In his opening speech the First Minister, with typical bravado and machismo, stated that politics is all about tough decisions. In a somewhat more thoughtful speech, Ross Finnie said that it is all about choices. In a way, both of them are correct. The choice that will face the Scottish people five weeks today, however, has perhaps never been more stark. When we narrow it down, people will need to choose either the failed Lib-Lab pact, a leap in the dark with the SNP or the Conservative party,
If the opinion polls—and the experience of those of us with many years' involvement in politics—are to be believed, the Labour Party is in deep trouble. I suspect that many Labour members blame Blair. The fact that the Prime Minister is mired in the sleaze of the cash-for-peerages investigation and the underhand way in which the Commons was duped into the Iraq conflict cannot be doing Labour's electoral chances any favours. I have some sympathy with that view, but the problems are closer to home.
As someone from Cathy Jamieson's beloved Ayrshire famously said, the power
"To see oursels as others see us" is very important. A few months ago, I met a man with whom I had been at school. He had gone to Australia and had done well there, but he had returned to Scotland as a result of a family bereavement. He contrasted the Scotland that he had left with the Scotland that exists now. He pointed out how all the shops in Glasgow's Union Street and Argyll Street now have security guards outside them. He mentioned that he could not walk 10yd along the road without meeting someone panhandling. He also observed how drugs are visibly and openly for sale in parts of Glasgow city centre during the day. He had done very well in Australia, but he stated that he could not possibly have done so well in this country, where success is often criticised and where the dead hand of Government rests upon everything.
We need to examine the present situation. Week in and week out, the First Minister and Mr Kerr stand up and say, "Look how much more money we have spent on the national health service." The increase in Government spending cannot be denied, but spending money is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Unless that money is spent wisely and with political vision, we will get nowhere at all. That is why the Labour Party is in desperate trouble.
Looking across to the SNP, I admit that I was worried for a while when the SNP message seemed to have become seriously blurred. I have always thought that a vote for the Scottish National Party was a vote for independence. I do not agree with independence, but it is a perfectly honourable and honest position. That message had not been coming over clearly, but I am pleased that it is now clear that a vote for the SNP will bring independence and separation. The equation is SNP equals separation plus high taxation.
The effects of separation would be traumatic. It would mean the end of our defence industry and the loss of thousands of jobs from Lossiemouth,