Alex Salmond looks at the Parliament of 1707 and says, “This Parliament is reconvened.” This Parliament, with a democratic suffrage, has nothing to do with that of 1707, and anyone who does not see that does not understand. It was not the common identity of crofter and landowner that drove land reform; it was the struggle of land leaguers such as my great uncle, who demanded that they have the right to have control over the land that they worked. It was not the common Scottish identity of trade unionists and factory owners that challenged exploitation and danger in the workplace; it was the coming together of working people across the United Kingdom in the Labour and trade union movement to demand protection and rights in the workplace. It is not the common identity of Scottish men and Scottish women that has seen women’s lives transformed in the past century in the home, in the workplace and in education. My daughter’s future and her opportunities were shaped by a women’s movement that demanded that the way things were should change and a Labour movement that delivered in legislation equal rights for women.
I know that there are progressive people in the SNP ranks, but the reality is that the great changes in our history—the steps and progress in the lives of women, people with disabilities and people who have suffered discrimination and disadvantages and on the huge issues of the environment and justice—were won despite nationalism, not because of it. They were driven by a trade union movement determined to make the world a better place, an environmental movement determined that we would not destroy our planet, the women’s movement, the suffrage movement, and people coming together through generations with common interests to make a difference. Change is won not by changing the country’s constitutional arrangements, but by winning the argument and proving that we can create a better society.
The constitutional debate is not about which policies we will propose in the general and Scottish elections, and it ought not to be presented in those terms. The constitutional debate is about a once-in-a-lifetime decision to see what our relationship should be with the rest of the United Kingdom.
However, there will be a prize in 2014 when the debate is settled and, in my view, Scotland confirms its place in the United Kingdom, because it will end the political equivalent of having a get-out-of-jail-free card, whereby Scotland, uniquely in the world, does not have to address demographic change in times of economic hardship and ministers always have someone else to blame. Then, we can start dealing with the real challenges of life in modern Scotland, as Alex Bell, whom I think everyone knows, has reflected. We will see an end to the tired and tedious and the old tunes. We can have a Government that says in public what it thinks in private. We can get a Government that respects local democracy rather than one that cuts its funding and then denounces councils that have to live with the consequence of that cut in funding.
There are hard questions. How do we make our public services sustainable and able to meet need rather than that being simply a slogan? How do we keep our older people safe, our youngsters educated and the economy strong when people do not trust politics and the debate on how taxation can be fairly levied to create a strong society can barely even begin? That is the tough politics. That is the argument, rather than our infantilising an electorate into choosing between electoral bribes and believing that it is possible to have everything without it costing anything.
We can get back to the rigour of a Government that looks at the evidence, understands the problem and then makes change happen. That is not what we have now, which is not a Government but a campaign while Scotland is on pause and civil servant brains are applied not to the challenge of climate change and an ageing population but to an imagined world post 2014. We have a Government that is not asking the hard questions on health or education, or on a care service in which a girl of 17, with four days’ training, is expected to go out on her own and look after 20 different groups of people; and a Government that says that it cares about homelessness but no longer even counts the number of people who are rough sleeping on our streets across Scotland.
Since 2011, we have had an obsession with the referendum and we have had more historic days than you could shake a stick at, with the cynicism of promising everyone everything that they want. Let us make the case proudly and stand up for staying in the United Kingdom. Let us refresh the opportunity to defeat nationalism and do the real job of politics: to make and win the political case for the real change that we need to make our society safer, stronger and fairer. Let us have not the tired and tedious and the old songs but honesty, openness and coming together to deal with the real experience of Scots across this country. Let us use the talents of all of Scotland to make sure that Scotland is a better place. Let us have not nationalism but a coming together of the people of Scotland in the United Kingdom to make sure that Scotland is, and not just claims to be, a better and fairer place.
I move amendment S4M-07721.1, to leave out from first “agrees” to end and insert:
“welcomes the people of Scotland having their say on the constitutional future on 18 September 2014; believes that Scotland is best served by a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong UK, and looks forward to a debate over the next year that reflects the priorities of the people and strengthens the position of Scotland as a partner in the UK rather than as a separate state”.