution, although Alex Johnstone does not like me to do so.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

By harnessing the Executive's record to the future of the union, Ms Curran puts the union at risk in a way that she does not understand.

We must understand that the Conservative and Unionist Party in the Parliament accepts devolution. I was out there campaigning against devolution and I voted against it, but I believe in the future of the union and in the current constitutional arrangements as the best way to achieve it. What does Labour contribute to the debate? Labour contributes a suggestion that there is rigidity in the current constitutional arrangements, that there is to be no further flexibility and that its record and the performance of the devolved settlement are inseparable. It makes the next election not a referendum on Scottish independence but a referendum on its record, and it seeks to take the union down with it. I cannot accept that.

What is the alternative? The alternative that Margaret Curran and I are equally afraid of is the Scottish National Party that sits opposite us. The minister suggested in her opening speech that the SNP seeks to make everything a constitutional issue. What evidence is there to support that? Every time the SNP speaks in Parliament, it seeks to make everything a constitutional issue. Almost every motion that is lodged by the SNP—even the ones that sound reasonably sensible—contains a bit at the end that suggests that everything would be better in an independent Scotland, without producing much evidence to support that.

The commonsense attitudes that are portrayed by certain members of the SNP are simply a smokescreen. On the SNP front bench today we see people such as John Swinney and Alasdair Morgan. I even see—sitting behind them, on one of his rare visits at such occasions—Jim Mather. All those men are capable of making sensible statements on some economic issues. Behind them, though, when they make those statements, sit row upon row of socialists who would, given the opportunity, drag Scotland down. If they make the electoral breakthrough that they seek to achieve, there will be more of them for us to worry about. Scotland is a nation that must concentrate on wealth creation, on partnerships, and how best to achieve all that we wish to achieve, regardless of our political persuasion.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Will the member explain what is so different about Scotland that we have to depend on another nation for our economic well-being?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

That is exactly the point that I was about to make. Even today, there is no nation in the world that seeks to stand alone—partnership is the way in which nations achieve their aims and objectives. They enter partnerships on a military basis, on a political basis and on an economic basis. I believe that Britain belongs in the European Union and that Scotland has its role within that. Scotland was a pioneer in forming economic relationships with its neighbours. The union of the United Kingdom is the strongest economic relationship between two countries in history. It is important that we remember that that key relationship and the political structures that underpin it are vital to the well-being of Scotland's people, and will continue to be so. We must be prepared to defend that at every opportunity.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 10:33 am, 22nd March 2007

It is worth reflecting that only 10 short years ago, Michael Forsyth was Scotland's premier politician. If anyone cares to examine what it means for rural or island Scotland to have a Labour Government at Westminster and two unionist parties leading this Administration in Edinburgh, they need only examine the transformation in the fortunes of those of us who live and work in the Western Isles. In 1997, unemployment in the Western Isles stood at more than 12 per cent. That depressing figure has been massively reduced as our economy ever improves.

For centuries, highlanders sought to dismantle the iniquitous system of land ownership that suffocated communities, stifled development and encouraged mass emigration. With the election of a Labour Government on 1 May 1997, and the creation of this Parliament, a blueprint for land reform was taken forward and converted into the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003—an excellent piece of much-needed legislation—and an aspiration that straddled three centuries was finally realised.

Today 70 per cent of the Western Isles' population live in community-owned estates—communities where homes are being built and businesses are being located. At last, after centuries in which we prepared the best and brightest people for emigration, islanders are turning what were sadly desolate parts of Scotland into vibrant living communities. That did not happen by chance—it was delivered by people making positive and conscious electoral decisions in favour of my party and other parties that are committed to delivering improvement and are not obsessed with the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The same encouraging account can be given of the education system in the Western Isles. Historically, we used on average to build a new school in the islands every 15 years. Under Peter Peacock, this Administration sanctioned a £52 million school building and refurbishment programme, which is being implemented by Hugh Henry. Every parent, teacher and pupil should appreciate that investment, which the separatists would halt.

With the successful transfer of our council housing stock to community ownership, we are witnessing the beginning of the biggest housebuilding programme in the Hebrides since the programme that was commissioned in the 1940s and 1950s by the then Ministry of Works.

Investment in our health service is equally impressive. Islanders and other people in rural Scotland are receiving more services that can safely be delivered closer to home. A week on Saturday, the first dialysis unit in the Western Isles will open in Stornoway. No longer will patients have to spend the week in Inverness, away from their families, for life-saving treatment.

It is important that our transportation links have been greatly improved—it helps to have a First Minister and a Minister for Transport who are both islanders. We have two new direct air links—between Benbecula and Inverness, and between Stornoway and Aberdeen. The Administration has delivered a 40 per cent air-discount scheme for all island residents—a scheme that the separatists opposed. Last week the First Minister pledged that the Administration that he will lead after the election will offer the same discount to Scottish island residents travelling by ferry.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Alasdair Morrison paints a picture of a land of milk and honey in the Western Isles and says that nationalism does not work, so why have people in the Western Isles elected a nationalist member to Westminster?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Such are the ups and downs of politics. I am painting a picture of the reality of 10 years of a Labour Government at Westminster and eight years of unionist parties leading the Administration here at Holyrood. That has transformed life and work for many islanders in the Western Isles and people throughout rural Scotland.

The level of investment and change that we have realised has helped to stem population decline. For two consecutive years, the population of the Western Isles has increased—the first time that has happened since the early 1970s. Our economy is no longer in crisis: it is being assisted by old-fashioned intervention and favourable macroeconomic conditions, which are leading the private sector to create and locate more work and jobs in rural and island Scotland.

However, the massive shift in our fortunes is endangered by the corrosive spectre of separation and the constitutional quagmire into which Alex Salmond and his merry band desperately want to take us. If we look around the world, we soon appreciate that separatist movements are always flag-waving, border-obsessed movements. The Scottish separatists are no different. All separatist movements define and measure themselves against other people—they need a bogeyman. For the Scottish separatists, England and Westminster are the bogeyman. Their leadership may pretend that they never espouse such politics, but at the end of the day we know that anti-Englishness galvanises many of the separatists and SNP activists. That is the bottom line. Many nationalists are happier discussing the battles of the 14th century than they are preparing Scotland's young for the challenges of the global economy. In my view, no one has better described nationalism than Albert Einstein, who rightly said:

"Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind."

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 10:39 am, 22nd March 2007

The Liberal Democrats are strong supporters of our union with the other nations of the United Kingdom. However, the choice that we face on 3 May is not a simple one, as both Labour and the SNP would have us believe. The Liberal Democrats believe that we face a different choice—not a choice between independence and no change. We believe in firm powers for the Scottish Parliament. We need more control over the levers of power and we cannot continue to be a Parliament that relies on handouts from Westminster. I much preferred the Executive's agreed position yesterday, which acknowledged that we might, where appropriate, increase the powers that are available to our Parliament.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Does that mean that Mr Rumbles will support our amendment, which clearly articulates the position that he is setting out?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

We will see. I am a firm believer in listening to all the speeches in a debate.

I have trouble taking seriously the economic scaremongering—perhaps I should just call it silliness—in the motion. It is silly to suggest that independence would lead to "massive increases in taxation". I am sorry, but the Executive has got that wrong. I have no doubt that if the Scottish people chose independence we would continue to be a successful nation. The arguments about independence or union should not focus only on economics. It annoys me tremendously when people argue that if we choose to be independent we will not be successful, either because we are too stupid or because we have been too economically dependent on English handouts. What nonsense.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

The member said earlier that Parliament should not rely on English handouts. Is he suggesting that the new Liberal policy is for the Scottish Parliament to raise taxes?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

No. I want the Scottish Parliament to reduce taxes. Labour members like Jackie Baillie talk complete nonsense. We must let the people decide on 3 May.

I wish that members would stop peddling the nonsense that we are not good enough to stand alone if we choose to do so and that we must rely on handouts from south of the border.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

In a minute.

The union benefits us all, but Charlie Gordon's claim that under independence we would have to pay £5,000 more in income tax and Scotland would be pushed into a recession is complete nonsense.

Patrick Harvie was critical of the Liberal Democrats' opposition to a referendum on the union with our neighbours. It is not our policy to hold such a referendum. We think that the union with our neighbours is successful. We live in a representative parliamentary democracy and on 3 May the people will have a chance to vote for three parties that are against the union, including Patrick Harvie's party, and three parties that are in favour of the union.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Over the years, Liberal Democrats have advocated various constitutional positions. When did they cease to believe that major constitutional decisions should be taken by referendum?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

That was a bizarre intervention. Patrick Harvie does not know his history or his politics—he is rather ignorant of the situation. We have been in favour of home rule since the days of Gladstone. The Liberal Party—our predecessor party—was always at the forefront of the home-rule movement. I must correct Patrick Harvie: we have not changed our position at all and we have never been in favour of such referendums. Patrick Harvie seems to be surprised, but he is completely ignorant of our position over the years. We believe in the representative parliamentary democracy that we have.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I agree with much of what Mike Rumbles has said—

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

She does not say that very often.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

There is a first time for everything.

Will Mike Rumbles make plain what he believes the benefits of the union are? Some members said that our education depends on the union; others think that our economic success or failure depends on the union. What does he think?

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I am stuck for time, so I will be succinct. We benefit more from being together than we would do from being on our own. There are advantages to the union, which include economic benefits, of course.

I will return to the point about a referendum and the decision that is facing us on 3 May. That is crucial to the whole debate. We can dismiss the economic debate as scaremongering because I believe that the issue is not economics, but choice. It is about whether people want to have an independent Scotland. If they want that, they can vote for the three parties that support that on 3 May. If they want to keep the union, they can vote for the three unionist parties whose members are putting themselves forward for election on 3 May.

We in the Liberal Democrats will abide by the decisions of the people on 3 May. I expect the Greens, the socialists and the SNP also to abide by the decisions of the people on 3 May. I believe that the union is a success and that the Scots people will confirm that on 3 May.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent 10:45 am, 22nd March 2007

The Minister for Parliamentary Business said that she—I think she meant the Labour Party—came to the Parliament to manage devolution. I did not come here to manage devolution, which partly explains why I am sitting here as an independent. Personally, I came here to do the best for the people of Scotland. I do not think that we can achieve the best for the people of Scotland in a devolved, constrained, limited Parliament.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent

No thanks. We have had 300 years of apologists for the British union. We do not need to hear any more.

The people of Scotland have always known their place within the union, because we have always been told our place within the union. The Scot's role has been to be a labour force and, at times of war, cannon-fodder. It is not just British political parties or the British establishment that have kept Scotland in its place within the union; the north-British subsections of the British Labour Party and the other unionist parties, members of which have spoken in the debate, have conspired to tell the people of Scotland that we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern ourselves. That is the reality.

I see one of those members nodding. He agrees that Scots are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern themselves.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, the member was nodding to my visual signal that he has only five minutes in which to speak.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent

How do you know who I was pointing to, Presiding Officer?

It is not normal for one nation to be governed by another. However, that is the situation today, as this is only a devolved Parliament that is answerable to the Westminster Parliament. This Parliament is totally subservient to the Parliament in London. We need independence because only with independence can we deal with the bread-and-butter issues that affect Scots every day of their lives. The unionist parties have told us that they want the election to be about the bread-and-butter issues, not about constitutional change. I argue that we need that constitutional change to give us the full powers and full resources that we require to deal with the problems affecting Scots today. Without the powers that come only with independence, we will continue to target initiatives at symptoms, rather than at the actual problems.

We know that unionist political parties do not always tell the truth when they are talking about the constitution and independence. Back when the constitutional reality was a Scotland governed directly from London, we were told that devolution would be a leap in the dark and probably would be the end of civilisation as we knew it. That clearly was not true. Now we are told that, if we move to independence, it will be a leap in the dark and probably the end of civilisation as we know it. That, too, is untrue. Then again, unionist parties have a history of not telling the truth.

Charlie Gordon referred to the sweeping to power of the Wilson Government in the mid-1970s and how great that was. I remember that, too. I was a teenager in the mid-1970s, and I remember being told by the then Labour Government that Scotland was an economic basket-case and that we could not stand on our own two feet and govern ourselves.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I was not at school in the mid-1970s; I was in Westminster. I was told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few years after that that Scotland was not an economic basket-case, that my case was watertight and that he would oppose me every inch of the way. That was Denis Healey.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent

Denis Healey was the man who said that we were an economic basket-case and could not stand on our own two feet. As I said, unionist political parties do not always tell the truth when they are talking about the constitution.

Dr Gavin McCrone supplied a report to the Labour Government at that time. That Labour Government had told us that Scotland was an economic basket-case and that we were too wee, too poor and too stupid, but it was being told that Scotland could quickly become one of Europe's strongest economies with embarrassingly large tax surpluses. It was also told that oil revenue would

"transform Scotland into a country with a substantial and chronic surplus."

I imagine that that would result from a plague of oil.

British unionist parties have a track record of not telling the truth. The people of Scotland would vote for independence if politicians did not lie to them. Those politicians know that they are lying because they are intelligent people—I clarify that: they are relatively intelligent people. They rush on to "Newsnight Scotland" and Michael Crow's rock around midnight or whatever it is called to tell us that we cannot stand on our own two feet—we are too poor and too stupid. That is not the case.

Why is Scotland—alone among all the nations in the world—unable to stand on its own two feet or to manage its affairs better in its people's interests? Why do unionist political parties have to do Scotland down and scare the people of Scotland away from their democratic right to retake their independence? Roll on the day—it is coming, and members know it—when the people of Scotland retake their independence for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour 10:51 am, 22nd March 2007

One of my main motivations for becoming involved in politics and joining the Labour Party was the desire for everyone in the country to have good opportunities in life through an excellent education, comprehensive and modern health provision, and the prospect of stable and rewarding employment. I also became involved in reaction to the devastation that the Thatcher Governments visited on the whole UK.

The motivation for many nationalists to enter politics is to establish Scotland as a separate country. In many cases, that is irrespective of whether they believe that that would be better or worse for individual Scots. The SNP's problem is that not enough of those unconditional nationalists exist for it to achieve its aims, which is why the economic case for and against separatism is a vital part of the debate before the Scottish parliamentary elections. I disagree with Mike Rumbles about that.

Over the sweep of history, the union has been good for Scotland. Along with the other countries of the UK, Scotland was a driving force of the industrial revolution. Scottish scientists and engineers made a vital contribution to the ideas and ingenuity that made the UK the largest economy in the world.

Even now, the union benefits Scotland and England. As a nation of only 60 million people, the UK is still the fifth-largest economy in the world. Our continued membership of the UK means that Scotland continues to have a strong voice in the G8 and in the European Union.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

I want to make progress.

At times, such as in the 1980s and 1990s, the Tories have devastated whole sections of our economy and abandoned communities. We should not forget the role—of which Charlie Gordon reminded us—that the SNP played in bringing Margaret Thatcher to power.

I will consider Scotland's modern constitutional settlement, and how our economy has developed in the past 10 years and what its prospects are. Scotland has 200,000 more jobs than it had 10 years ago and has one of the highest employment rates in Europe. We have had interest rate stability and economic growth and many sectors in our economy are strong, including finance, tourism, food and drink, life sciences and energy. Key sections of our manufacturing base, such as shipbuilding, benefit from access to the UK's defence expenditure, and much of the customer base for sectors such as finance—which is a Scottish success story—is in other parts of the UK.

Given that successful backdrop, what are the most important measures that we could take to enhance our economic prospects further? The answer is to retain the stable economic framework from which we benefit in the UK and to use the powers that we have under the devolution settlement to continue the programme of improving our people's education and knowledge. In the years to come, the leading component of our public policy should be to drive forward education, whether through improving our basic numeracy and literacy skills, through modern apprenticeships or through developing the internationally renowned research in our universities.

A modern integrated transport system is undoubtedly essential for Scotland's economic prospects. We are at the northern tip of an island that is on Europe's western edge, so if we are to give our economic prospects the best chance, we should do everything that we can to enhance our connectivity in the UK and with the wider world.

A huge division has opened up between the transport priorities of Labour and the Liberals and those of the SNP. We are committed to major infrastructure improvements—the Edinburgh and Glasgow airport rail links; new and reopening lines such as those from Bathgate to Airdrie and from Stirling to Kincardine; the new tram services in Edinburgh; and the completion of missing parts of our motorway network, such as the M74 extension. Our position should be contrasted with that of the SNP, which has withdrawn its support for the Edinburgh airport rail link and the Edinburgh trams, either because of political expediency or because it knows that the costs of separation will be so high that it will not be able to match the investment in infrastructure to which we are committed.

I turn finally to taxation. Until recently, the SNP supported a local income tax system that would have given working Scots the highest income tax in the UK—it would have been 6.5p in the pound higher. Recently, the party has been trying to distance itself from that policy, but it remains clear that the SNP would either raise income tax by 3p in the pound—alongside its £1 billion of cuts in public services—or impose the full 6.5p increase. Even before we know the full cost of separating Scotland from the UK, it is clear that the existing long list of SNP tax-and-spend policies would result in every Scottish family facing an additional tax bill of £5,000 a year.

Photo of Bristow Muldoon Bristow Muldoon Labour

I am afraid that I am about to finish, Margo.

Scotland has been doing well in recent years, but because of increasing challenges from other parts of the world we will continue to do well only if we adopt whole-heartedly the skills and knowledge agenda that the First Minister has outlined. The alternative offered by the SNP is years of turmoil and introspection caused by separation from the UK, which would at best be a distraction but would more likely have a hugely detrimental impact on our economic prospects. Unconditional nationalists may want to take that risk, but I do not believe that families in Scotland want to take that chance over their children's future.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I express my regrets to the three remaining members who wished to speak in the debate, but we must move to closing speeches.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP 10:57 am, 22nd March 2007

The debate has been interesting—perhaps even memorable. Like other Labour members, the minister claimed in her opening remarks that all Scotland's achievements in the past 300 years were products of the Act of Union 1707. The mind boggles when we think of John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell or Alexander Fleming, and at the thought that when Archie Gemmill scored his goal in Argentina in 1978, the first thing on his mind was, "That's wan for the union!" Above all, perhaps, the debate was memorable just because Charlie Gordon mentioned the S word, even if was just a historical reference to a socialist he used to know.

The debate was also interesting in showing that the Conservatives should have taken advantage of the free eye tests that were offered in the Parliament the week before last. Alex Johnstone keeps seeing socialists on the SNP benches.

Mike Rumbles's speech was good. He completely stifled the nonsensical Labour scaremongering about independence. He put the view, fairly, that we should trust the people and let them decide. Democracy is more powerful than any constitution, and on 3 May the people of Scotland will have their say.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Will the member make plain whether he believes that we need a referendum or whether there could be another way of advancing the case, if it is the will of the people? This institution could take the case forward, rather than us having a referendum that would divide the parties along party-political lines and confuse the concepts of independence and the union.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

Last night, Margo MacDonald and I shared a platform at the Edinburgh Tenants Federation hustings. It was a very nice event with eight speakers. A Labour member of the audience pressed Tricia Marwick to say whether, if the SNP won a majority in May, the party would press Gordon Brown to return money to this country. The Labour member was somewhat aghast when I spoke to them later and said, "Of course it should. That's what democracy is. If the SNP has a mandate, it is perfectly entitled to press Gordon Brown to return the money to Scotland and to press the case for independence." It is inevitable that, in a debate such as this, Labour members will defend the union by saying that they believe that the current constitutional arrangement is the most stable and successful. I respect that point of view, but Labour will get a rude awakening soon with the impact of a Tory Government at Westminster that is in utter conflict with a Scottish Parliament of a different colouration—if I may put it that way.

It is inevitable that Labour and Conservative members will defend the union and that Labour members will defend the Executive's record. That is understandable, but, unfortunately, Labour members are hidebound by the fact that the Executive is entirely constrained by the limits of the devolved process and powers.

I am sure that everybody here knows—even the dogs in the street know—that Labour support is on the slide and that it expects big losses in the elections in May. Labour members have repeated the old story—it was rubbish the first time, but there is nothing wrong with hearing it again—that the SNP voted down the Labour Government in 1979 when Thatcher came to power.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

Yes, of course, but it is typical of Labour members to see the hundreds and thousands but not the cake. The fact is that the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979—I am sure that Bristow Muldoon and Charlie Gordon reflect on this in their saner moments—redistributed wealth from the poor to the rich, which is why it was brought to its knees. The Government of James Callaghan, Harold Wilson and Denis Healey failed because it redistributed the wealth from working people to the rich.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

I knew that it would come back to Labour members, now that I have mentioned it. They have remembered that there was a cake. The icing sugar was on the top and the cake was underneath.

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

I am happy to give way now that Labour members have remembered the cake.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

Does the member think that the 18 years of Tory rule that followed were beneficial to the people of Scotland?

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP

Of course they were a nightmare, but they were brought about by the failure of the previous Labour Government, which redistributed wealth to the rich. That is why Thatcher got in.

I am confident that, as Campbell Martin said, the demographics are in favour of those who support independence. I am also confident in the ability of the people of Scotland to run their own affairs and I am happy to trust them. I am happy to present the argument that Scotland would be better off if it had revenues of its own to spend—our oil and gas revenues.

I am not a nationalist—I never have been—but an internationalist. I do not claim that Scots are better than anyone else, but neither are we inferior to anyone else. I simply want the same rights for Scots that I, as a socialist, would extend to everybody else in the world. I have a passion for England. My family is English. I am not anti-English—that is just plain silly, prejudiced, bigoted and ignorant—but I demand national liberation for Scotland from the UK state, which is artificial and designed to suit the British ruling class. Scotland's international reputation is denigrated by its being part of the union. I see an independent Scotland having a far greater standing in the eyes of the peoples of the world.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 11:03 am, 22nd March 2007

If today was supposed to be an exercise in nat bashing, as Murdo Fraser demonstrated in his delightful contribution, it went off the rails right at the start. Having heard the debate, if I was a unionist, as Murdo Fraser is, I would share his concerns about the state of the union and its preservation. Murdo Fraser and Alex Johnstone were quite right that the Executive seems to be missing the mood for change. If the defence of the union becomes a defence of the record of the Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive, the union is in a sorry state indeed.

I, like Margo MacDonald, will say something that I find myself saying rarely: Mike Rumbles was absolutely right. This is not a debate about the financial benefits or disbenefits of the union; we have to make a political and philosophical choice about what kind of union we want and what kind of relationship we want with our neighbours. Some of those neighbours are part of the UK; some, such as Ireland, have left the UK; and some, such as Norway, have never been part of the UK.

Listening to the litany of joy from Margaret Curran, one would think that Scotland was a paradise on earth, but Charlie Gordon reminded us of some of the other things that have happened in Scotland—things that Margaret Curran did not mention. He talked about the depression, about unemployment, about the Upper Clyde Shipworkers and about Ravenscraig. He gave the other side of the story, and explained why things happened. However, he said that we got Thatcherism because of the SNP, and not because of the 1979 election, at which millions of voters rejected the Labour Party and voted for other parties. I find his view bizarre.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I am intrigued by Mark Ballard's analysis. He referred to Charlie Gordon's illustration of the experience of mass unemployment, but surely Mark Ballard would concede that one of the biggest successes in Scotland is our record levels of employment, with people back in work. Does he begrudge our being proud of that?

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

There has been a great increase in employment, but far too many jobs are low paid, and we still have the problem of the working poor.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

There has been some improvement, but does the member agree that, after 10 years of Labour Government, there are still 180,000 people in Scotland who are fit, able and willing to work but who cannot find jobs in Scotland?

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

That is a valid point from Alex Neil, which complements his previous point that 23 per cent of Scottish children still grow up in poverty. They do not grow up in the earthly paradise that Margaret Curran talked about.

We need a proper debate on our constitutional future. Mike Rumbles made the odd comment that the Liberal Democrats have never believed in referendums. Is this the same Mike Rumbles who stood in Aberdeen North in 1997 on a Liberal Democrat manifesto that said that the Liberal Democrats would give people more say in decision making? The manifesto stated:

"We will make greater use of national referendums for constitutional issues, for example, changing the voting system or any further transfer of power to European institutions."

The Liberal Democrats' federal manifesto in 2001 called for referendums on the euro and on the Jenkins commission. In their 2005 manifesto they called for a referendum on the European constitution. If it is right to hold referendums on the euro, the European constitution and the Jenkins report on proportional representation, why is it not right to hold a referendum to decide Scotland's constitutional future?

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

No. I am running out of time.

I turn to opinion poll data and how and why people vote. An ICM Research poll in November asked Scots whether they believed in independence in Europe. Fifty-two per cent of Labour voters said that they did not, but 43 per cent of Labour voters said that they did, and 80 per cent of SNP voters supported independence in Europe, but 17 per cent rejected it. In fact, more Labour respondents supported independence in Europe than SNP respondents, because people do not vote only on constitutional issues. The election is about far more than that. It is also about other issues, such as climate change and poverty.

If we want to decide the constitutional future of our nation, the best way to do so, as democrats, is through a referendum, which would answer the questions about distractions, because it would settle the matter. Whatever our position on the union, we are democrats, and a referendum would enable us to make a decision on the future of the union. That is why I urge members, whatever their position on the union, to support the Green party's amendment at decision time.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I call Jim Wallace. Mr Wallace, I can give you 10 minutes.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 11:09 am, 22nd March 2007

Deputy Speaker, this has been a lively debate—one might think that an election was in the offing.

I am delighted to wind up for the Liberal Democrats in support of a motion that expressly encourages me to set out the Liberal Democrat position. I thank Margaret Curran for her generosity in conceding time to me to make what will be my last speech in the Parliament, eight years after being elected as the member of the Scottish Parliament for Orkney and 24 years on from having been elected as the member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland.

It greatly saddens me that, while I have this opportunity for a swansong, family tragedy has again cruelly intervened in the life of our colleague Dennis Canavan, who has indicated that he will not be with us again as a member. I am sure that I speak for members throughout the chamber in expressing sincere condolences on his sad loss. [Applause.] I have known Dennis since I entered the House of Commons in 1983. We have not always agreed, but to me and many others he has exemplified much of what is the best in being a parliamentarian.

A number of speakers have referred to formative political experiences. Forty-one years ago next week, on the eve of the 1966 general election, my father took me to my first ever political meeting, in my home town of Annan. He had recognised my interest in the election, and I recall him saying that he would take me to the Liberal candidate's eve-of-poll meeting, because it would be safe—there would not be many people there. [Laughter.] In fact, I think that the attendance was about the same as the number of people who I understand turned out in the same town earlier this month to hear Alex Salmond. My father was right—there were not many people there.

I am pleased that both my parents are in the gallery this morning, my father possibly reflecting on just how safe it was to take me to that meeting. My abiding memory was of the articulate case that the Liberal candidate Roy Semple made for a Scottish parliament within the United Kingdom. It made sound common sense to me, even at that young age, for Scotland to enjoy the benefits of a strong union with our neighbours while taking responsibility within Scotland for our own domestic affairs.

I am proud to stand here today in the Liberal tradition—the tradition of Gladstone, Asquith, Jo Grimond, Russell Johnston and David Steel, all of whom argued the case for Scottish home rule within the United Kingdom. In 1999, I was privileged to lead the Scottish Liberal Democrats into this democratic Scottish Parliament, for which as a party we had campaigned so long.

Perhaps it is because I was brought up so close to Scotland's border with England that I am instinctively repelled by the idea of erecting new barriers with our neighbours. That is in addition to the strong arguments against an independence case that is based on extravagant promises whose figures do not add up and will be met, as Angus Robertson has had the grace to admit, only by raising the tax burden in Scotland. In a global age, when young students in America can be tutored in algebra online by a teacher in India, why would we want to recreate a nation state of the 19th century, let alone the 14th century?

That does not mean that we are not proud of our Scottish culture and heritage. Of course I am—my surname resonates in Scotland's history. However, as George Black's "The Surnames of Scotland" points out, the name Wallace was possibly originally that of some who came from Shropshire as vassals of the Stewarts or alternatively were descendents of the northern Welsh who moved to Strathclyde. That testifies to centuries of people moving around the island, settling and intermarrying, not to mention welcoming waves of immigrants—people of Jewish origin, French Huguenots, African-Caribbeans, Asians and people from eastern Europe—right up to the present day. We may not be a melting pot of United States dimensions, but we are arguably a mongrel island race with a shared set of commonly held values and 300 years of shared history and heritage.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Let me first say how much we will miss the member when he departs the Parliament.

The theme of his speech is the benefits that we derive from being part of a political union with the rest of the United Kingdom. In what way does that benefit us when Europe is deciding on an energy policy and we cannot take part in our own right?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Of course we take part. I have sat at European Council of Ministers meetings articulating a Scottish case on justice matters.

By all means, let us make a case for the union on the grounds of a stronger economy and securing greater influence on foreign policy. Let us not do it by pandering to and fostering a dependency culture. Let us also make a simple case for Britain, in keeping united a geographic entity in a world where so much diplomatic and military effort is spent on addressing problems where islands, peninsulas and other geographic entities are sorely divided.

However, that is not an argument for the status quo. My party has long been a federalist party. A growing number of people in Scotland support the Liberal Democrat position of wanting new powers for the Scottish Parliament, and many more people support that position than support independence.

Jeremy Purvis referred to the Steel commission, which made the case for the Parliament having more power over energy policy and remaining aspects of transport policy, and for powers over marine policy and competition and mergers, for example, to be considered. We want reformed financial arrangements in order to improve accountability, increase transparency, encourage greater efficiency in the allocation of resources and allow the Parliament the opportunity to exercise fiscal powers that can have a positive influence on the Scottish economy.

However, we acknowledge the importance of building consensus. The first Scottish constitutional convention was successful in forging the blueprint for the Parliament on the basis of consensus. I hope that it will be possible to build wider consensus in a second constitutional convention to consider how the Parliament's powers can be extended and to address the challenges of a reformed financial settlement.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I am concluding.

While we examine Scotland's relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, we should not lose sight of the principle that many of us articulated in the run-up to devolution in 1999—that devolved government does not stop at Edinburgh. The reformed electoral system offers a fresh opportunity to build the parity of esteem between the Scottish Parliament and our councils that we talked about back in 1999. In the next session, the Parliament should resist any unnecessary tendency to centralise; rather, it should seek positive opportunities to decentralise.

That is a particularly important issue from the perspective of my islands constituency. As Alasdair Morrison said, the devolved Parliament has recognised many of our islands communities' challenges. On the key issue of transport, Orkney has a new generation of ferries with supporting infrastructure, concessionary fares for pensioners who use the ferries, reduced freight charges and an instrument landing system for the airport. Furthermore, air fares have been reduced by 40 per cent. Undoubtedly there are challenges ahead for my constituency—not least as a result of its increasing elderly population—but there have been regular increases in funding for public services. Looking to the future, the Executive has made significant investment, not least in Orkney, to establish Scotland as a powerhouse for renewable energy.

The Scottish constitutional convention recognised that our islands communities "warranted distinctive constitutional consideration". Already, our standing orders require bill promoters to indicate the impact of the proposals on island areas. In the next session the Parliament may wish to consider how that provision could be beefed up. In addition, I hope that members in the next session will support a Liberal Democrat proposal to encourage and support island areas that choose to move forward on establishing single public service authorities that will harness the advantages of distinctive communities, promote the more efficient use of resources and more effectively act against centralisation.

In conclusion, I thank colleagues in all parties for the friendship and courtesy that they have shown me in the past eight years. Over 24 years in one Parliament or another, it has been my experience that politicians are, with rare exceptions, motivated by a strong sense of public service and that they pursue their careers according to their sincerely held political beliefs. That is too rarely acknowledged and reported.

It goes without saying that many of us could not do the job that we do without the support of our families. In that context, I acknowledge the great support and encouragement that I have received from Rosie, Helen and Clare. However, above all, I want to express my gratitude to my constituents in the northern isles. The past 24 years in the House of Commons and in the Scottish Parliament, in which I have been Deputy First Minister, acting First Minister and, not least, a back bencher—for the first time—in the past two years, have been a rich experience, none of which would have been possible without the support of my constituents. They accorded me the privilege of electing me to represent their interests six times, for which I shall be eternally grateful. [Applause.]

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 11:19 am, 22nd March 2007

It is a privilege to have worked with Jim Wallace for the past 15 years or so and to have participated in many debates with him at Westminster and in the Scottish Parliament. His speech on the union has probably been the best in the debate, principally because, rather than slagging off other sides for their views, he stuck to considering the union and its implications. I am being honest. I welcome the approach that he took.

Sadly, I have to contrast that with Campbell Martin's speech, which I found sad indeed. He virtually branded all Conservative MSPs as liars. I do not believe that we are liars. He has his beliefs—he believes passionately in the nationalist cause—and I have no argument with that. That is what politics is about. However, there are Conservatives who feel just as passionately about the union, and we argue our case not by telling lies about it, but by being honest about the way in which we see it.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I am obliged to do so, given what I have said.

Photo of Campbell Martin Campbell Martin Independent

I fully accept that unionist members hold strong views about the union, but does the member accept that there is a difference between passionately believing in something and telling lies about it to further one's cause?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Okay, but I cannot think of any lies that I have told about it.

For a change, I agree with Mike Rumbles. I believe that Scotland could stand alone. The difference between us is that I do not believe that that would be in the best interests of Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. We are a union. We have been a union for the past 300 years and we have worked well together through hard times. I am proud of that. Three hundred years ago, Scotland was a small nation whose greatest reputation was for being an irritant to its larger neighbour, England. Since then, Scotland has moved on—as we have heard from Margaret Curran and from Murdo Fraser—in the things that have been achieved in those 300 years.

One of those things was welding Europe together during the 1939-45 war. I wonder what would have happened if Scotland had been a separate nation, as opposed to part of the United Kingdom. At that time, Eire stood aside although many Irish citizens came to defend the United Kingdom, Europe and the world by joining our armed forces. Nevertheless, they were United Kingdom armed forces, not standalone English armed forces. That is an important issue.

Let us go back 300 years, to the heart of Scotland—Ayrshire. A great Ayrshire man and a great Scot was Rabbie Burns.

Members:

Hurray!

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Certainly, he is an icon. In his youthful days, Burns wrote a poem entitled "Such a parcel of rogues in a nation" in which he said:

"Fareweel to a' our Scotish fame,

Fareweel our ancient glory;

Fareweel even to the Scotish name,

Sae fam'd in martial story!"

We all know that Rabbie got it wrong there, as Scotland's reputation has been built since then. Scotland's martial capabilities—to which Colin Fox referred—have been built on since then. However, Rabbie got it right, ultimately, in his poem "The Dumfries Volunteers", in which he wrote:

"Be Britain still to Britain true,

Amang oursels united;

For never but by British hands

Must British wrongs be righted."

Those words were well worth speaking. I like to think that, in this modern day, when we think about the European Union, we recognise that the best way of dealing with Scottish and British affairs is to deal with them here, on our own shores.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Which is the union that is worth preserving: the social union among the people who live in the British Isles or the artificial political union that was set up to meet the needs of the early 18 th century?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The union that we have is worth preserving—a union that recognises the social needs and which allows the combined wealth of our nations to be provided to assist and back up across the British Isles. On issues such as defence, we should stand united and on issues such as foreign affairs, we should have a common voice for the whole of the United Kingdom. We can project our views on those matters with a strength that we could never have if Scotland or England stood alone. Those are issues on which, I believe, the union has benefited us over the years.

Colin Fox made a very good speech. I did not agree with him, but it is right that we can all stand up to air our views and express the things that we feel most deeply about. Mark Ballard also presented his comments in a most worthwhile way. He advocated a course of action that I would not approve of or vote for, but at least he argued his case without being insulting and he was able to identify who he could agree with.

Finally, I say to Margaret Curran that I welcomed the motion that she lodged today but I am sorry that she tried to build the Executive's record into the argument. If she cannot see that the wider Scottish public are now disillusioned with the Labour Party, just as they once were with the Conservatives, there is a danger to the union. On this issue, we should be fighting not on the record of the Labour Administration or a previous Conservative Administration but on the powerful record of the United Kingdom. That is what we should be taking forward.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 11:26 am, 22nd March 2007

In both Mr Wallace's defence of the union and his commencing words—when he addressed the Deputy Presiding Officer as Deputy Speaker—it was quite clear that old habits die hard. His speech focused on the dilemma that we all know he has wrestled with, about whether he has been happier in the Scottish Parliament or in the House of Commons. I believe that he has been formidable in both Parliaments. His speech today brings to a close a very distinguished career in public service as Deputy First Minister and as member for Orkney in this Parliament. Across the political spectrum, Jim Wallace's contribution is respected. I also associate the Scottish National Party with the remarks that he made about Dennis Canavan, who is very much in our thoughts just now.

Turning to the substance of the debate—I have been very kind to Mr Wallace, but I have other words to say about the substance of his remarks; again, old habits die hard—I want to talk about two contradictions that have been implicit in today's discussions. First, Peter Peacock made a strong argument about how Scottish education has prospered under the union, but he rather missed the point that Scotland has had a distinctive education system that has been configured to reflect Scotland's needs. As Mr Neil pointed out very effectively, if there is a case for saying that the education service has developed a distinctively Scottish approach that provided a Scottish solution to a Scottish issue, why on earth should we restrict that approach to issues such as education, health and transport?

The second contradiction, which was pointed out by Patrick Harvie, concerns the treatment of asylum seekers in this country. All members have genuinely welcomed the steps that Hugh Henry is taking to enter a dialogue with the Home Office about how Scotland might take a different approach to asylum seekers. However, when any nationalist has suggested that such a proposition would be reasonable, we have been denounced as people who want only to jeopardise the workings of Government and to distract people from the priorities. In the banter that took place during Mr Harvie's remarks, Mr Kerr was heard to say, "Ah, it's not the same when you say it." He is absolutely right. When a Labour member puts forward an idea, the Executive thinks that it must be all right because it is a Labour idea. Half of the problems with the political culture in this institution arise from the fact that the Labour Party will not accept decent ideas from members of other parties—

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Not even from the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Indeed, Mr Neil. I will have a little more to say about that in a moment.

During the debate, some substantial issues emerged about what we consider to be the limitations of the union. We are intolerant of the fact that one in four children lives in poverty and that Scotland has 10 times the number of children in poverty as Denmark has. For us, that is an intolerable situation. Equally intolerable is the fact that Scottish economic growth has trailed that of the rest of the United Kingdom in virtually every year for the past 30 years. That trend performance leads to the lack of opportunity and prosperity that affects many of the communities that Ms Curran represents, although she argued powerfully about transforming the life chances of people in the east end of Glasgow.

We cannot keep staring at the problems and just say, "This is awful, this is terrible, this is disastrous"; we cannot blame it all on Margaret Thatcher when the current Government has had 10 years in which to tackle the problem—time enough to make a quantum difference. We on this side of the chamber want to do much better for Scotland and to achieve a great deal more. That is why we are passionate about the argument for Scottish independence.

A number of smokescreens have been put forward to suggest what is wrong with the message on independence. Mr Wallace made the point that independence was all about erecting barriers and borders and said that, over the years, people from different parts of the United Kingdom had married. Have we ever heard of Europe? Have we ever heard of co-operation between countries? Margo MacDonald made a very fair intervention on Mr Gallie about the preservation of the social union and social connections. The SNP has absolutely no desire to jeopardise any of those social connections or that social co-operation. We want political structures to be right for Scotland, so that we can tackle the poverty, the lack of economic opportunity and the lack of a voice in the world.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Margo MacDonald also intervened on the subject of energy. Although energy is not one of the European Parliament's competences, it is an area in which nation states can work together without being bound by being in a particular union. Margo MacDonald's thoughts on Europe are worthy of consideration.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We have always made it clear that we believe in the European dimension, co-operation among countries and the achievement of wider goals.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I thank the member for giving way to allow me to correct Mr Gallie right away. As we speak, a European energy policy is being developed. I would like us to take part in that and not be excluded. Look what happened when we were excluded from decisions on fishing.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Margo MacDonald makes an absolutely fair point.

Parliament might be surprised to hear what I am about to say, but Campbell Martin also made a fair point in the debate. He put it on the record that at the same time that Gavin McCrone, a senior civil servant in the Scottish Office in the 1970s, was saying that Scotland could become a successful independent country with a chronic surplus, we were being told publicly that Scotland was an economic basket case. That is a salutary warning to everybody in Scotland to treat with great care and caution the rhetoric about Scotland's prospects that comes from the Labour Party and the unionist parties during the election campaign.

Margaret Curran made a case that Mr Gallie characterised fairly as merging the record of the Administration with the arguments for the union. She did not speak about some of the things from which we are excluded because we are not an independent country. She did not talk about some of the decisions from London that we get lumbered with, such as participation in the war in Iraq and the terrible impact that that has had on society and our communities.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I would be happy to, but I have only a minute left.

Margaret Curran made no reference to the fact that the majority of Scottish members of Parliament voted against the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system, which will now be forced upon us by the United Kingdom Parliament and Government. [Interruption.] Labour Party people, including Duncan McNeil, who has just arrived and is as usual ranting and raving from a sedentary position, were in high dudgeon about the application and implementation of the poll tax that the Tories sought to force on Scotland against our wishes. Now the Labour Party wants to force Scotland to take Trident nuclear missiles. That is the most compelling argument for Scottish independence that I have heard in a long time.

During the stramash, as I think it is called in football, over the lodging of a motion for today, the Liberal Democrats' position was clear in the motion that they wanted to put before us—Scotland should retain the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom while increasing appropriately the powers that are available to the Scottish Parliament. I recognise that as a true and fair representation of the Liberal Democrat position, and the Conservatives are obviously moving in the same direction.

It says something about the Labour Party in Scotland that it has absolutely no sense that it is out of touch with the mood of the people of Scotland, 70 per cent of whom want more powers for their Parliament. Our position is very clear—we want Scotland to be like Ireland, Iceland and Norway, which became independent in the past 100 years and which are three of the top six richest nations. We have the highest aspirations for Scotland and we will put them to the people on 3 May.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 11:35 am, 22nd March 2007

I associate the Labour Party with the remarks that have been made about Dennis Canavan. He has been a true friend and colleague of ours and we offer him our best wishes.

I mention, too, our sadness at Jim Wallace's departure from the Scottish Parliament. He has served his country with considerable distinction in both Parliaments. He has been a constructive colleague and has demonstrated that the Executive parties have the capacity to work together in the best interests of Scotland. He has shown sharp intelligence, genuine commitment and good humour, and has been a pleasure to work with; I have learned a great deal from him. I thank him very much.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I totally agree with what the minister has said about Dennis Canavan and Jim Wallace, but we should not forget that next week we will also lose Phil Gallie. Now that Mr Gallie is not standing again, I can say—as someone who lives in Ayr—that he is the best member of Parliament Ayr ever had.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I send my best wishes to Phil Gallie—I am sorry, but I have just been told that Sandra Osborne is a better representative—and to all the members who are leaving the Scottish Parliament.

As the Executive has made clear, today's debate is about the fundamental question whether Scotland should stay or whether it should go. Has the union worked for Scotland or has it not? Today's debate is about examining the case for the union and the case against it. Members of all parties have made substantial speeches. Like Phil Gallie, I acknowledge that Colin Fox was the only advocate of independence who put his case. I did not agree with it—I do not think that Colin Fox would want me to agree with it—but at least he made it. Phil Gallie sounded as if he was lifting excerpts from his last Burns supper speech. In that context, I suppose that I am replying on behalf of the lassies.

I hate to disappoint, but I am perhaps not as gracious as Jim Wallace, in that I will indulge in a wee bit of slagging off the Opposition. Why was Alasdair Morgan eight minutes into his speech before he mentioned independence? Why did he not advocate independence? His argument was about the need to make a decision on it. Patrick Harvie did not advocate it, either, although—bizarrely—he said that it had nothing to do with national identity.

Jeremy Purvis challenged the SNP on a number of issues. He threw down the gauntlet by exposing the fact that the SNP advances different models of independence, depending on who is speaking and what audience they are addressing. We have not forgotten Mr Mather's U-turn on third-party right of appeal. I would invite him to intervene, but it appears that he does not want to say anything. Oh—he does, after all.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to respond. When the Government ceases to impose a stealth tax on water that creates development blight across Scotland, it will find us much more amenable to its proposals.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Sit down. The member was not in the chamber for the vote on third-party right of appeal. We know about his U-turn.

Of all the parties, surely it would have been reasonable to expect the SNP to make the positive case for independence. There is frustration among members of my party. Does the SNP favour the Scandinavian model or the Irish model? What are the complexities of the argument? At best, it is disingenuous of Alex Neil to imply that, with independence, all poverty would be abolished at a stroke.

Today the SNP had the opportunity to spell out the case for independence and in what way it would benefit Scotland. How would tax increases improve life in Scotland? How would emasculating local government benefit Scotland? How would cutting local services impact on poverty levels? It is surely reasonable to expect the SNP to defend its policies in the Parliament, but we have heard little of its defence of independence.

Members throughout the chamber have told me that we should not raise economic issues in this debate; for example, according to Mark Ballard, we are discussing a philosophical question. Well, I am sorry, but my constituents—indeed the vast majority of Scots—do not have the luxury or the privilege of not having to worry about these issues or their financial position. We stand on their side.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

No, I am afraid that she is winding up.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I say to Phil Gallie that I make no apology for defending either devolution or this Executive's record. The key point is that devolution has revitalised and renewed the union; has given Scotland a new confidence after the decades of Thatcher; and has addressed the democratic dividend.

All the key decisions will be faced at the vote on 3 May, which is when Scotland will make the fundamental decision about its future. As we head towards that decision, I want to establish one fact: our belief in the union does not diminish Scotland one jot. The fact that we decide to work in partnership with other nations does not make us any less equal. I regard myself as equal, even if others in the chamber clearly do not. In fact, I would hazard that, as soon as we broke these bonds, we would have to set about re-establishing them. If the nationalists are arguing that challenges remain, they must explain the ways in which independence will address them.

The fundamental argument remains: devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people. We have the right political structures in place. However, we have never said that all the problems have been solved. We must let devolution work and focus on people's priorities, not on constitutional battles. Indeed, those priorities are what we will focus on.