Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. As Member of Parliament for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, I speak for the place where I was born and bred, the home of good people I have been fortunate enough to learn from and live with, and—in my view—the best, most decent and welcoming place in the United Kingdom.
I often refer to the United Kingdom when I speak in this Chamber and on the Floor of the House. Each of our four nations—Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland—has its own identity, history and culture, but we share a collective bond that has seen us through tough times of war and through struggles for peace and tolerance. That was clear yesterday, when we all stood together as a nation to remember the people who fought for our country; I was reminded of it by Brooke Harrison, who told me about her great-uncle James Harrison, who died as a 21-year-old fighting for the United Kingdom in Normandy.
My view is clear: Scotland’s future is promising, bright and positive, but it is part of the United Kingdom—of that I have no doubt. I am a proud socialist, following in the tradition of the Lanarkshire man Keir Hardie, but I am an internationalist, too. I do not believe in a border at Carlisle, nor in a border at Calais, and I never will. I believe in socialism, not nationalism. I believe in the people. I believe in solidarity. I believe in sharing and fighting together for a better future for our children and grandchildren.
During the referendum, I asked a young person who is now my constituent for her view. She said that the one thing she did not understand was the increase in flag flying and the idea that not flying yes flags or Scottish flags meant not loving our country. Sadly, that was repeated recently when we saw an increase in the flying of Union Jacks before the general election. The only flag I want to see flying is the red flag; I hope that if my good friend Richard Leonard is elected as Scottish Labour party leader this weekend and becomes First Minister of Scotland in 2021, that is what we will see.
I have always fought and will always fight against a nationalist agenda that does more to divide our nation than anything else. I do not want a divisive repeat of a campaign that was focused not on Scotland’s future but on an argument that questioned our love for our country and said that we hated Scotland if we did not back independence. That was rubbish then and it is rubbish now. The Saltire belongs to every Scottish man and woman, no matter the colour of their skin, their ethnic background or their faith. Our land and riches belong to every Scottish man and woman in our country, and so does our devolved and democratically elected Parliament in Edinburgh. I mention our Parliament because many of the nationalists’ arguments are similar to those of the Brexiteers: “Taking back control”, “Doing things our way”, “We know best”. Holyrood has significant powers, but for some reason the SNP does not want to use them. I have a simple message for Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney: if they do not want to use those powers, they should call an election and let a Labour Government get on with governing in the interests of all the people of Scotland.
Where are we today? In Westminster we have a Conservative Government who are falling apart, with Cabinet Ministers falling like flies, policies being announced one day and scrapped the next, and the Tory Back Benchers in mutiny—you couldn’t write the script. But this is not just about a poor Government; it is about the millions of women, men and children across the United Kingdom who want to know their future. In Edinburgh, we have a Government who move from disaster to disaster: failure to properly fund our public services, failure of SNP Ministers to provide the solid leadership that Scotland deserves, failure to get things done. Monklands Hospital needs £30 million of repairs. Its hard-working staff are at breaking point and the patients are not getting the quality of care that they need. That is the fault not of the health professionals, but of our disaster of a Health Secretary in Holyrood, who is out of her depth.
I spend a great deal of time with my constituents, who often talk about the pressures on their children’s schools. Our police and firemen share stories of the pressures on them. Working conditions in the United Kingdom are at breaking point. These are public sector workers, and the First Minister did not want to give them a pay rise to until she was blocked into the corner by the Labour party. So it is clear to me and to my constituents that we have enough to be getting on with, and that there is no case to reopen a discussion that was comprehensively dealt with in 2014.