The Future of Scotland

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 9:15 am, 29th March 2007

There is a particular resonance to debating the future of a nation when one is that nation's First Minister. Like every Scot, I grew up proud of my country—of its history, its traditions, its culture, its sporting prowess, its language and, most of all, its people. I never for one moment forget what a privilege it is to serve my country as its leader.

My reason for being in politics is all about Scotland and its future. It is no secret that, as a teenager, I thought that the political creed of nationalism might offer that future. I also believed in Santa Claus. I decided then that the values and the vision of the Labour Party best suited the future that I wanted for Scotland. I have never regretted that choice and I do not regret it now. For the Parliament's third session and for the future of our country, I believe that the people of Scotland should make the same choice. They should reject division, bitterness and grievance and choose the values of fairness, solidarity, tolerance and respect.

We know that political debate can occasionally be rough and ready, but we really have heard some nonsense from the Opposition recently. It constantly runs Scotland down. Today, on the last day of the Parliament's second session, let us record that there are more people in work than there have been since employment records began; population decline is in reverse; average earnings are rising faster in Scotland than in any other part of the United Kingdom; Scots are educated to higher levels than ever; the national health service is improving; and crime is falling. In these early years of the 21st century, with Labour and with devolution, Scotland is succeeding.

The people who built the Scottish Parliament in the second half of the 20th century did not do so to break up Britain; they did so to build a better, fairer Scotland. That is what my party has been doing and what it will keep doing, by building the best education system in the world; building the skills capital of Britain; building a Scotland that is free from racism and sectarianism; and, by 2020, building a Scotland where no child lives in poverty. Building Scotland is not easy; it takes time and effort, and has to be done brick by brick, school by school, hospital by hospital. Building Scotland requires tough, hard choices to be made. It also requires the right choices to be made.

The second piece of nonsense that the Opposition will no doubt parrot today is that Labour has nothing positive to say. If it wants positive reasons to vote Labour, I will give it some. We believe in building education through the creation of 100 skills academies and six regional science centres of excellence. Every school in the country that needs to be rebuilt will be rebuilt.