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John Smith

This week we’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament…if celebrating is the right word. It is certainly the focal point for our current debate over independence, which boils down to the question: just how much power should the parliament have ?

The late John Smith MP Devolution "the settled will"

The late John Smith MP
Devolution “the settled will”

Almost everyone wants it to have more power. Unfortunately we are not being offered a range of powers in the referendum question, only a yes or no to independence. And looking back on it, this is one of the mistakes the Better Together campaign made at the beginning of this whole divisive affair.

John Smith, the Labour leader who’s death 20 years ago has been marked this week with the opening of a new Centre for Public Service at Glasgow University, once famously remarked that devolution was “the settled will” of the Scottish people. It has been anything but settled. John Smith may have started the ball rolling but Donald Dewar kicked it on with his famous remark – “devolution is a process not an event.”

So more powers are being devolved from Westminster all the time, the latest involves half of all income tax, landfill tax, stamp duty on house sales etc. The Better Together parties have promised still more powers, though, disastrously, they’ve not been able to agree on a detailed alternative to independence. Thus the referendum debate has become even more confused and uncertain.

Can David Cameron help create a "united front" against independence?

Can David Cameron help create a “united front” against independence?

The prime minister came to Glasgow on Thursday to try to forge a united front against independence, even invoking the spirit of John Smith. But Mr Cameron’s “sunshine” speech was not exactly helped by the Chancellor back at Westminster who repeated his warning that there can be no currency union after independence. And the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was able to dismiss the spring offensive as a “Tory takeover of the No campaign.”

The referendum has however brought the dying tradition of the public meeting back to life. I was at a referendum debate in Edinburgh last Sunday afternoon – sponsored by the local churches – and every seat was taken. I could see steam coming out of peoples’ ears as they tried to keep their feelings under ecclesiastical control. The Church of Scotland – which holds its general assembly this coming week – has called for a service of national reconciliation in St Giles Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of the referendum in September.

It could be a humbling experience, if the campaigns turn nasty or if the result is close. Perhaps we Scots will be revealed as not the greatest practitioners of democracy in the world. After all, the parliament we have built over the last 15 years is not without its flaws. Its successes I think have included free personal care, free university education, the national parks, the smoking ban and being a national forum. But its failures are legion: the cost, the expenses scandals, its timidity over taxation, its failure to spread power down to local communities and its turgid and ineffective committee system.

Commonwealth Games Ticket fiasco

Commonwealth Games
Ticket fiasco

But parliaments are not the only things that can go wrong. The organisers of the Commonwealth Games suffered humiliation at the hands of their computer experts earlier this week. The sale of the last 100,000 tickets had to be suspended when the on-line and telephone systems designed to handle the stampede collapsed. Then our newest jail, HMP Grampian in Peterhead, which only opened in March, erupted in an old-style riot. Forty prisoners went on the rampage, beating up their new furniture and fittings. Police had to be brought in to restore order.

The brutal world of football also suffered a few shocks this week. The new owner of Hearts, Ann Budge, brought along her new brush on Monday morning and swept away the manager Gary Locke and eight other coaches and players. Instead she’s brought in a former manager Craig Levein and promoted Robbie Neilson to first-team coach. The Paisley club St Mirren have also promoted Tommy Craig from within. And in both cases, the new philosophy seems to be to nurture home-grown players rather than take part in the bidding war for outside talent. Not before time.

About the only place were tranquillity reigns is the European election. There are unlikely to be any riots or stampedes at the voting stations on Thursday. But we are all waiting to see if the SNP increase their number of seats from 2 to 3, whether Labour will keep their two seats and whether the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will hold on to their single seats or whether they will be taken by the Greens or UKIP. Who would have thought that democracy could be so exciting ?

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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Iain Gray MSP

Iain Gray MSP

The address given by Iain Gray to the Scottish Labour spring conference held in Glasgow, 19 March 2011.

Conference, thank you. And thank you to Fiona [O’Donnell] for that introduction. I do believe that one year ago, although we did not win the general election – and what a price we are paying for that – here in Scotland through your efforts we sent some remarkable new MPs to Westminster.

They have already made their mark – they are to the fore in holding the Tories to account. They are fighting day in, day out for the communities they represent. And Fiona is one of them. East Lothian is proud of you Fiona. Labour is proud of you. And I am proud of you too.

I am proud too of Labour’s MSPs in Holyrood and their fight over the past four years to oppose the SNP there. In and out of that chamber they have stood alongside teachers and parents fighting cuts in their schools, the victims of crime fighting for justice, redundant apprentices fighting for a chance, kinship carers fighting for recognition, and workers fighting for protection at work. Labour, your MSPs have done you proud.

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A special thanks goes to those who are leaving Holyrood this week. Marlyn Glen, Trish Godman, Rhona Brankin, Wendy Alexander, Peter Peacock, George Foulkes, Margaret Curran, Cathy Jamieson. And of course Jack McConnell, the longest-serving first minister of Scotland.

And I see the new faces who, voters willing, will carry on the work of Labour and, I believe, can take us to new heights. Faces like Ewan Aitken, Lesley Hinds, Stephen Curran, Jenny Marra and Lawrence Fitzpatrick – I kid you not, Lawrence has knocked on more doors and rattled more letterboxes than Postman Pat.

And congratulations to Scotland’s newest councillor, Roy Glen, winning this Thursday past in Paisley with a remarkable 17 per cent increase in our share of the vote. Well done Roy.

It is always a pleasure to meet in this great city of Glasgow, with its proud history of socialist politics and its Labour council, led by Gordon Matheson, demonstrating the power of Labour values in tough times. This city needs Labour and the support of Glasgow for Labour endures and strengthens this party. You know what else this city really needs, though? A rail link to its airport. And we will make sure it gets one.

People I meet sometimes say being Scottish Labour leader must be a tough job, and sometimes it can be. But I will tell you what is really a tough job. Bringing up a family on your own. That’s tough. Working 12-hour shifts to make ends meet. That’s tough. Picking yourself up if you have been made redundant and trying to find a new job in your 40s or 50s. That’s tough. Trying to keep your house nice and your garden decent in a street where no one else cares – that’s a tough job.

Our politics should be about supporting those people doing tough jobs in tough times.

Make no mistake, this election is being fought in a time of anxiety. When in our memories was the world last in such tumult? Peoples around the world face the most daunting of challenges. Our hearts go out to the brave citizens of Japan struggling with the aftermath of earthquake and tsunami.

We send our solidarity to those struggling for the democratic rights we too often take for granted, not least in Libya. We have watched in awe as one man’s sacrifice of his own life in Tunisia has triggered a great new wave of democratisation.

To me, those brothers’ and sisters’ struggles are based in the need to feed and care for their families. And what those people are demanding is that their voices of change be heard. Too often we take that power for granted. This world can be shaped by the will of its people, and so it should. Let those voices be heard. Labour will support them every step of the way.

But here in Scotland, too, people are worried. They are worried about making ends meet and whether they can pay their bills at the end of the week or the end of the month. They are worried about cuts to services and whether the services they need will still be there when they need them. Worried about the NHS, in case they need to go to hospital. Worried about care services in case their elderly parents need them.

But above all, people are worried about jobs. Their own jobs and the future job opportunities for their sons and daughters and grandchildren.

So we will fight this election campaign on a programme which speaks to those anxieties. A National Care Service – national standards of care delivered locally so that people can count on them. Cutting the number of health boards, not the number of nurses in our NHS, and ensuring our hospitals are cleaner so that people can be sure that if they do need to go to hospital they will not get sicker because of hospital-acquired infections.

A literacy drive in our schools, so that parents who do the right thing, and get their kids to school, can be sure that they will learn the basic skills of reading and writing that they need to build all their other learning upon. The First Foot scheme to reduce deposits on new homes so that young Scots starting out in life can find their way onto the property ladder.

A freeze in council tax to alleviate some of the pressure families face on their household budgets. Tough action on knife crime, so their streets will be safer, and new powers for communities to tackle antisocial behaviour, so that when their life is made a misery by bad neighbours and those who respect no ones rights, then they will be listened to and action will be taken.

But, conference, no party which goes into the election this May simply saying how they will stop Scotland going backwards will find favour with the electorate. Because even in these difficult times people want to know that things can get better too, that there is the hope of a Scotland where the economy is growing again, jobs are there, and opportunity is opening up for the next generation.

So our policies and programme will not only speak to the people’s concerns but to their aspiration as well. It is a programme to take Scotland forward.

We will guarantee an apprenticeship opportunity for every qualified school-leaver who seeks one. We will create 10,000 job opportunities for unemployed young people, replacing the future jobs fund which the Tories ended yesterday.

We will not put a price on higher education, so that no aspiring Scottish student need turn away from study because of the prospect of a £12,000 tuition fee debt. And I can announce today that we will introduce a new College Maintenance Allowance to replace the broken college bursary system which makes it impossible for so many to sustain their studies and leaves students pleading poverty to officials in order to get what support they need.

These and other measures we will announce in our manifesto amount to a comprehensive investment in the future of Scotland’s young people. Let us not pretend for a minute that making it all happen will be easy. But I tell you it is worth it.

Because together this amounts to a powerful pledge I make today on your behalf – that we will not stand by and see a generation lost to Tory ideology and SNP incompetence.

All of this matters because when we do get Scotland building again the construction industry will come looking for joiners and plumbers and brickies. We have to be sure our young people will be ready then.

All of this matters because when the new industries like renewable and life sciences come looking for graduates and technicians, we have to be sure that our young people are ready to take up those opportunities and grow the Scotland of the 21st century.

All of this matters to me. So much. Because I am a father. And an uncle. And a grandfather. Because it is my niece training to be a nurse for our NHS. My nephew going to university next year to study engineering. My granddaughter who will need the skills and the education to make her way not just in the 21st century, but God willing, right through to the 22nd.

All of this matters to me because I remember the last time. The last recession. The last cuts. The last Tory government.

You know, when I heard that Alex Salmond had said “Scotland didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics, it was just her social policy we didn’t like”, I wondered where the hell he had been in the 80s. Because, as I recall, Scotland minded Thatcher’s economics very much indeed.

And then I remembered. He was a banker in the oil department of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Maybe there they didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics. But where I was we did. I was teaching in a secondary school in Edinburgh. Where Thatcher’s economics drained all of the hope, and all of the energy and all of the life out of the kids. Where they were told that their unemployment was a price worth paying. Where they were taught society had no place for them.

That they would never work. That they had no future.

It took a generation to turn that round. Eighteen years to get rid of the Tories. A new deal to eradicate youth unemployment. It took Labour to rebuild that school inside and out.

First we rebuilt the school itself, to show the students we believed in their potential. Then we rebuilt their prospects, to show them they really had the potential. And then we created the jobs they could do to unleash their potential.

If you really think Scotland didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics, just her social policy, you don’t understand Thatcher, you don’t understand economics, and you don’t understand Scotland.

Thirty years on, the social pain caused by those Tory economic theories runs through 1,000 communities in Scotland. The scars of what they did to our mining industry run through every street, every house and every family of the mining towns in my constituency – to this day. Unused shipyards lie empty with the silence of discontinued industry, craft and creation – to this day. And the ghost of a once-great steel industry haunts the empty expanses of the Ravenscraig site – to this day.

Those Thatcher economics were the most dismal algorithms of the dismal science. And are they not written in the DNA of David Cameron and George Osborne to this very day?

When the crash came in 2008, the opportunists called it the end of progress. The twisted fiction of the right proclaimed the end to “easy money” and to “loose spending”. They called the social pact of the welfare state a failed experiment. Well, the society our movement built out of the tatters of the second world war was no theory, no academic test or fanciful experiment.

The Labour movement built this country on the truth of values and on the pledge that their children would not live the hardships of their parents. And David Cameron is that twisted fiction made real. He says this recession wasn’t the fault of his banker friends, but the fault of the people who wanted decent schools and hospitals they could rely on.

Every day he prosecutes the case that unemployment is the cost we pay for daring to dream of something better for our country. Well, don’t believe him. These are no mere dreams. These are values that guide us and that can make those better tomorrows real.

Conference, in my last speech to you I quoted Albert Camus: “I love my country too much to be a nationalist.”

But here is a quote all of my own: I love the people of my country too much to be a Tory. I believe in enterprise, but I believe in fairness too. I believe in working hard, but I don’t believe that anyone works hard enough to earn a £6 million bonus when too many people are still working as hard as they can to make £5.93 an hour.

I believe in encouraging success and excellence, but I don’t believe in anyone just being left behind.

So, if elected as first minister I will put the economy at the heart of everything I do. I will create an economic cabinet, at the heart of government tasked with driving economic growth through policies across the span of government. They will draw on the experience and the expertise of the trade union and workforce side of industry, as well as management, and they will draw from the successful approaches of the cooperative and voluntary sector too.

And if I am elected first minister I will also set up a Fairer Scotland commission to draw the roadmap for the long term – that takes Scotland towards a more equitable society and thus a society more at ease with itself.

It simply cannot be right that life expectancy varies by as much as ten years according to which side of a street you are born on, or that we fund higher education from the public purse but we make little or no progress in opening up our universities to more students from our poorer communities. It cannot be right that the path of your life is set at birth more firmly now than it was 30 years ago.

Our task is a great one – it is to give form to hope and make real the dreams of better lives that in our best days we all have dreamt.

So we will set ourselves to building that better tomorrow. We know that being on the side of working people and being on the side of the businesses that drive our economy are one and the same thing. We believe in the right to work, we believe in decent wages and conditions. We believe that our country needs to be competitive to encourage growth.

A Labour government in Holyrood will work to grow our economy and create jobs as our single greatest priority. A government focused on what really matters. That’s what people want and it is what Scotland needs.

We will invest in the green and growth industries of the future, delivering jobs that are rooted in Scotland for the long term and meeting our environmental commitments.

I want to see us redouble the government’s commitment to the renewables sector, not just to renewable generation but to development and manufacturing as well. We will streamline and energise government support for this industry in order to make it deliver our potential.

The Tories of yesterday believed that manufacturing was disposable and whole industries could be left to die. I don’t believe that. We cannot go back to the past but we can build and manufacture our way into the future.

Earlier this week, I visited Alexander Dennis in Falkirk. That firm has been making buses for 50 years. And they still are. They are making the highest quality, most advanced hybrid buses in the world – and they are selling them all over the world. I saw skilled coachpainters working there in the paint shop and met the new apprentices.

My granddad was a coachpainter – an apprentice almost 100 years ago, and painted buses all his life. The buses I saw on the visit are modern, green and packed with high technology. But the skills and the hard work and the pride of those apprentices are just the same as my granddad’s. It has to be higher tech. It has to be higher value. It has to be packed with innovation, but I believe Scotland can still manufacture, engineer and innovate its way to the industries and jobs of the future.

For four years now, we have had a government that has been distracted from these issues, that have had their minds on other things.

Did you see the SNP party political the other week? It was based on Monty Python. The Life of Brian – “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

Good movie. Not my favourite line from, it though.

Alex Salmond. He’s not the messiah. He is just a very naughty boy.

He told parents he would reduce class sizes to 18 in p1, p2 and p3, but he didn’t. Naughty.

He told Scotland’s teachers he would ensure they all had jobs. But he didn’t. Naughty.

He said he would match our school-building programme brick-for-brick. But he didn’t. Naughty.

He told Scotland’s students he would replace student loans with grants and pay off all student debts.

But he didn’t. Very, very naughty. Even naughtier than naughty Nick Clegg.

Alex Salmond is no one’s idea of the messiah. Except maybe Alex Salmond’s.

Surely the greatest indictment of the SNP administration is this: Labour left them a Scotland where unemployment was lower that the rest of Britain. The SNP leave a Scotland where unemployment is higher than the rest of Britain.

That happened because they cancelled projects like the rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airport.

Stopped the school-building programme. Slashed the housing budget this year. It happened because they cut 3,000 teachers from our schools, and 1,500 nurses from our hospitals. And they did that in the good years when budgets were rising.

The Tories still believe that unemployment is a price worth paying. Thanks to the SNP, Scotland is paying a premium on that price – in construction workers sitting at home, teachers on supply and nurses heading abroad to use their skills.

Labour says unemployment is never a price worth paying and Scotland will not pay it.

I believe that when we train nurses, they should be deployed in our hospitals, when we turn out committed, enthusiastic, highly trained teachers, they should be inspiring youngsters in our schools, and I believe that our architects, builders, joiners, plumbers and electricians should be constructing schools and hospitals and homes for us.

I believe that Labour can make that happen again.

Conference, the last time I addressed you, I laid out our plans for a radical reforming agenda. Fewer health boards, a single police force, halving cancer waiting-times, a Scottish Future Jobs Fund, a Scottish Living Wage, an apprenticeship guarantee. Alex Salmond has done his best to follow in our wake.

Well – follow this: We will end automatic early release. Bringing transparency to sentencing.

We will set up a chronic pain centre for patients in our NHS, so Scots don’t have to travel to Wales to receive the quality of life-enhancing treatment they deserve.

We will establish our First Foot scheme to help first-time buyers get their first mortgage.

We will set a standard of zero-tolerance of drugs in prisons. Time spent in prison should be a time to change for the better. We will make sure that if you carry a knife you will go to jail.

We’ll keep coming up with the ideas to make Scotland fairer, safer, healthier, more prosperous. The SNP can keep chasing from behind. Let no one say that there is no difference between us and them.

Just look at the past four years: Labour wouldn’t have cancelled airport rail links in Edinburgh and Glasgow. We wouldn’t have cancelled £1 billion of schools and hospitals.

Wouldn’t have cut 3,000 teachers from our schools. Wouldn’t have cut 1,500 nurses from our hospitals. Labour wouldn’t have ended short jail sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence.

And, conference, I would not have released the Lockerbie bomber.

One thing Labour will never do is introduce the SNP’s unfair, unworkable, unwanted Local Income Tax to hammer Scotland’s families. Follow us on that, Alex Salmond. Drop your local income tax now.

We will fight for what matters, every day. They’ll keep plugging away at that same old separatist idea that distracts them from the concerns of working people.

Because this time is not like the last recession, the last time of cuts, the last Tory government. This time we have the Scottish parliament. And we created that parliament for this time.

I have the privilege of representing East Lothian, where John P Macintosh and East Lothian Labour Party campaigned, argued and evangelised for Scotland to have its parliament for years – when it was an unfashionable idea. It was the long Tory years and the advocacy of Labour politicians like Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, John Smith and Donald Dewar, who won the argument and made Scotland believe in that idea.

Labour created that parliament. Though the SNP mocked. Remember they said we could not deliver a pizza never mind a parliament. The truth is it is Alex Salmond who delivers plenty of promises but never delivers the goods.

Ed Miliband was right this morning: we created our parliament for the hard times, not the good times.

Conference, we created it for a time like this. It means we can say, with our hand on our heart, you see what the Tories are doing to the NHS in England? We won’t have that here.

You see what the Tories are doing to the universities in England? We won’t have that here. You see what the Tories are doing to council services in England? We won’t have that here.

This is what our parliament is for. Sometimes people say that Labour created the Scottish parliament thinking we would always be in charge. But that was never true. Donald Dewar knew his history and his democratic principles better than that.

The tragedy of the past four years is not that the SNP have run the parliament. It is that they have not used it for the things that really matter.

They have spent more time buying saltires than building schools. Given more attention to a referendum than to the regeneration of our communities. They are more interested in complaining about what they cannot do because they don’t have the power than doing what they can with the power they have to support Scottish families.

The parliament we want to see is not a platform for party posturing and a government of grudge and grievance, but a place where Scotland can be brought together to make the future we want for our people.

Donald Dewar knew that, when he talked of a parliament which was about “more than our politics and our laws”. “A Parliament which is about who we are, how we carry ourselves.”

Do you remember the excitement of that first day in 1999, of what we could achieve; the sense of pride and hope, the emotion that spread through the streets of Edinburgh when people joined in with Sheena Wellington to sing A Man’s a Man? Remember the old man interviewed by BBC in Princes Street Gardens crying, because he was part of a day he never thought he would see in his country?

The pride we felt because we had done it. Labour had delivered for him and now we must deliver for him again.

The vision of what Scottish Labour politics should be runs through the history of our party. In 1924 a great socialist son of this great Scottish city, James Maxton, described a Scottish parliament he would never see but which we now have, and a purpose he could only dream of but which we can now make real.

“Give us our parliament in Scotland. We will start with no traditions. We will start with ideals. We will start with purpose, with courage. We will start with the aim and object that there will be 134 men and women, pledged to 134 Scottish constituencies, to spend their whole brain power, their whole courage and their whole soul in making Scotland into a country in which we can take people from all the nations of the earth and say: this is our land, this is our Scotland, these are our people, these are our men, our works, our women and children: can you beat it?”

That is the parliament Labour created and that is the vision to which we must aspire, the opportunity to make it real, the outcome for which we must campaign day and night from now until 5 May.

Because it is today as it always has been – Labour who will stand up for the working people of Scotland in this time of recession, in this time of cuts, in this time of the Tories.

Just like our parliament, our Labour movement and our Labour party were not created for the easy times, but for the hard.

Our roots lie in struggle, our strength lies in solidarity, our values lie in justice. But our determination comes from the hope and the certainty that even in the most difficult of times we can and we will find ways to raise up our people, lift up our communities and build up our country again. These are our beliefs. This is our socialism.

Now is the time for the Scottish parliament to step up. To be what it was meant to be. A powerful instrument of social progress. Fighting for the things that really matter.

Now is the time for Labour in Scotland to step up.

In Oban, I declared this a doorstep election and since then you have knocked on 500,000 doors and made the Labour case. Time to step up. In the next six weeks we will knock on 500,000 more and make that case again and again and again.

Now is the time for Labour in Scotland to step up.

We know the things that really matter. Jobs, opportunity, fairness. A strong NHS, safe streets and the best schools we can possibly provide.

Now is the time to step up and fight for the things that really matter. Conference, now is the time for you to step up for Labour.

And for Labour to step up – for Scotland.

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John Smith. <em>Picture: Chris Smith</em>

John Smith. Picture: Chris Smith

The date is 23 December, 1989. The shadow chancellor John Smith sets off for a walk up Ben Lawers, highest peak in the southern Highlands. Smith had been advised to improve his fitness after his October 1988 heart attack, and went about this with gusto, embarking on a round of the Munros that would eventually net him 108 of the then 277 summits before his death from another heart attack in May 1994.

On that day late in 1989 he set off alone and, with the weather deteriorating, was about to turn back when he met a party of four including Keith Deighton, who had been a fellow student at Glasgow University. Smith joined Deighton’s group, and the two Munros – Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers – were duly climbed.

Then, on the way back, things went wrong.

Smith slipped, and hurtled off down the northern slopes. He needed his ice axe, but it was in wrapping paper under the Christmas tree back home in Edinburgh, rather than in his hand on the hill. He slid 300 metres downhill before some deeper snow brought a halt. His injuries were remarkably mild for such a long fall: a badly bruised backside (which went completely black the next day), a shortage of breath, and a state of shock. He was able to walk out to the road and drive himself home.

He made a full recovery, became Labour leader after the 1992 general election – and added a further 74 Munros. But what if he had died that day in 1989, as could so easily have happened? It would have been a tragedy for family and friends, of course, but what might have been the political consequences?

Alan Haworth – now Lord Haworth – climbed many hills with Smith, and in 1989 was senior committee officer for the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Caledonian Mercury asked for his thoughts.

“It is highly likely that Gordon Brown would have become shadow chancellor,” says Haworth, “remembering that he stood in for John Smith after his heart attack in 1988 and that’s where he made his reputation as a big hitter. But under Gordon’s cautious economic leadership, Labour would not have published the shadow budget of 1992, an act widely believed to have cost Labour the 1992 election. It wasn’t the Sheffield rally, contrary to mythology.

“So, Neil Kinnock becomes prime minister in April 1992 with a very slim majority or even on a minority basis. Then Black Wednesday in September of that year and the Exchange Rate Mechanism debacle destroys the Labour government completely and utterly and forever, unlike merely damaging the Tories such that they lost office for a decade.

“Although John Major intended to go off and watch cricket after having lost the 1992 election, he stayed in place to ensure an orderly transition, then led the Tories back to power in the emergency general election of early 1993. His problems with the ‘bastards’ – John Redwood et al – might have been rather less in these circumstances than they were in reality.”

Then what happened in this alternative reality?

“We never had a Labour government again,” says Haworth, “but whether William Hague’s eventual premiership was a great success I cannot say. However, Sheffield Hallam stayed Conservative throughout this period, so there was no seat in Westminster for the ambitious MEP Nick Clegg to be parachuted into. Ditto Eastleigh, and therefore no Chris Huhne, either.”

What of Tony Blair? And what of the world stage? Smith having died in 1989 rather than 1994 would have changed things there too, but how?

“Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party,” says Haworth, “but failed to win two successive general elections and was eventually ousted in favour of Gordon Brown – all whilst remaining in opposition.

“As to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… Well, the first thing to note is that there would have not been the NATO air campaign over Kosovo in 1999. I think we can be certain about this. The extent of the genocide against the Kosovan Muslims at the hands of Serbians may not have reached the scale of Srebrenica; but there would not be a situation in which, as now, there are dozens of boys (young men, soon) called Tony and Bill in Pristina.

“President Clinton would not have agreed to use US assets in this way, through NATO, if it hadn’t been for Tony Blair – strongly supported by Robin Cook.

“Did the success of that exercise in ‘liberal interventionism’ encourage US public and military opinion to be more likely to throw their weight around, or less? More, I think. Success begets greater boldness. Failure, greater ‘isolationism’.

“There is also the small matter of a few hundred hanging chads in Florida. Al Gore might well have won the US presidential election of 2000 if there hadn’t been Kosovo, on a different foreign policy agenda to Bush. In which case, after 9/11 there would have been a different response.

“So, Afghanistan probably yes; Iraq quite possibly no. In any event there would not be the influence on America which Tony Blair exercised immediately after 9/11, which was a restraining one, it ought to be remembered: they did not lash out and nuke Kabul.”

Of course in any What if…? scenario, alternative alternatives are available. The Caledonian Mercury also asked Mark Nixon for his thoughts. Nixon is a freelance historian and curator with a long-standing interest in politics. On 12 May 1994 – the day of Smith’s actual death – he was due to attend a politics class at college in Boston, Lincolnshire. He remembers the day well:

“I asked my tutor if he had heard what had happened, and what he thought the result would be. Without blinking, he said: ‘Neither Michael Heseltine nor Ken Clarke will ever become Tory leader’.

“His thinking was clear – no party would now countenance electing as leader someone who looked like he could have a coronary at any time. So had John Smith died in a hill fall in 1989, Heseltine (unlikely) and Clarke (far more likely) would still be in the frame for the Tory leadership.

“The Tories still win under Major in 1992, and Kinnock goes. Who becomes Labour leader in the absence of Smith? Bryan Gould would still have stood. [Gould was the sole rival candidate to Smith, losing by 9% to 91%.] However, Gordon Brown won the shadow cabinet elections in that year, with Tony Blair second, so does the unseemly squabble of 1994 happen two years earlier, with the same result? Perhaps not.

“Robin Cook and Frank Dobson – both popular in the wider party and amongst the electorate – might have stood in 1992 in the absence of Smith, and could well have beaten Blair or Brown.

And the same question as was put to Lord Haworth: then what?

“Whoever the leader,” says Nixon, “1997 would not have been such a landslide. With Blair as leader, the country would have had five years to get the measure of him, instead of only three. The Tories wouldn’t have swung so forcefully to the right after the less-crushing defeat, so no Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith or William Hague over the following decade. Instead, there’s Clarke or some other middling grandee.

“Hague remains in the background, building support, maturing – as indeed he has done – into a more centrist politician. He becomes Tory leader sometime after the 2001 election, and has been prime minister – of a single-party government – since 2006.

“David Cameron? Probably health secretary. And if Blair hadn’t won the Labour leadership election in 1992, he would by now be leader of the Lib Dems.”

And all because of some randomness on an icy Perthshire hill-slope one Saturday lunchtime in 1989.