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Holyrood

by John Knox

We’ve heard a lot about Europe this week. Would an independent Scotland be accepted as a new member of the European Union and on what terms? Indeed, on what terms is the United Kingdom prepared to remain in the EU? These questions have spooked us more than any Halloween witches.

The debate has raged in Holyrood and at Westminster. David Cameron is going off to the annual scrum in Brussels over the EU budget with a Commons defeat behind him. Fifty three of his own Tory MPs rebelled against the government and called for a cut in the budget (£826b for the period 2014-20). Meanwhile in Edinburgh, Alex Salmond faced more criticism from all three opposition leaders over his claims that an independent Scotland would be welcomed with open arms into the EU while at the same time remaining in the Sterling zone.

Mr Salmond neatly side-stepped a debate in the Scottish Parliament over the legal advice he had, or had not, sought on the EU issue and instead went to a conference in Glasgow to declare that Scotland is fast becoming “the renewables power-house of Europe.” He announced that the target date for generating half our electricity from wind, wave and hydro-power was being brought forward from 2020 to 2015. And Highland Council joined in the euphoria by approving a huge hydro-electric storage scheme at Coire Glas, north of Fort William.

But the Westminster government would not let the independence issue go. It dispatched the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to Faslane to warn Scotland that it could not just walk away from its commitment to NATO and the Trident nuclear deterrent. In fact he upped the ante and announced that he had allocated another £350m towards renewing the Trident submarine fleet and would base all the Royal Navy’s submarines at Faslane by 2022. He warned that over 8,000 jobs would then be at stake. The SNP and CND say only 520 of those jobs are linked to Trident missiles.

The fallout from all this independence-in-Europe debate even reached the editorial page of The Washington Post, which you would have thought would have more pressing issues on its mind…like the biggest storm ever to hit New York and a presidential election campaign. But it found time to declare: “An independent Scotland would significantly weaken the foremost military and political ally of the United States, while creating another European mini-state unable to contribute meaningfully to global security.” It says it’s part of a worrying trend of the fragmentation of Europe which may not stop at Scotland but go on to involve provinces like Flanders in Belgium, Venice in Italy and Catalonia in Spain (where there is an independence-inspired election later this month).

As if all this was not scary enough, I was visited by a gaggle of witches on a wet and dark Hallow’een. They screeched out a song of sorts and then asked for a “trick or treat”. It’s unusual these days to have any sort of entertainment, so I gave them a treat in the form of hard Sterling currency.

The Scottish Parliament was, at that very moment, passing a new law increasing the tax on haunted properties, or at least empty properties where witches and warlocks may be hiding. Business leaders said it was “a tax on distress” as the many empty premises in Scotland had enjoyed a 50 per cent rebate on their rates. That now goes down to just 10 per cent and councils will also have the power to increase rates on empty houses.

It’s enough to make many a witch or warlock blow up the houses of parliament, which is what one foolhardy Englishman tried to do on 5th November 1605. Indeed, I hear his efforts celebrated as I walk the streets around my house every evening this week. It’s another sign of the year moving on towards winter, like the leaves falling, the salmon returning to the rivers, the clocks going back and the dark evenings.

Lord Winston speaking in the House of Lords Picture: BBC Parliament

Sometimes we can get muddled between what is fair and what works. We put the principle of fairness ahead of the practicality of what works, and this is what is happening over House of Lords reform.

Democracy over everything is the cry – and, most of the time, that is a pretty solid basis on which to work, at least when considering the way we are governed.

But the House of Lords is not actually about government, not really anyway. The Lords is a revising chamber and, actually, it is a damn good one too.

It works and one of the reasons it works is precisely because it is not an elected chamber. There are many brilliant, thoughtful and non-partisan members of the House of Lords who would never dream of standing for election to an upper chamber but who feel privileged to serve in the Lords – and, for the most part, they do their job well.

The plans for Lords reform will politicise the second chamber to an extent that it has never been before.

Yes, there are many party peers there at the moment – but, largely, their party allegiances have faded over time because they don’t have to worry about career advancement or personal ambition. They have done all they are going to do in politics so they approach their job in a mature and generally impartial fashion.

They are impartial, not in a purely political sense (they could never throw off their political backgrounds completely), but from a legislative point of view and that is exactly what is required.

The House of Lords does not have primacy over our main elected chamber. If it keeps obstructing the progress of a Bill, it will eventually be overruled. All it can do is revise, change, amend and delay, and it does this well. It takes bad legislation and makes it better – which is exactly what you want with a second chamber. It can launch legislation but rarely does so and hardly ever with anything contentious.

The plans for Lords reform, however well-meaning in principle, will change completely the nature of our democracy because they will create a politically driven second chamber.

Inevitably, that will challenge the primacy of the Commons because the make-up of the second chamber will be different and it will be entirely political.

We will then be into an American style of politics where the elected leaders of the country often find themselves unable to get anything done because the upper house has a different political make-up.

Imagine how Tony Blair would have fared had he arrived in Downing Street with his massive majority in 1997 to find that the House of Lords was still dominated by the Tories and he had no hope of changing the make-up of the second chamber for several years? He could have – and probably would have – been thwarted on every move he tried to make, including devolution.

Yes, the hereditary principle makes no sense (but in truth most of those have gone now) and it may seem idiosyncratic to have bishops in the Lords too – but, somehow, it works. All these old heads, some from political backgrounds, some from the arts, from business, from the church, actually do what they are supposed to do – they consider and improve legislation.

Do we really want to replace them with a group of second-rate career politicians who are not good enough to get themselves elected to the Commons? Because that is what is going to happen.

The offer of a 15-year term in the second chamber at Westminster is going to attract all sorts of political has-beens and (to repeat Boris Johnson’s accurate phrase) never-wozzers.

We will get political time-servers who are only there for their own comfort and pomposity.

The irony is that, at a time when more and more people are bemoaning the lack of those with real experience of life outside politics in our democratic institutions, we want to create something which will encourage even more political careerists to come forward.

The House of Commons used to be home to all sorts of people who knew life, real life, outside politics. There were doctors and former soldiers, farmers, academics and former factory workers – people who not only knew something of life outside politics but who brought that to bear on their work in the chamber.

But, more than that, they knew that life – and their service to their constituents – was more important than obeying the party whip all the time. As a result, they were more independent and better MPs than many of the current breed who owe everything they have to the party machines.

Those public servants may have disappeared largely (there are one or two left, but not many) from the Commons and, indeed, from Holyrood, but they are still there in the Lords.

And yet what do we want to do? Get rid of them there too and replace them with more party apparatchiks and machine politicians.

The ultimate irony is, though, that this is being done in the name of democracy. What seems to be being missed is that it will diminish our democracy. We believe that everything democratic must be better than the alternative, every time. But sometimes, it isn’t.

Why do I think I know? Well, for several years I reported, on and off, on the House of Lords for the Press Association while working at Westminster. I spent more time in that chamber than most people outside their Lordships themselves.

When I wasn’t in the Lords I was in the Commons, so I know, to a limited extent, what goes on in both houses.

Sometimes the House of Lords was baffling, soporific and behind-the-times. Some peers drifted in and out of debates but, generally, the discussions were deep, analytical and – most important of all – almost entirely non-partisan. There were some brilliant minds there. The late Liberal peer Lord Russell (son of Bertrand Russell) made some of the most brilliant contributions I ever heard, in either House.

He would almost certainly have never stood for election to a second chamber nor, probably, would medical expert Lord Winston, arts champion Lord Bragg or London Olympics organiser Lord Coe – each of whom has brought their own invaluable experience to bear on debates and legislation.

Everyone knows that bumble-bees shouldn’t fly but somehow they do. The House of Lords is like that, in a way. It shouldn’t work because it is not democratic, it is full of party appointees and hereditaries – in short, it is unfair.

But it does work. It works very well and we are in danger of getting rid of something that works and replacing it with something which will change our political system forever – and not for the better – just because we believe democracy is the answer to everything.

The Lords is a revising chamber. It is not our prime legislative forum. So let it do its job because it is doing its job very well indeed.

Despite claims to the contrary, it really ain’t broke, so there is no need to fix it.

Scotland enjoys a significant share of Europe’s renewable energy resources. In recent years, much of the focus – good and bad – has been on wind power. However, there are signs of a change of emphasis, with growing encouragement from both Westminster and Holyrood for the various marine power technologies.

The latest confirmation of this comes with the UK government’s decision to fund a £20 million prize to encourage the country’s first full-scale wave energy projects. With an estimated half of all the world’s leading companies in wave and tidal power based here, it is an incentive to help those companies make the technology commercially viable.

The prize will be shared by two marine energy projects under what is known as the Marine Energy Array Demonstrator scheme (MEAD). Launching the competition, the energy and climate change minister, Greg Barker, said it would “help move marine power to the next stage of development, the demonstration of a number of wave and tidal devices in array formation out at sea. This will take us one vital step closer to realising our ambitions of generating electricity from the waves and tides.”

The firms expected to enter the fray include AWS Ocean Energy, now based in Inverness, which is planning the world’s largest wave farm off the coast of Orkney. Another Scottish company, Pelamis Wave Power, based in Leith, is already testing its sea snake wave machine off Orkney and has recently announced plans for a wave farm off the west coast of Shetland and another off the Western Isles.

To win this government money, the projects will have to deploy an array capable of generating at least 7 GWh a year, preferably more, and should include three generating devices. According to RenewableUK, an “array” is an arrangement of multiple wave and/or tidal power devices, analogous to multiple wind turbines arranged into a wind farm. The technology should also have been already demonstrated to work at full scale in real sea conditions.

The wave and tidal development manager at RenewableUK, David Krohn, said that “the marine energy industry has the potential to allow us to generate clean electricity equivalent to up to 20 per cent of our needs using the inexhaustible power of the sea. The MEAD scheme will provide enough funding to deliver two arrays, which will help kick-start the industry, and we welcome it.

“However, it’s important to recognise that this is only the beginning of the road to building marine energy into a fully commercial industry. Our research shows that £120m of capital support is required to overcome barriers to commercial development and unlock our share of this global industry. We look forward to the opportunities that the Green Investment Bank can provide to help drive the industry forwards.”

Curiously, the recent decision by the Scottish government to approve the Viking wind farm in Shetland will benefit wave power as well. The Aegir Wave Power scheme, a joint venture between the Swedish energy firm Vattenfall and Pelamis Wave Power, can only go ahead if an interconnector is constructed between Shetland and the mainland. That is also essential for the Viking wind farm, and the latest decision over the wind farm significantly increases the likelihood that an interconnector will be installed.

“This is fantastic news for the future development of our 10MW Aegir Wave Farm,” said Andrew Scott, development manager for the Aegir project, “and a big step forward to securing grid connection for marine projects in Shetland. Shetland and its communities are blessed with a huge marine renewable resource and we are working towards harnessing some of this energy to create a new exciting industry exporting clean power.”

There is now a series of key target dates for marine energy in Scotland. The first date comes later this year when the UK government announces details of a second marine energy park, which is likely to be based in Scotland. This will be in addition to the existing park off the south-west of England, which brings together university researchers and private companies.

Then, in 2014, a Pelamis Wave Power machine should undergo full-scale tests at the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney. At the same time, the Aegir Wave Power Scheme will start work on environmental and other site assessments, before submitting a planning application to Marine Scotland, again in 2014.

Winning bids for the MEAD prize should be announced towards the end of this year, with the final projects up and running by 31 March 2016 at the latest.

<em>Picture: James T M Towill</em>

Picture: James T M Towill

By John Knox

There is no “end solution” or “settled will” to constitutional reform, as the Holyrood parliament has found out. It is all very well to go constitutional engineering, but it is a minority sport.

What is important is that any constitutional arrangement allows ordinary people to achieve their basic rights: freedom, a functioning economy providing enough jobs, decent housing, schooling, health care, a clean environment and welfare support when needed. So which level of government does what is largely a pragmatic matter of what works best.

I say “largely” because emotion does enter the calculation. The United Kingdom of Great Britain has been, for the last 300 years, “a happy breed of men, a precious stone set in a silver sea”. There is no turning back on either our history or our geography.

So even Alex Salmond’s independent country will not be the same as it was in 1707. It will be part of the “social union” of Britain, and part of the European Union. And its sovereignty will have to be pooled with many other countries and their trade and monetary systems.

Some decisions are best left to international bodies. War and peace, global trade, Third World poverty and climate change are all best handled by the United Nations. Agriculture, fishing, trading standards, taxes on aviation and financial transactions are best decided by the EU. Because, in each case, one country acting on its own would be powerless.

Within Britain itself, where power lies should depend on what works best for the ordinary citizens – they, after all, are sovereign. I share the view of the Steel Commission and others that power should lie as close to the people as possible and that each layer of government should be responsible for raising its own revenue.

There is one exception to this principle and it concerns the fight against poverty. A poor local authority or poor nation should be subsidised from the centre simply on the grounds of equality. To pull together as a United Kingdom, there has to be a moral agenda and the British sense of fairness and compassion will be on the list. There is also an economic case for helping those regions and districts which are suffering from unemployment and that is their lack of spending power.

One final principle I have tried to include in the following Home Rule scheme is that every citizen, however poor or rich, should pay something (however small or large) towards the benefits and services they receive. So, for instance, I am including a property tax as well as an income tax for local councils. Indirect taxes remain as they are.

And so to the details of Home Rule. Devolution means that Westminster is the ultimate authority, but some powers – indeed most powers – are transferred to Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast. Devolution or Home Rule differs from federalism where ultimate authority rests with the nations who then delegate some of their powers to Westminster. The difficulty federalism faces in Britain is that England is so big compared to the other three nations and its regions do not seem interested in forming their own mini-nations.

In any case, Westminster should retain the obvious central responsibilities of regulating the currency, defence and foreign affairs. In addition, for the social cohesion of Britain, it should retain the universal benefit of the state pension. It should also have a fund for equality and for emergency aid. Westminster would of course continue to negotiate all issues pertaining to the EU, the UN and the International Monetary Fund.

To raise funds for these activities, Westminster should continue to set and collect National Insurance, oil revenues (because they are a UK natural resource), fuel duty, vehicle excise duty and inheritance tax. The funds raised from these taxes in Scotland at the moment totals £14.7 billion a year. Public expenditure in Scotland on pensions, benefits and defence totals £23 billion (GERS figures 2009–10). If Westminster was no longer responsible for welfare, it would need £13 billion less, which leaves it with £4.7 billion to fund special equalisation programmes, such as railways or broadband, or research and development or anti-poverty initiatives.

Coming now to Holyrood, its role should be to support and regulate the delivery of services by the 32 local authorities. It would need to retain specialised services such as advanced medicine, the exam system, the high courts, certain aspects of policing etc. And it should have responsibility for health and safety, financial regulation, transport, broadcasting and immigration.

It should raise its revenue from VAT, corporation tax, fuel duty, stamp duty and taxes on alcohol and tobacco – a total of £13.5bn a year. This is more than its central services require, but it makes sense to collect such taxes nationally to avoid people darting about between different tax zones. The excess, say £10bn, would be distributed by Holyrood – as it does at present – to the local authorities to run the up-front services.

Local councils would thus be the main provider of public services – schools, hospitals, GP clinics, social work, care for the elderly and infirm, welfare payments, unemployment benefit, colleges and universities – as well as all the local services they provide already, including police and fire. In addition, the national agencies or quangos should be devolved to local councils: health boards, Scottish Water, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Environmental Protection Agency, Sport Scotland, Creative Scotland etc.

This would provide the integration which is so often lacking in the public services. It would harness the local knowledge, expertise, innovative skill and enthusiasm of local managers and workers. Finally, they would be able to manage, take responsibility and see the outcome of their own schemes. The computer and the internet have made this localisation of services possible without losing the economies of scale much talked about. Managers can download programs to help them keep track of their own operations and benefit from best practice elsewhere.

These powerful local councils would need substantial resources. I suggest a council tax, made up of both a local income tax and a property tax, which would raise £12bn, plus a business tax which would raise – as at present – £2bn. Add to this the £10bn from Holyrood and the cost of all services could be covered.

So, the tax revenue regime I am suggesting would look like this:

Westminster
National Insurance £8bn
Oil revenues £6bn
Inheritance tax £0.2bn
Vehicle excise duty £0.5bn
Total £14.7bn

Holyrood
VAT £7bn
Corporation tax £2bn
Fuel duty £2bn
Excise duty £2bn
Stamp duty £0.5bn
Total £13.5bn

Local councils
Local income tax £10bn
Council tax £2bn
Business rates £2bn
Total £14bn

In this model I have left the tax system and the local government system much as it is. Both have taken a long time to evolve. To change them at the same time as changing the constitution might be too much of a cultural revolution for poor old Britain to handle.

Thus the average person would see little change in the tax he or she pays, the only difference is that more of it is going to the local council rather than the central government. On an average salary of £26,000, income tax would be £3,800, national insurance £1,500 and council tax £1,200 – much as at present. I would argue that this is more efficient and more democratic. Over 90 per cent of taxes are set and collected by the Westminster government, making Britain one of the most centralised states in Europe.

Finally, there are suggestions from some people that devolution should go down below local council level. I guess they have in mind town councils and community councils being given a budget to run their own schools, street cleaning and dustbin collections, sports facilities, parks etc. I cannot see this working at present. It would rely too much on voluntary effort. I do not think people are prepared to put in the time or the commitment to make such ultra-local democracy work.

It would probably lead to factions or individuals taking power, leading to disputes and petty jealousies. There are just not enough talented people interested in politics – they just want the services to be run well. Concentrating services at district council level would, I think, invigorate local politics and make decisions interesting and close enough to encourage those interested in politics to take an active part.

In conclusion, none of the above need be rushed. I have been setting out a long-term vision, towards which we should strive. A lot of adjustments to my scheme would have to be made along the way. An interim definition of Home Rule may have to be agreed in time for a second question in the independence referendum. The point is to move devolution forward and give Home Rule a stronger meaning with every change. The second question can then simply be: If you voted No to the independence question above, would you like to see more powers for Scottish local authorities within the United Kingdom?

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The Laxey Wheel, Isle of Man <em>Picture: Jim Linwood</em>

The Laxey Wheel, Isle of Man Picture: Jim Linwood

In all the scrabbling around for ideas on what “devo max” would look like, nobody, it seems, has looked on Scotland’s doorstep – or not until now at any rate.

SNP MSP Kenny Gibson has spent the last few weeks looking in depth at the islands round England’s coast to see how they co-exist with Westminster – and he is encouraged by what he has found out.

The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, Mr Gibson reckons, represent a pretty fair approximation of what “devo max” would mean in practice.

He also believes, with some justification, that using real examples within the British Isles would take the “fear of the unknown” away from the issue and make “devo max” much more acceptable to the Scottish people.

Unsurprisingly, his ideas have been treated coolly – in public – by the SNP leadership which doesn’t want to encourage any deviation from the main aim of independence.

But privately, senior SNP strategists are delighted that someone has at last come up with a formula for “devo max” which is cogent, coherent, workable and virtually autonomous.

Ever since Alex Salmond said he wanted the option of “independence lite” or “devo max” put on the ballot paper as an alternative to independence, there has been confusion as to what this might mean.

The Isle of Man may well provide that answer. The island, as is also the case with Jersey and Guernsey, is virtually autonomous, controlling all fiscal levers including tax rates and only relying on the UK for immigration rules and defence.

Jersey and the Isle of Man have control over customs and excise, postal services, telecommunications and social security, yet remain self-governing dependencies of the British Crown.

Mr Gibson has now tabled a motion at Holyrood demanding that Scotland be given the same powers and the same autonomy as these islands.

Mr Gibson and some of his SNP colleagues are particularly taken by the Isle of Man’s relationship with Europe. The Isle of Man is an associate member of the EU, which means it is not officially part of the United Kingdom member state, does not have to implement EU directives, but enjoys economic benefits with a series of trade deals.

“This is a real and practical example of ‘devo max’ in action,” Mr Gibson told the Times. “It should crystallise plans for ‘devo max’ and show it can work within the British Isles.”

And he added: “It should eliminate the fear factor about ‘devo max’. Here are a series of examples just off our coast which not only work and work well, but which enjoy more prosperity than we do.”

These semi-autonomous islands off England’s coast have small populations, ranging from 65,000 to 93,000, but they enjoy significantly higher standards of living than Scotland, with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita rates up to two-thirds higher than in Scotland.

The islands also have fewer natural resources than Scotland but much greater power to determine their own domestic policies.

Like his SNP colleagues, Mr Gibson wants full independence – but he also wants a second option on the ballot paper, one that would attract those who are not quite ready for full independence.

He defended the decision to come up with an option which falls short of full independence. “It would be wonderful to think that everybody would vote for independence,” he said, “but there will be those who are not quite sure. This option would get us 90 per cent there.”

Dr Nicola McEwen, an expert on governance at the University of Edinburgh, said Crown dependencies had many advantages but they also tended to lack clout in the big organisations they were members of, like the UK and the EU.

“Crown dependencies or federacies offer just one model of a middle way between the status quo and independence,” she said. “There are other ways of enhancing devolution, but these are being crowded out in a debate that is becoming increasingly polarised between supporters and opponents of independence.”

The main opposition parties have so far been unwilling to endorse a second question on “devo max” on the independence referendum ballot paper – despite several offers from the first minister for them to do so.

The Conservatives oppose it outright. The Labour leadership opposes the idea but some senior Scottish Labour figures – including former first minister Henry McLeish – believe the party should embrace “devo max” and start taking the momentum away from the SNP.

The Liberal Democrats have set up a commission under former leader Sir Menzies Campbell to decide its approach to the issue.

But none of them is as yet willing to take up Mr Gibson’s suggestion and call for Scotland to become a Crown dependency like the Isle of Man.

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Ian Davidson MP <em>Picture: www.parliament.uk</em>

Ian Davidson MP Picture: www.parliament.uk

“Doinggate” doesn’t look or sound right, so some other name will need to be concocted for the political-meets-personal spat between Eilidh Whiteford of the SNP and Ian Davidson of Labour, the respective MPs for Banff and Buchan and for Glasgow South West.

Quite what was said during a recent session of the Scottish affairs select committee remains unclear, and transparency isn’t helped by the session having been held behind closed doors and seemingly without formal note-taking – so much for open government. But there appears to be consensus that the words “a doing” left Mr Davidson’s lips with regard to Dr Whiteford, and that she interpreted this as a “threat” and as “intimidation”.

The view of Mr Davidson – the committee chair – is that he said “you’ve been given a doing – now let’s move on”, or “you’ve had a doing – now let’s move on”, in the context of Dr Whiteford failing to hold sway in part of the discussion. This interpretation appears to be supported by other colleagues who were in the room, but is strongly denied by Dr Whiteford who heard it as “you’ll be getting a doing”. Mr Davidson has since apologised “for any offence that might have been caused”.

“Threats and intimidation of this nature are unacceptable under any circumstances,” said Dr Whiteford in a statement. “It is never appropriate to threaten to give a woman ‘a doing’. If people in my position are not prepared to stand up against aggressive and threatening behaviour, then people who face this kind of conduct in their homes and workplaces will continue to think the perpetrators can get away with it.”

Much of this comes down to whether the phrase was used in the future tense (as Dr Whiteford suggests) or in the past tense (as per Mr Davidson’s explanation), and also whether it was said directly to Dr Whiteford rather than in a general playing-to-the-audience kind of way in a broader committee context.

Dr Whiteford was interviewed on Newsnight Scotland last night, and was if anything even more forthright in her claims. “There are no circumstances in which you can offer to give someone a doing where that is not a threat”, she said. “I don’t think the context matters. The issue is that it is never, ever acceptable to tell somebody that they’re getting a doing, under any circumstances.”

Asked by Gordon Brewer if she had been “scared that she was going to be subjected to physical violence”, Dr Whiteford said “I was certainly threatened, and I cannot think of any circumstances where I wouldn’t have taken that as an implicit or explicit threat. I think it’s an inherently threatening thing to say.”

Such phraseology, she added, “wouldn’t be acceptable in any workplace I’ve ever worked in”. But while this might indeed be the case for someone such as Dr Whiteford who has worked in academia and for the Scottish Carers’ Alliance, it is less likely to apply across a wider spectrum, from the military to the media and in all manner of more menial jobs. (Indeed, the idea backfired when Dr Whiteford asked Gordon Brewer: “When did somebody in your workplace last offer to give you a doing?”, to which he responded with a joky – but quite possibly genuine – “Probably about five minutes ago”.)

Dr Whiteford has said that “All this stuff about semantics and past tense is just another attempt to try to excuse and justify his [Mr Davidson’s] behaviour.” However, “given a doing” is in pretty common usage in a figurative sense, and if used in that way no more implies real physical menace than suggesting that a defeated parliamentary candidate has received “a bloody nose”, that their party has been given “a kick in the teeth”, or that there is “blood on the carpet”. People can be – and are – punched in the nose and kicked in the teeth, and carpets do sometimes need to be cleaned, but such phrases tend not to be meant literally when uttered or written.

“Given a doing” and its associated forms is a commonplace phrase in sport (which is perhaps why a traditional Labour male Glaswegian such as Mr Davidson has it in his vocabulary), and especially in football. Plenty of examples can be found – here are two:

“On the way from Heathrow Airport to his home in St Albans yesterday he [Celtic chairman Brian Quinn] was even candid enough to observe that Celtic had been given a ‘doing’ in Portugal the week before Rosenborg exposed more defensive frailty.” – Hugh Keevins, Daily Record, 25 October 2001.

“Birmingham, like most promoted teams running on adrenalin thus far, had been generally solid away from home, but on the admission of their manager Steve Bruce were given ‘a doing’.” – Steve Tongue’s match report of Chelsea 3 Birmingham City 0, the Independent, 10 November 2002.

Football is a robust world, for sure, but in neither of those instances was actual bodily harm inflicted. To say that Manchester City gave Manchester United a doing last weekend isn’t to suggest that any kind of on-field brawl took place – the phrase merely reflects the trouncing that took place in purely footballing terms.

This usage is equally clear in these two examples, taken from the fairly genteel worlds of chess and education:

“At the top, Glasgow Montrose continue their good run and will lead the table going into the last match. Shettleston have effectively been eliminated from the proceedings following a ‘bit of a doing’ from Polytechnic A, for whom something more like their real A team appeared on the park.” – the late Gerry Wilson’s report on Division 1 of the Glasgow Chess League, 1999–2000.

“Mr [Stirling] Mackie did not have the chance at that point to put [Richard] Elmore’s theories [on education reform] into practice, as his attention was focused on a school action plan following a ‘very challenging’ HMIE [Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education] report. ‘We were given a doing,’ he admits candidly. The report identified a number of areas which were ‘weak’, including discipline, which had a knock-on effect on the quality of teaching, and ‘unsatisfactory’ self-evaluation.” – Elizabeth Buie, Times Education Supplement Scotland, 20 November 2009.

Did either the Shettleston chess players or the staff at Irvine Royal Academy (where Mr Mackie is head teacher) feel physically threatened by the Polytechnic chess team or the government inspectors respectively? Highly unlikely.

Then, of course, there is politics – a big boys’ (and girls’) world where hardball is played but actual physical flare-ups are rare (apart, perhaps, from in the Italian parliament). Take these two fairly recent (5 June) examples, written by a blogger known as “The Burd” while analysing the treatment of presiding officer Tricia Marwick in the Holyrood chamber:

“Scotland’s political press pack has form here when it comes to its treatment of women politicians. I don’t recall David Steele [sic], George Reid or Alex Fergusson getting a doing after their initial performances convening Holyrood setpieces”; and “But worst of all, was the doing Susan Deacon got on the front page of the Daily Record at the height of the section 2a furore”.

Or this, by a bulletin-board commenter cheering the 2007 SNP victory: “As an ‘old’ Labour supporter I’m delighted to see the current bunch of slimeballs given a doing, maybe they can now have a rethink and get back to something like the original values of the party. For the moment I’m happy that in Alex Salmond we have a proper statesman as First Minister.”

Of course, the phrase can certainly be used in a literal, direct-threat, thuggish, hoodlumesque kind of way – in which case it is a different matter entirely, and certainly deserves censure. But as so often in politics, there are radically differing interpretations in play here, and it is quite possible that we will never know exactly what was said, even less what was meant.

Ultimately, there appear to be three basic interpretations:

● Mr Davidson did indeed issue a direct threat to Dr Whiteford, in which case he ought to be kicked out (but not literally) of the committee chair and subjected to party and parliamentary discipline.

● Dr Whiteford either misheard or misinterpreted what was said and has taken it all too personally, in which case she probably needs to listen more carefully and/or grow a thicker skin.

● An unfortunate (but not out of order) form of words used by Mr Davidson has been seized upon by Dr Whiteford and her party to create a kerfuffle which reflects badly on Scottish Labour and has wider political implications for the electoral and independence-referendum debates.

Is that third option – which Dr Whiteford dismisses as “absolutely ludicrous” – possible? Well, this is politics, after all – and whether the MP for Banff and Buchan or anyone else disapproves, politics always has been, and will remain, a verbally brutal business.

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Angus Robertson MP <em>Picture: SNP</em>

Angus Robertson MP Picture: SNP

A huge bequest of nearly £1 million from Scotland’s former makar Edwin Morgan is to bankroll the SNP’s independence campaign, it has emerged.

Angus Robertson MP, director of the independence referendum campaign, revealed at the SNP’s conference in Inverness that the party has ringfenced a £918,000 legacy left by the late poet for the party’s campaign for independence.

“We are announcing that the independence referendum campaign is starting,” Mr Robertson told the conference. “We will work as hard as possible in an unprecedented national campaign to secure the majority ‘yes’ vote for a sovereign independent Scotland.

“We will galvanise and motivate our members and supporters; work with the many supporters of independence with no party affiliation and in other parties; engage with different sectors of society to build confidence and optimism in the independence case and reach out within our communities, door by door, street by street in the most unprecedented campaign of mobilisation and communication by the SNP and in the history of Scottish politics.”

Confirming the bequest, Mr Robertson said: “Edwin Morgan didn’t wear his politics on his sleeve but he has left this party a legacy which is transformational in its scope and which we will put to use campaigning to build a better nation.

“I am delighted to confirm that Scotland’s independence campaign has been generously supported by the late, great Scots poet and makar Edwin Morgan with a substantial contribution of £918,000, which is ringfenced for the referendum campaign.”

And he added: “With these resources we are going to be able to properly support campaign efforts on the ground, in our communities the length and breadth of Scotland. Support for independence has moved into the lead and the people of Scotland want to be persuaded. Scotland’s independence campaign starts now. Scotland, it’s starting.”

Mr Robertson also asked SNP members to give “as little as £1 a month” for the independence campaign – which could raise £700,000 from the party’s 19,000 members by the time the referendum in held in three years’ time.

However, what no one yet knows is what form the referendum will take.

Alex Salmond made it clear over the weekend that he would like to put three options to the Scottish people in the referendum: independence, the status quo and independence lite.

This has been seen by many as a calculating move, designed to ensure the SNP leadership achieves something substantial from the referendum if it fails to get outright independence.

It is expected to appeal to the many Scots who want more autonomy and have sympathy with the SNP but who baulk at full independence.

It has, though, attracted criticism from within the independence movement from some who think it is a cop-out and a watering down of the core independence message.

But it has won support across from within other parties. Henry McLeish, the former Labour first minister, urged Labour this week to consider endorsing independence lite – or “devolution max”, as unionists like to call it.

“We have to look at the referendum and that doesn’t mean just opposing it but putting forward our own positive vision,” Mr McLeish said last week, “and for me that could be ‘devolution max’.”

Independence lite – or devo max – would mean the complete handover of all financial powers from Westminster to Holyrood. Scotland would raise all of its taxes and then pass a portion of them to the UK Treasury to pay for Scotland’s share of diplomatic missions, the Royal Family and defence.

Everything else would be run by Scotland in Scotland, giving Scotland independence in all but name.

This “third way” would change the nature of UK politics dramatically – if only because it would remove all Scottish MPs from the House of Commons, only leaving some Scots sitting in a confederate second chamber.

Labour leaders in London are well aware of the damage that the loss of Scotland’s battalion of 41 Labour MPs would do to their chances of regaining power in London, which is one of the reasons why the party has not taken a definitive position on the issue.

However, the idea of endorsing something positive – rather than just resisting Mr Salmond’s vision for Scotland with endlessly negative messages – does appeal to some Scottish Labour MPs.

Eric Joyce, the Labour MP for Falkirk, said last week: “Campaigning for devolution max would make eminent sense and I like to think Labour would be behind it.”

The main difficulty for Labour, and indeed the other unionist parties, is that no one knows exactly what an “independence-lite” Scotland would look like: it has never been properly defined.

Mr Salmond published detailed plans for independence in the last parliament, so there is a clear, coherent plan for that option; but for independence lite – or devolution max – the picture is very muddy indeed.

David Cameron has taken a resolutely unionist approach throughout, giving the impression that he would not countenance anything like “devolution max”.

Instead, he has taken to goading Mr Salmond, urging the first minister to hold the referendum as soon as possible, to put the question to the Scottish people and settle the issue once and for all.

For Mr Salmond, he is sticking to his intention to hold the referendum in the latter part of this parliament: the most likely dates are late 2014 (after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games) or early 2015 (before the UK general election).

He said this week he would stick to this timetable. “That’s what we said we would do and that’s what we intend to do and no amount of blustering from the prime minister is going to change that view.”

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Nicola Sturgeon MSP <em>Picture: Mark Sutherland/Scottish Parliament</em>

Nicola Sturgeon MSP Picture: Mark Sutherland/Scottish Parliament


The following is an article by Scottish deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, first published in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

Scotland has moved on decisively and irrevocably as a nation. Perhaps that is the fundamental truth that Labour’s prolonged post mortem into their comprehensive election defeat to the SNP in May fails to grasp.

Because, for all of Douglas Alexander’s deliberations in the last few days as to why his party were “well and truly gubbed” at the polls – his choice of phrase – the fact is that most people in Scotland are far more ambitious for their country than Labour or any of the Unionist parties acknowledge or allow for.

The SNP’s majority in Holyrood is unprecedented and unexpected, but it is also symptomatic of a profound change in mood among the people of Scotland as a whole.

The SNP government was re-elected convincingly on the back of our campaign message of record, team and vision, and perhaps the most important of those three components is vision, because without a positive vision for the future, no political party can hope to enthuse and persuade voters to support them.

This weekend the Scottish government published the latest Scottish social attitudes survey. And the results of this snapshot of national opinion are deeply revealing.

It shows that almost three-quarters of Scots, 74 per cent, thought that the Scottish government should have the most influence over how Scotland is run. That compares to just 16 per cent who thought that the UK government should have the most influence in their everyday lives.

Similarly, 61 per cent of people said they trusted the Scottish government to act in Scotland’s best interests – a figure that has remained consistent from the last annual survey.

But this is almost three times as many people who said the trust Westminster to act in Scotland’s best interests. Just 22 per cent said they believed the UK government could be trusted to properly look after the nation’s affairs – down 3 per cent on the previous survey.

What do these findings tell us? They signify a profound desire on the part of the people of Scotland to take charge of their own destiny – and only the SNP matches those aspirations.

Opinion poll after opinion poll shows a clear and decisive majority of people in favour of radical constitutional change and progress for Scotland of the kind that the social attitude survey findings point to.

While not all of those people share the SNP government’s vision of an independent Scotland – although very many do – all of them want a country that has far more control over its own affairs and responsibility for its own resources than the status quo allows.

The Scotland Bill which is currently going through Westminster goes nowhere near satisfying those aspirations. Indeed, it is merely a reaction to the SNP’s last election win, in 2007, rather than a reflection of where public opinion is now in 2011 in the wake of our landslide success of five months ago.

The Unionist parties risk behind left behind totally by the people and their ambitions for Scotland – the SNP government recognises those ambitions and will give the people the chance to choose independence in the referendum we have promised.

That independent future will still be able to rely on vast oil wealth from the North Sea, as this week’s multi-billion pound investment by BP testifies – with even David Cameron conceding that Scotland’s oil will be around for “many, many years” to come. That is in addition to the vast renewable energy reserves we enjoy and the most important resource of all – the ingenuity, creativity and industry of our people.

This can be the independence generation because – as the social attitudes survey shows – Scots are increasingly resistant to the idea of Westminster control, whether that is over the economy or decisions of war and peace.

Devolution meant we could no longer have something as unpopular as the poll tax foisted on Scotland. Independence will mean we no longer face having our troops sent to fight in an illegal war like Iraq.

The SNP goes into our annual conference this week in Inverness in great heart, but conscious of the great responsibility we have been handed. And the re-elected

SNP government has hit the ground running, as our record since May shows. Our jobs market continues to outperform the UK as whole, as we have pushed ahead with major infrastructure projects while in health we have continued to meet targets, with 99.9 per cent of patients now waiting 12 weeks or less for their first outpatient appointment, and in education we are upholding our election promise of no tuition fees for Scots-based students.

The SNP has set itself a goal of doubling membership by the start of the referendum campaign. That is an ambitious goal, but one we have already proved we can meet after already doubling our numbers since 2003.

Many of the new members coming our way in the weeks, months and years ahead will be those who have had enough of Westminster control of Scottish affairs and who have decided that they want to be part of the independence generation.

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The Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP <em>Picture: World Economic Forum</em>

The Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP Picture: World Economic Forum

The following is the text of the Andrew John Williamson Memorial Lecture for 2011, given at Stirling University earlier this evening by the Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP. The lecture is entitled “A Better Nation? – A Personal Reflection on Scotland’s Future”.

Good evening. It is a genuine privilege to be here to deliver the Andrew John Williamson Memorial Lecture and I am delighted that Andrew’s mother Joyce is here with us this evening. And can I also say what a pleasure it is to be here at Stirling University.

As I ruminated upon a title for this evening’s lecture my first thought – given that Dunsinane lies only a few miles up the road in Perthshire – was to ask “Stands Scotland where it did?”

Yet a moment’s reflection was sufficient to answer the question posed by Shakespeare.

And there could be few better settings in which to discuss the recent developments and future course of Scottish politics than Stirling – the seat where in 1997 Michael Forsyth played the role of General Custer in the Scottish Conservatives’ last stand, but which then passed from Labour control at the 2007 Holyrood elections – not back to the Tories, but rather into the hands of the SNP, narrowly then but earlier this year with a majority of nearly 6,000 and almost 50 per cent of the total votes cast. Nowhere illustrates more starkly the changes in Scottish politics that have taken place over recent years.

Last May we witnessed the election of a majority government for the first time in the twelve year history of Scottish devolution. And if we take them at their word, the historic victory of the Scottish National Party will ensure that the issue of a referendum on independence has now come to the fore.

And, accordingly, it is to the issue of Scotland’s political future and Scottish Labour’s place therein that I want to direct my remarks this evening.

Tonight I want to explore some of the issues that I believe will inform the necessary public discourse and debate that will precede the choice Scotland makes in such a referendum.

But let me say just a word in passing specifically on the referendum. As someone who knows how to run a campaign, one of my real concerns is that the referendum debate may become simply a fight between William Wallace and the bogey man.

Because in a time of choosing, our duty is greater, and our responsibility is heavier.

This debate demands a different quality of imagination.

“Obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans” must yield to a debate not just about our identity, but about our ideals. About what kind of nation we are, and what kind of nation we want to become.

Our fellow citizens deserve a debate worthy of a momentous choice that will help write the history of this generation.

And before the heat generated by that forthcoming battle obscures the light, I want to take the opportunity afforded by tonight’s lecture to offer some personal reflections on those forces, far from the headlines, that will shape our choice.

Let me say, first, what this lecture is not. It is not an exercise in accounting. It is not an attempt to weigh the costs and expense involved in establishing the apparatus of a separate Scottish state and disentangling ourselves from the partnership that is the United Kingdom.

There will be time enough, and no doubt plenty of opportunities, for such evidence to be set before the people of Scotland in the months and years ahead.

As someone who was centrally involved in devising Labour’s “Divorce is a Expensive Business” campaign for the first elections to Holyrood in 1999, I am not unaware of the importance of such evidence, nor do I resile from the fears I still have about the damage that Scotland’s exit from the United Kingdom would do, most of all, to Scotland.

But I said after the 1999 election that it was the last time I thought we could run such a campaign, and yet it is surely now clear that in the decade that followed, too little was done by my party to tell a different story of possibility about Scotland.

In 1999 we identified what would have been the wrong path for Scotland, but thereafter we didn’t do enough to describe the right path by which to achieve a better nation.

We all know Labour needed to show humility after our election defeats. But we also have an obligation to think – and to re-engage. My work observing and participating in democratic politics both at home and abroad over the last decade has taught me many things.

And one of them is that, in policy, statistics matter, but in politics, stories matter too.

Because stories help shape what is hidden in plain sight all around us – what we judge has meaning, and what we judge doesn’t. And it is through stories that we provoke the feelings of hope that are at the heart of participating in a progressive society – the care, concern, and compassion that has always underpinned the will to act.

Why do I make that claim? Because our emotions are the very foundation of reason – because they tell each of us what to value. Despite Plato’s description of reason and emotion as two horses pulling in the opposite direction, the truth is that how we feel about what we know is the deepest way in which we add meaning and significance to whatever information we have at our disposal – it is how what we know becomes real and rooted in who we are.

This should have come as no surprise to a graduate of the University of Edinburgh such as myself.

Because the writings of David Hume remind us that reason is often weak and sentiments are strong.

Perhaps I should just have listened more intently to my father’s sermons. For the Church, not just here in Scotland but around the globe, has understood for 2,000 years that we live our lives by parables.

It was the Church that recognised 450 years ago that education was the basis of each of us fulfilling our potential or writing our own story and so set out to put a school in every parish – an act of public service that shaped our nations identity and led to an Enlightenment period that was to spill out over Europe and beyond that challenged the very way we see the world.

So it is perhaps appropriate that I begin my exploration of these issues this evening by quoting the words of the Austrian philosopher, priest and social critic, Ivan Illich.

In an interview about one of his works, he stated: “Neither revolution not reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into the future so that we can take the next step forward. If you want to change society, then you have to tell an alternative story.”

Ponder those words: “You have to tell an alternative story.”

Of course the stories we tell about ourselves, our communities and our nation are thankfully not the exclusive domain of politicians: writers, musicians, poets and artists help shape our sense of self and also our sense of our nation’s story.

The case I want to make tonight is that we need and deserve a better story about Scotland and its possibilities: one which does more justice to our sense of potential than either of the narratives that have come to dominate our political discourse in recent times.

And I want to suggest this evening that we need a broader, more inclusive, more generous story if we are to be a better nation, and that to be a better nation does not demand that we become a separate nation.

At the moment, we risk years of debate defined by polarising positions not shared by most of us in Scotland. On one hand there is a story about Scotland’s future distorted by the continued need to assert our differentness to the point of denying what we hold in common in these islands.

On the other hand is a story that draws too much from our past which has allowed the misconception to develop that any acknowledgement of Britishness somehow seeks to diminish the pride we feel in the distinctiveness of Scotland.

Neither account, it seems to me, is adequate for who we are as Scots, what we believe, or what we have it in ourselves to become in the years ahead.

And I would argue there is a real urgency in developing that better story, so that in the years ahead we don’t squander our energies on proving our difference, rather than improving our nation.

Let me draw on my personal experience to explain what I mean.

In the Scotland in which I grew up, in the 70s, 80s and 90s, our national story was widely shared. The distinction between patriotism and nationalism was widely understood and accepted. Those of us who shouted proudly – if often forlornly – for Scotland in Hampden or Murrayfield felt no compulsion to embrace political nationalism.

The villain of the narrative was the insensitive, arrogant and selfish politics embodied by Margaret Thatcher, the legacy of which still condemns the Conservative party in the eyes of most Scots, more than 20 years since she stood down as prime minister.

The narrative was reflective of Scotland undergoing the forced removal and restructuring of the industries and communities, from Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to Ravenscraig, from Linwood to Methil and the coalfields that had shaped Scotland’s sense of itself for decades.

So as a student when I joined my compatriots in protest against Thatcherism outside New College when she came to deliver her infamous “Sermon on the Mound” in 1988, or in support of the Scottish parliament in George Square, and the Meadows in 1992, we were reflecting what John Smith described so well as “the settled will of the Scottish people”.

At that time if felt like a struggle for Scotland’s soul. As William Mcllvanney described it in his 1987 lecture at the SNP conference: “We have never, until now, had a government so determined to unpick the very fabric of Scottish life and make it over into something quite different. We have never had a government so glibly convinced of its own rightness that it demands that one of the oldest nations in Europe should give itself a shake and change utterly its sense of self.

“If we allow her [Mrs Thatcher] to continue she will remove from the word Scottish any meaning other than geographical.

“We are now so threatened by a government implacably hostile to the ideas that have nourished Scotland’s deepest sense of itself that we must have to protect ourselves. We will either defend our identity or lose it – there is no other choice.”

And the heroes of this story, for me, and many other Scots, were the generation of Labour politicians who gave voice not only to our concerns but also to our hopes: Dewar, Smith, Brown and Cook.

They held out the possibility of a better Scottish nation – by their commitment to constitutional change certainly, but even more by their shared commitment to social and economic change and solidarity with the poor, even when that was not an easy path.

As Democratic Socialists, they never saw a contradiction in working for a better Scotland and a better Britain.

And they were a generation true to their word. For despite the taunts that the Labour Party “couldn’t deliver a pizza, never mind a parliament” in fact, we did deliver Scotland’s parliament.

While the Nationalists stood aside from the Constitutional Convention – something they now seek to airbrush out of their history – I am forever proud that one of the first acts of the incoming Labour government was to set out what became the Scotland Act giving birth to Scotland’s first democratic parliament.

But Labour in government delivered not just a Scottish parliament but also the Human Rights Act; a reformed House of Lords; civil partnerships; new maternity and paternity rights; new rights to join a trade union. But not just that: a minimum wage, record levels of investment in our schools and hospitals, record levels of employment, a decade of economic growth; the Minimum Income Guarantee and the Working Families’ Tax Credit.

Now of course, I am proud of the many good things achieved by the Labour government in which I was honoured to serve. And I am also proud of much that the Scottish Labour Party achieved in government at Holyrood from 1999 to 2007 – not just establishing Smart, Successful Scotland, or the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, but in my own community building the new schools that have literally transformed the learning environment for our local children.

But these achievements, important thought they are, were not sufficient to mask an underlying difficulty with the story Scottish Labour was telling about itself and about Scotland. We rewrote the statute book but we did not, alas, rewrite the story.

And that familiar, unchanged story we told came under sustained pressure in recent years for a variety of reasons.

First, the familiar villain of Thatcherism, in time, moved into history. I still remember 22 November 1990 – the day Margaret Thatcher resigned. It was the week before the by-election of my predecessor as MP for Paisley and I was campaigning around the town with Donald Dewar.

And when the momentous news of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation was announced by Donald through a megaphone to the children of St Fergus’ Primary School, who were out on their playtime, the whole playground started jumping for joy.

That’s the measure of the grip Thatcher held on our collective imagination by the early 90s. But there is an additional point: the post-war industrial Scotland Thatcher did so much to dismantle also began to move into history.

As Scottish Labour we were, at times, slow to identify ourselves with the underlying but profound changes in the Scottish economy. Labour’s politics, formed in the 70s and 80s, were those of struggle against decline.

Too late in the years before 2007 did we recognise that our policies in government, while not fully eradicating poverty, had created a more diverse and modern economy – reliant on banks, yes, but strong in bioscience, leading Europe in energy, from oil and gas to renewables, and with modern manufacturing and computer games software thriving.

The SNP saw that economic strength and sought to annex the sense of confidence it generated to their definition of Scotland and its destiny.

But these changes also meant that some of the old Labour “hymns” were increasingly unfamiliar to an audience increasingly without personal knowledge of the tunes.

The attachment to and insistence upon these old hymns reflected the fact that the Scottish Party, largely by reason of the unique national element in our politics, never really felt it needed to be “New” Labour.

Indeed it is arguable that the process of “modernisation” might not, in fact, have been required to defeat the Tories in Scotland, but this comfort in old orthodoxies contributed to the party’s disorientation and vulnerability when we came under attack from a different direction, and from a more nimble opponent.

More broadly, the resurgent Scottish pride and confidence, in part resulting from a decade of economic growth from 1997 to 2007, at times left Scottish Labour looking uneasy.

Why? In part the coincidence of traditional symbols of and repositories for working class identity – such as trade union membership and large scale industrial workplaces – were declining, while simultaneously there remained a strength of national pride, reaffirmed in everything from the music of the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles, sung on the terraces at Hampden, to Eddi Reader’s musical reinterpretation of Burns’ poetry and song.

The repository of emotion for many Scots moved from class-based institutions to national institutions. And while the love and respect for the BBC, the NHS, the armed forces and the royal family have stayed strong, other distinctively Scottish institutions grew in the Scottish people’s affections.

Finally, unpopular aspects of both old and New Labour combined to reduce our support. Old Labour was still associated with a sense that “Labour runs everything” from Westminster to the local council, and regrettably that stewardship was not always viewed as moving with the times.

New Labour, on the other hand, despite all its achievements, came to be associated with the conflict in Iraq in 2003, the revulsion at the MP’s expenses scandal, and the wearinesss of ideas born of successive periods of government in Westminster and Holyrood.

The combined impact of these perceived weaknesses caused many to turn away from our party.

So, by 2011, how has that story played out? It played out in Scottish Labour warning of the risks of Thatcherism decades after she had left office, and in a campaign that suggested knife crime, important though tackling it is, was the key concern of an electorate that, in truth, had many other concerns.

This was a story that sought to draw what little emotional power it could muster not from Scotland’s future, but from Scotland’s past.

And in a decisive rejection at the ballot box, in the language of the terraces, we were well and truly “gubbed”. The party which, on the day the Scottish parliament was first elected, could claim without contradiction to be the only true National Party of Scotland, within 12 years found itself supported by only one in eight Scottish voters.

And what of the winners of that election?

The harsh truth for Labour is that the Nationalist’s victory in May did not derive exclusively from their approach to national identity. It reflected differences in personnel, resources and campaigning approaches. It also reflected that those who voted for them had judged them fairly competent and broadly aligned with their values, in their stewardship of government over the previous four years.

Just as importantly, Labour, in opposition was seen as too often concerned only with opposition for its own sake. Too many Scots judged us to have complained in unspecified ways about the SNP’s failure to deliver, without articulating a clear enough alternative story and account of Scotland’s possibilities.

That weakness – for which we share a collective responsibility – allowed the SNP to deflect criticism of their record over the preceding four years in two ways: first to attribute the failures of the Scottish government to the existence and impact of the British government; and, second, to attribute their failures to their status as a minority government.

There is however, one positive I do take from last May’s result, which you might think a strange thing for a Labour politician to say.

I do not believe that, at root, Scotland was voting for independence. In that I believe I am joined by Alex Salmond who surely wouldn’t be putting off a referendum if he thought that was the case.

But what I believe Scots were saying is that they want Scotland to be a better nation. They feel pride in Scotland and want new possibilities for its people. And they didn’t feel last May that Labour was offering that better way forward.

But this analysis of our defeat sits alongside the fact that the SNP have always had a different national narrative based on the desirability and indeed inevitability of separation from the rest of Britain. And the SNP’s victory in May means that this narrative will now be central to the debate about Scottish politics for the immediate years to come.

Of course, over time, that narrative has changed, and evolved but always with the same destination – independence – and always the same villain: Britain.

So in the 1960s, with the advent of the modern SNP, the case for separation was made on the basis of our relative economic deprivation. Then in the 1970s the case for separation was made on the basis that “It’s Scotland’s oil”. Most recently, or at least prior to the banking crisis of 2008, the case has been advanced on the ability of Scotland to join “the Arc of Prosperity” of Ireland, Iceland and Norway.

In fact, this narrative always struggled to capture more than a minority of Scottish support.

That is not to dispute the scale of their victory last May: Labour lost big and consequently the Nationalists won big. It is to suggest that by 2007, the Nationalists were the beneficiaries of the weakening in support for Labour, and the diminishing of the emotive power of the key events and individuals that had previously sustained Labour’s story and indeed support.

Over recent years, Nationalists have sought to construct a new and less narrowly drawn narrative suggesting that they alone truly have the interests of Scotland at heart and that they alone are powered by a desire for a better nation.

That is why, with what I would describe as “Mandelsonian” discipline, they parrot the line about “London Labour”. It is spin designed to disqualify and delegitimise a broad swathe of Scottish opinion that does not share their agenda.

The strength of that less narrowly drawn narrative advanced in recent years has been its ability to tap into the strong sense of Scottish patriotism. Buoyed by years of economic growth, and the establishment of a Scottish parliament, the SNP have worked hard to try and capture the sense of possibility that in a previous generation was held by the Labour Party. The SNP saw the economic strength and sought to annex the sense of confidence to their definition of Scotland and its destiny.

In parallel, this new Nationalist narrative has sought to suggest a sense of inevitability about separation. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this was in James Robertson’s book And the Land Lay Still, the winner of the 2010 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year – and, incidentally, reportedly Alex Salmond’s favourite book of last year. Yet while an enjoyable read and impressive work, it offers a partial rather than a convincing account of Scotland’s political struggles over recent decades.

As Ian Smart, a former president of the Law Society of Scotland put it recently in a trenchant critique: “Mr Robertson’s book purports to be a history of Scotland since the 1950s albeit through the mechanism of fiction. It portrays a country ill at ease with itself; denied its proper place in the world through the devices of the English and unable to recognise its true destiny until these issues are resolved…

“For me the political history of Scotland, during the period of which he writes, was about so much more than Scotland. The central character of the book goes to Edinburgh University in 1972 yet the only mention of Vietnam is to compare its struggle to that of Scotland (truly!);

“Allende’s overthrow is worthy of a single (and background) pub exchange; the struggle against apartheid which, while I was contemporaneously at university, albeit in Glasgow, united students of any sort of progressive opinion doesn’t rate a single mention.

“To read this book, insofar as it purports to be a fictional political history of Scotland, you’d have thought that all that was going on consisted of people sitting about bemoaning the constitution. It most certainly was not.”

Yet the other part of the Nationalists’ narrative is its exclusivity: according to this narrative at its most unattractive, only nationalists are true Scots, or its softer version – all true Scottish patriots are inevitably Scottish nationalists.

For decades, mainstream Scottish opinion has accepted and reflected the truth that you can be a patriot without being a nationalist. It is the nationalists who have struggled with this sense that Scotland’s story does not exclude but includes the shared and interwoven stories of these islands.

Why else would Alex Salmond have once said that he wanted Scotland to be good neighbours to England rather than surly lodgers?

What he fails to understand is that the United Kingdom is the house that Scotland built with our neighbours – and you can’t be a lodger in your own house.

The Scottish people have always had the power to determine our own destiny. And there has always been more than one way to use that power.

In fact, the notion of Scottish patriotism has changed significantly over time. At the 19th century height of Empire, an Empire in which – as Tom Devine reminds us – the Scots were not impotent anti-imperialists but instead, for good or ill, active participants, you could have thought that only unionists were true patriots.

This was an analysis challenged, not by the emergence of Scottish national sentiment but rather by the rise of the Labour movement and the radical claim for equality; equality first for working people but then, in time, for women and for people of all races. This was the beginning of the challenge to the old unionism based only on the deferential attitude to ancient institutions: monarchy, army, parliament. An old unionism that proved inadequate to meet the challenges of modernity.

For myself, I remain of the view that the United Kingdom, this oldest of political unions, embodies a quintessentially modern idea – and one I like and believe in: that diversity can be a strength and not a weakness.

I like the idea that on these small rainy islands of the North Atlantic we share risks and rewards in a multicultural, multiethnic and multinational union. A shared space of ideas, identities and industries.

And I also continue to believe that across Britain we gain from common services and would be diminished without them; that we achieve more working together than working apart; that unity, out of diversity, gives us strength; that solidarity, the shared endeavour of working and cooperating together, not separation is the idea of the future and the idealism worth celebrating .

So, in truth, I am uncomfortable with and unattracted to a politics that draws a substantial part of its emotional power from a constant assertion of “difference”. And I bridle at the suggestion of separateness as the essential attribute of our national story.

It takes only a few moments to read the hate filled outpourings of the so called “Cyber-Nats” on the threads of the Scotsman and other websites to appreciate this point: With their claims of treason, attacks on “London Labour” and general intolerance to everybody and anybody who does not share their outlook. To my mind, these nationalists challenge the very suggestion of a more pluralist, open, discursive politics if ever their party were to prevail in its primary purpose.

Instead, they remind me of Alasdair Gray’s evocative description in his greatest novel, Lanark, of “our own wee hard men [who] hammer Scotland down to the same dull level as themselves.”

But I do recognise that the power and the weakness of this Nationalist narrative comes from its duality: on one hand caressing an unhealthy sense of victimhood through its constant assertion that Britain is what is holding Scotland back, and on the other hand asserting pride and possibility for Scotland.

Why do I find such a narrative unsatisfying even while I have to acknowledge its appeal to some sections of the electorate?

I don’t believe that rightly asserting our own distinct identity – indeed identities – is an alternative to finding points of shared values and interdependence.

But it is also that this determination to assert difference doesn’t accord with some of my own deepest convictions – and not simply that many years ago in Edinburgh I happened to meet and fall in love with an English woman who is now my wife. I would never want my children to choose whether they were citizens of Scotland or England.

It’s not the choice of futures I’d wish to put before them. It is not the choice that so many Scots or so many English people, would want their children; their nephews and nieces, even their sisters or brothers in law to have to make.

And it’s not that I hark back to some lost British patriotism of the 1950s. I am too young to remember those days and in temperament, and in personal politics, I am more interested in the future than harking back to a past whose values and prejudices few of us would share today.

There are other and deeper reasons than my admiration of Britain and what it represents that has always made me distrustful of nationalism.

As a democratic socialist, ideals have shaped my sense of politics more than identity. I am, and always have been, much more interested in abolishing poverty than abolishing Britain. A fundamental belief in human equality is the core of my politics, more than a fundamental belief in national difference.

My work around the world as international development secretary and now shadow foreign secretary has taught me something else – that one of the most fundamental struggles of modernity is between, on the one hand, those who believe our differences are more important than what unites us and, on the other, those of us who’s preference and moral lodestar is our common humanity.

That is the fundamental tenet of my politics, and helps explain why I am distrustful of a politics that draws its energy from gleeful assertions of difference rather than expressions of cooperation.

My theme this evening is that our story matters – as individuals, as families, as communities and as nations. So let me share with you part of my own family’s story.

My parents married in Glasgow in 1959. Four days later they flew from Prestwick to New York, where my father had gained a scholarship for postgraduate study at Union Theological Seminary.

The following Easter, in 1960, they joined a group of fellow students in travelling from New York to Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend a conference.

There they queued to hear a young Baptist preacher – and were spat at by white passers-by for their trouble.

The conference was the inaugural conference of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The young Baptist preacher was Martin Luther King.

After this encounter, the theology of Martin Luther King had a huge impact on my parents and, in time, on the values they sought to pass on to their children – and that I seek to pass on to mine.

Now the reason I share this story is that what King described as our “inter-connectedness” still shapes how I see the world.

Let his own, far more eloquent, words speak for themselves: ‎”As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live thirty years I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good check-up at the Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand our boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”

In that concern with our common humanity I don’t simply draw inspiration from religious teaching but also from modern science. In recent years some of the most talented scientists on earth have achieved the mapping of the human genome.

Of course this has opened new possibilities for both science and medicine. But it has also revealed something I think is vital to our understanding of politics. The sequencing of the human genome has confirmed that all human beings are genetically more than 99.9 per cent the same.

As Bill Clinton put it, “while our differences matter, our common humanity matters more.”

Yet here in Scotland, our political discourse is increasingly defined by difference: Each and every day the SNP government and its spokespeople seek to challenge and undermine the cultural and political claim of those of us who do not share their determination to divide Britain, asserting that our differences matter more than that which we hold in common. Paradoxically, this process is promoted as entirely positive about Scotland’s future – but any disagreement is roundly condemned as “negative”.

The SNP have now pledged a referendum within this parliament to let Scotland decide. I do not fear the people’s verdict, but in the meantime my party has a great deal of work to do in the coming months and years. That work must begin by recognising that in the years ahead, Scottish Labour’s political purpose has to be built around the future possibilities for Scotland, not the past wrongs done to Scotland.

So what would that politics of possibility, that story of a better nation sound like?

It would start, to my mind, with a determination to uphold our common humanity, the common weal – and give expression to the feelings of care, concern and commitment which we seek in others and seek to uphold in ourselves – rather than assert and reinforce our difference.

For a democratic socialist like me it would begin from a belief in equality – and it would uphold the timeless truth that we achieve more together than we can achieve alone.

It would be a story that starts with the condition of Scotland: a nation of great strengths but also very real problems.

It would be a story that set at its heart the idea of building One Scotland. A nation in which greater equality was not just our aim, and our metric, but was, in fact, our achievement.

And surely today one of the clearest tests of our commitment to Scotland’s future is what we do for our children.

In 2011, the terrible truth remains: one in five of Scotland’s children live in poverty.

According to Children First, a quarter of Scotland’s children are missing out on basics such as proper winter clothing, after school activities and good, nutritious food – the basics we take for granted for our own children.

Worklessness is a problem but so are low wages – with around 25,000 children in Scotland being in severe poverty despite at least one adult in the home going out to work.

Of course this is not a problem confined to Scotland – a report by UNICEF in 2007 examined the effects of many decades of growing child poverty across the UK, and painted a stark picture of the deprivation, poor relationships with parents, and vulnerability to the risks from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex suffered by too many children growing up today.

Labour in office did make a difference – using tax credits to lift millions of children out of poverty, and legislating for new rights like longer maternity leave and flexible working.

Some of that work is being undone by a Tory-led Coalition government in London, but it has also been left to wither on the vine by the SNP government in Edinburgh.

Perhaps the deepest and most abiding inequality that scars Scotland is the most basic – the stark differences in life expectancy. A boy born in parts of Paisley today will, on average, live five fewer years than a boy born here in Stirling. Closing that gap is one of the hardest, but most essential tasks we face.

Half of this difference in mortality is simply from the effects of smoking. Labour’s smoking ban was the start, but we could learn from other countries. Learning how to use what we know from neuroscience about how habits and addictions are made and broken.

But it’s not just smoking. Drink plays a major part too. I sense that Labour’s past rejection of the SNP’s proposals, however well justified in terms of the weakness of the specific policy, was judged by some voters as reflecting an unwillingness to tackle heavy drinking and rise to the challenge of making a better Scotland.

In itself, minimum alcohol pricing is no simple solution to a complex and deeply culturally rooted problem. Anyone observing the agile responses of supermarkets and wine emporia knows that. But while we can challenge the policy, or better improve the policy, as an MP for a constituency where each week I see some of the consequences of the abuse of alcohol, I understand the urging of the public health clinicians that government act to tackle these problems.

Because despite the fact that many Scots today live long, full and prosperous lives, not least in some part because of the achievements of previous Labour governments, too many still do not.

In a nation still afflicted by substandard housing, stubborn worklessness, and a relative decline in education standards, building “One Scotland” is no easy task. And it is made harder by the economic circumstances now confronting us.

The present stalling of economic growth in Britain, the Eurozone crisis, the debt ceiling debacle in the Unites States, each reflect a deeper and generational shift in productive and economic power from West to East that has only been accelerated by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

So the challenge facing social democratic politicians in the years ahead, not just here in Scotland, or across the UK, but in countless countries, is how to advance social justice when there is not much money around.

That endeavour demands a new statecraft for this new decade – reimagining policies in relation to economic growth, the welfare state and our public services.

To acknowledge this is not to try to write a manifesto. It is to acknowledge the urgency of a new approach. It is an analysis that identifies a more empowered people and a more equal society as defining missions of a better nation notwithstanding – indeed in part because of – the tough times ahead.

This is what I suggest deserves to be at the centre of Scottish Labour’s renewed story. A radical claim on the future. One that says the test is not how much more power a parliament has, or how much more autonomy can be achieved. Instead, what counts – in employment, in housing, in health and in education – is are our combined actions tackling the barriers and inequality that still hold back too many of our people. The barriers and inequality that still stand in the way of being the kind of Scotland we could be. Are we, by our will and by our work, creating One Scotland?

For all of our present weakness I believe the political party best able to tell this story is Scottish Labour.

I make this claim for the following reason. Our core as a party has been and remains defined by our commitment to two central beliefs: a belief in social justice, and a commitment to home rule within the United Kingdom.

So the task of rebuilding Scottish Labour is not an invitation to reject our longest-held beliefs, but to reaffirm them.

Of course that reaffirmation of political purpose, however important, is not enough. Scottish Labour also needs to embrace radical proposals to throw open its doors, and draw our future candidates from Labour “people” and not just Labour members, by which I mean people from all walks of life who share our values and who are willing us to be better, so that they can once again be proud to support us.

But, as I have sought to suggest this evening, we will only attract these people if we are clearer about the contribution we can make to the next chapter of Scotland’s story.

It is a challenge to which, I believe, we can rise. Just as years ago, New Labour had to dispel the myth that if you were ambitious, had done well, and had got on in life, you inevitably supported the Conservative Party, so now and in the years ahead Scottish Labour must dispel the myth that if you feel proudly and patriotically Scottish, and are ambitious for Scotland and its potential, you inevitably support the SNP.

Scottish Labour’s political purpose has to be about the future possibilities for Scotland, not the past wrongs, real and imagined, done to Scotland.

With this approach, I believe the history of Scotland, written by this generation, can and will be remembered not by the “The End of an Auld Sang” but positively and vibrantly by “The beginning of a New Story”.

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labour6aDouglas Alexander, the most senior Scot in the shadow cabinet, has today delivered a devastating critique on his own Scottish party in a latest bout of bloodletting to follow the party’s woeful election result this year.

Mr Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, berated the Scottish Labour leadership for the party’s successive election defeats to the SNP in 2007 and 2011.

Mr Alexander accused Scottish Labour of failing to embrace “New Labour”, of being stuck in the past, of adopting the wrong slogans and sticking by tired old tactics that were never going to work.

Alex Salmond’s successive election victories, culminating in his humiliating defeat of Labour in this year’s Scottish parliament elections when the SNP secured the first majority in Holyrood history at Labour’s expense, were the result of Labour’s own failings, Mr Alexander said.

And while the Paisley and Renfewshire South MP did not name his sister Wendy Alexander, she will have to take at least a share of his criticism because she led the party directly after its defeat of 2007.

Mr Alexander’s criticisms are also more clearly directed at Jack McConnell, the first minister from 2001 to 2007, who was in charge when Labour lost to the SNP for the first time – and at Iain Gray, who took over from Ms Alexander in 2008, leading the party to its ignominious defeat this year.

Mr Alexander’s remarks represent an escalation in a war or words within the Scottish Labour Party which started as soon as the scale of Labour’s disastrous election defeat in May this year became clear.

Even though Mr Gray announced his intention to resign as Scottish Labour leader soon after the election, senior figures in the party have been looking for others to blame ever since – with Westminster and Holyrood politicians accusing each other for of being responsible for the party’s position.

Mr Alexander clearly believes that his Holyrood colleagues are to blame.

He said that Labour stuck with the same anti-SNP “divorce is an expensive business” campaign all the way through from 1999 to 2011 – despite the fact that it was never going to work more than once.

“I said after the 1999 election that it was the last time I thought we could run such a campaign,” Mr Alexander said, “and yet it is surely now clear that in the decade that followed, too little was done by my party to tell a different story of possibility about Scotland.”

And he added: “In 1999 we identified what would have been the wrong path for Scotland, but thereafter we didn’t do enough to describe the right path by which to achieve a better nation.”

Mr Alexander criticised the party for not modernising in the way the London-based Labour Party did under Tony Blair, and that left the party vulnerable when the SNP started to do well.

In a thinly veiled criticism of Mr Gray’s ill-fated campaign theme this year, which was designed to scare voters with warnings about the Tories, Mr Alexander derided his colleagues for continuing to warn of the risks of Thatcherism.

And he argued that Labour complained about the SNP’s failure to deliver on its promises without coming up with enough examples to justify these attacks.

“Labour, in opposition, was seen as too often concerned only with opposition for its own sake,” he said. “Too many Scots judged us to have complained in unspecified ways about the SNP’s failure to deliver, without articulating a clear enough alternative story and account of Scotland’s possibilities.”

Mr Alexander also criticised the Scottish Labour Party for opposing minimum pricing for alcohol when voters wanted something done to tackle binge drinking.

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