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Referendums (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2019.

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Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

In closing for Labour, I would like to reiterate why we will vote against the bill. Our reasons are twofold. First, the bill is not fit for purpose. As members across the chamber have pointed out, evidence to the committee was highly critical of a number of provisions in the bill, namely the granting of ministerial powers to hold referendums by secondary legislation, and testing of questions by the Electoral Commission. I almost used the word “referenda”, but I stand corrected by my colleague Stewart Stevenson.

Given how fundamental those flaws are, they alone would be enough for us not to support the bill, but on top of that, the entire bill has been phrased in the context of an independence referendum.

I note that when Donald Cameron talked about the First Minister’s priorities being education and health, the cabinet secretary intervened and said that three years have gone by that at Westminster have been completely wasted because the UK Government has not been able to focus on the big issues. The cabinet secretary attacked the Tories for that—rightly so—but that point, which he made, is the very point that many members are making today. Where is the demand in Scotland right now to create a referendum bill that will give us more referendums and more of the same type of problems.

A fair point that Neil Findlay tried to get across was that in parts of his constituency where there are no general practices and public services are in decline, the issue is not “Let’s have a referendum bill.” It is “Let’s fix our health service, and let’s address why our education service is going backwards and children are being denied the opportunities they should have in education.”

I also want to pick up on the point that Alexander Burnett made about a pretence that the legislation is not about independence. As I said earlier, in fairness, the SNP has been very up-front and clear; the introduction of the bill is to pave the way for an independence referendum, not at some time in the distant future, but next year.

The reality is that even the people who say that they would support independence if there was a referendum are not demanding that we have a referendum right in the middle of the absolute chaos that we are in as a result of a failed Tory