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

It might be unwise for me to comment on the entire occasion, but I welcome the fact that there was no trouble, for which I congratulate the organisers of the march.

It is no surprise that the SNP wants to pretend that it is about something other than separation but, when it does, its policies fall apart at the slightest scrutiny. On a Scottish currency—with three policies in a week—on student finance and on income tax, it has ducked and dived, but it cannot hide. It certainly cannot hide from its plans to make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK. Its plans for an extra income tax ran at 6p in the pound, so it capped them at 3p in the pound. That left a black hole in spending, so it told local authorities that they will lose their right to set a rate, which would be a fettering of local democracy that even Margaret Thatcher never dared to contemplate. There is nothing local left in the SNP's income tax plans—it simply proposes 3p in the pound extra income tax for every Scot, which would make Scotland the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom.

When we ask questions, the SNP accuses us of scaremongering, but the people of Scotland are entitled to ask about borders, citizenship, the currency, European Union membership, pension funds and broadcasting, because all those would need to be resolved in the nationalists' plans for separation.

Scotland faces a choice. There are two possible periods of 100 days starting on 4 May. The first 100 days, as the nationalists confirmed again last week, would see uncertainty, chaos, tax and turmoil. The alternative 100 days will see work begin again to give Scotland the best education system in the world; a legislative programme to tackle climate change, improve sentencing in our courts, and give every Scot an entitlement to culture; and a future of constructive partnership in the United Kingdom.

The future of Scotland is a matter that is close to my heart because I am a patriot. However, I deny that, to be a patriot, one has to be a separatist. When I sit at Hampden park, as I did last Saturday, or when I go abroad and see the saltire flying, my heart is moved and my emotions are stirred because of the country that I love. It is my profound concern for Scotland's future that causes me to urge the people of Scotland against choosing separation on 3 May.

In the 21st century, we can continue to atomise our world into more and more states so that every one of the hundreds of peoples in the world has its own state, or we can say that it is both legitimate and desirable for peoples to co-exist and work together. Scotland's partnership with the UK does not mean that we are left behind by history—far from it. It makes us a model for the future of the world. Today, we lead the UK, not just with the smoking ban, which we celebrated this week, but in employment, in our economic progress and in our education system.

I might not agree with every member who is sitting in the Parliament today, but I respect them for the fact that they are here. I respect their courage in staying here and sticking at the job rather than walking out on Scotland when the going got tough. I will not stand here—or campaign throughout Scotland for the next five weeks—and let someone who did not stay here destroy the work of those of us who had the guts to stay here and build a better Scotland. I am proud of what the Parliament has achieved and I will not allow our work to be undone by someone who chose to turn their back on it. The Parliament has saved lives by introducing a smoking ban, built hundreds more schools and created 200,000 jobs. In the next five weeks, we will be fighting not for our jobs but for those jobs, for the people we represent, for the people of Scotland.

Today, we stop the formal process of governing Scotland and start to campaign for the right to govern Scotland again. For four years, I and all of us in the Parliament have been doing the difficult work of making Scotland a better place. On the opening day of the new building at Holyrood, we said that it had to be more than a building. It had to be a place to build Scotland. I believe that we have been doing that—building education, building our national health service, building our economy, building our justice system to tackle crime, building a more tolerant and inclusive society, and building a bigger population for the 21st century.

As we take our case to the people of Scotland in the next five weeks, I will fight with all that I have to protect what we have achieved and to win the chance to achieve yet more for Scotland. I believe in a Scotland that is cleaner, greener, fairer and more prosperous for more families, where partnership, tolerance, respect, and working together matter more than grievance, bitterness and dispute. I believe in a Scotland where the Parliament makes its contribution to economic growth but also to improving the public services on which our people rely. I believe that changing people's lives is about doing, not talking; about hard work, not easy words; and about being here, not quitting.

The fight for Scotland in the next five weeks is a fight that I will relish. Scotland is a country that is more successful than it has been for decades and a country that can be built up even further. That is what our challenge should be in the third session beginning in May.