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Scottish Labour

Labour Leader, Ed Miliband

It’s Spring – and the Party Spring Conference Season is almost over. In the week that saw the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, aspects of her legacy linger on. Scottish Labour for instance is determined to remind voters that there IS such a thing as society. Indeed, it will be a key theme for the Party’s UK leader, Ed Miliband, when he calls for a “new settlement” to heal economic and social divisions in Britain.

Eden Court Theatre CroppedThe Scottish Labour Conference is meeting over the weekend in Inverness. Delegates there will hear Mr Miliband say that this settlement will combine “proper rights to work with a real responsibility to do so”. He believes that the people of the UK need a new start, comparable to that offered by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. He will argue that she gained power because voters wanted change. He believes the same is true today, that people are tired of failed economic policies and mistaken welfare changes.

The question of independence will also figure strongly at the conference. Scottish Labour is a unionist party; but it also favours greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. So we’ll see Mr Miliband argue that independence is a divisive policy, while the party’s Devolution Commission, set up last year, believes there’s “a strong case for devolving income tax in full” to the Scottish Parliament.

The commission was made up of MPs, MEPs, union members and academic advisers. It’s been examining whether to give Holyrood responsibility for raising roughly half of the £30 billion it spends every year. Its report says that there is a case for devolving income tax but with some reservations, quite big ones. So if they led to a cut in the money coming to the Scottish Government or charges were proposed in the so-called Barnett Formula which defines Scotland’s share of UK funds, that would be a step too far.

As the report explains, “it is important to consider the stability of funding for public services. This is an issue to which the proponents of other models of fiscal devolution have given insufficient consideration. We have no wish or desire to make Scotland’s public services poorer.” It adds: “We would not want to devolve income tax in a way which would increase the administrative burden on employers, and individuals.”

However, party officials say the report is just “the start of a debate, not the end of it”. That’s because these recommendations are controversial. There have been suggestions that some Scottish Labour MPs would stay away from the conference in protest. They believe that such a full transfer of income tax would be a step too far, one on which they had not been sufficiently consulted.

Nicola Sturgeon (right): Blanket coverage for 'disastrous week'

Trying to catch up with press releases and emails after a week away has suddenly become a lot easier, thanks to Scottish Labour. Handily on Sunday (perhaps a name for a weekly DIY mag?) the party’s press machine whirred into action with a summary of all that had been “disastrous” in health the previous week.

The charge sheet was impressive: a failure to get a handle on “blanket-gate”, with the shortage apparently now having hit kids’ covers; critical staffing levels at Scotland’s specialist paediatric cardiac unit; a care homes drugs scandal; norovirus outbreaks closing 20 hospital wards – and, as Labour puts it, “continuing questions over the SNP’s hidden waiting lists”.

It’s almost too much for the brain to take in – a bit like being told there’s a choice of 10 puddings, most of which you really, really like, and only being allowed to sample one.

But, from the sweet spread on offer, I’m plumping for the “continuing questions” over hidden waiting times. To be fair, the main reason that the subject was raised last week was a debate led by Labour’s own health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday morning – which rather begs the question of whether you can legitimately refer to the questioning continuing when you are, in fact, the questioner. But leaving that to one side, does Ms Baillie have a point? And, assuming she does, and questions are continuing, will any of this stick to the health secretary?

To recap, NHS Lothian has been manipulating waiting lists and has been found out. Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon says the problem is confined to Lothian (whose chief executive coincidentally resigned, ahead of a report which found the board bowed by a bullying management culture); Labour says it’s more widespread than that.

Specifically, Ms Baillie says that numbers of patients removed from the waiting time guarantee are up three-fold in NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Fife; four-fold in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lanarkshire; and a stonking five-fold in NHS Grampian. That sounds like quite a lot, really, and would seem to back Audit Scotland’s point that “there is evidence pointing to an inappropriate use of this code”.

We’ll have to wait until the autumn for Audit Scotland’s own report into the management of waiting times to find out if the practices at NHS Lothian were more widespread. But even if they are, is it fair for Labour to label it the “SNP’s hidden waiting lists”?

Health boards – and trusts previously – have long been creative, shall we say, about meeting centrally set targets; this was the case before devolution, was the case under successive Labour/Lib Dem administrations, and is likely still the case under the current regime. The golden rule is generally that if one lot is doing something, others may be too.

I’m reminded of financial troubles in Tayside over a decade ago, where it turned out that NHS bodies had been using various strategies, including spending non-recurring money (eg one-off cash from selling off assets) to meet financial break-even which, at the time, was the priority national target. There were other problems too – including a lack of effective oversight and communication from the (Labour-led) centre, but it was the use of non-recurring funding, or the criticism thereof, which caused consternation elsewhere in Scotland. At the time, I remember receiving regular calls on behalf of more than one NHS senior manager clearly concerned lest the net would spread wider and more heads would roll.

The use of non-recurring funding to mask deficits has virtually faded now as an issue, but for years was a major point in Audit Scotland’s valuable annual overviews of the NHS in Scotland – and, believe me, it wasn’t confined to one health board area. Nonetheless, I don’t recall its being called “Labour’s selling off hospitals to pay the wages bill” scandal and I’m not sure it would have been fair if it had.

So will Labour’s current accusations stick? Can we legitimately blame Ms Sturgeon for what’s been going on in Lothian, certainly, and possibly elsewhere too? The answer is probably a bit of yes and a bit of no. Financial matters and accountability have rightly been tightened up massively since 2001, partially due to the Tayside troubles. Also, since the abolition of trusts (again under Labour), there is less mud-slinging between contractors and commissioners, basically because they are all part of the same bodies – NHS boards – now.

In the last dozen or so years, however, we’ve also seen nationally set targets for the health service proliferate and strengthen. Successive administrations have set successively tougher goals in a variety of areas from healthcare-associated infections to, erm, waiting times. The current target – that nobody with a waiting time guarantee should wait more than 18 weeks from referral to treatment – is particularly stretching; it essentially means that patients have to be seen and treated in a fraction of the time than just 10 years ago.

Lest we forget, former health minister Susan Deacon’s Our National Health, published in 2000, set a maximum waiting time of nine months for treatment by 2003 (down from 12 months previously), but that only kicked in once you’d had your first outpatient appointment; 18 weeks referral to treatment is a huge, huge improvement.

It’s also a huge undertaking, particularly when budgets are tight. Financial constraint may well be an incentive to do things differently, as Ms Sturgeon and others have said, but it can also prompt creative thinking of the type sadly seen at NHS Lothian. Presumably none of the staff wanted to make patients wait longer than necessary, but manipulating lists to meet targets became the Lothian way.

Arguably, then, by setting ever-tougher targets, at the same time as squeezing budgets, Ms Sturgeon has some responsibility for managers’ unfortunate inventiveness – but does that really mean that it’s the “SNP’s hidden waiting list”? Probably no more than the old Tayside troubles, or, indeed, previous waiting times problems (deferred list, anyone?) were “Labour’s NHS scandals”.

Let’s just pop back to 2002 for a moment and hear from John Swinney: “A culture has been created that forces hospitals to use every dodge in the book to get their waiting lists figures down and responsibility for this lies squarely at Labour’s door.” None of this would have come to light if the SNP had not ceaselessly pursued Labour over waiting lists,” added the then SNP leader.

Perhaps, then, Ms Baillie and Labour are only getting their own back with today’s inflammatory words. But wouldn’t it be grand if political parties, instead of name-calling and blaming, actually worked together to create a culture which puts patients first? Now that would be a pud worth having.

Grahame Smith of the STUC – 'simply shocking' figures <em>Picture: Scottish government</em>

Grahame Smith of the STUC – 'simply shocking' figures Picture: Scottish government

The latest unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there were 229,000 Scots looking for work in the three months from August to October, up by 25,000 on the previous quarter.

The unemployment rate here is now 8.5 per cent, slightly higher than the UK average of 8.3 per cent. Unemployment in the UK as a whole rose by 128,000 to 2.64 million.

However, other figures show a major change in the pattern of employment in Scotland. For the first time in over a decade, the private sector’s share of the jobs market has grown, to over 77 per cent. In the past year, it grew year-on-year by 30,300 in the third quarter, apparently more than making up for the fall of 23,500 in public sector jobs over the same period.

The figures produced widely divergent responses from the political parties in Scotland, the trade unions and business leaders. First minister Alex Salmond called for an “urgent” UK-wide summit involving the UK government and three devolved administrations, to discuss a programme of jobs creation.

“The UK government’s economic policy is in a state of collapse, and the prime minister’s policy of isolation in Europe can only makes things worse,” Mr Salmond said. “The Office of Budget Responsibility has reported that the UK economy is already contracting in the final quarter of this year, and the coalition must change course.”

He described the announcements in the autumn statement as “too little, too late” adding that “Scotland’s capital budget will still be cut by £3bn over the spending period, and over 70 per cent of the Barnett capital consequentials will not be available until after next year, when the problem is now.”

Scottish secretary Michael Moore acknowledged that the figures were disappointing. But he stressed that the government’s main priority was “to return this country to sustainable and more balanced growth. This is not the time to introduce further uncertainty into our economy but for both the UK and Scottish governments to work together for the benefit of the people who are looking for long-lasting quality jobs.”

In the view of Scottish Labour, an urgent change of economic policy is needed from the Scottish government. The party said the unemployment figures had reached “disaster levels”. According to finance spokesman Richard Baker, “the Scottish economy has grown even more slowly than the rest of the UK, and now we see the same happening to jobs.

“Alex Salmond and John Swinney’s failure to deliver an effective economic strategy and stalling on investing in infrastructure,” he added, “has pushed Scotland into a vicious cycle of lower investment, fewer jobs and slower growth. We need to see far more creative ideas to support businesses taking on graduates.”

For the trade unions, Grahame Smith, general secretary of the STUC, described the figures as “simply shocking”. He added that the rise in Scottish unemployment was much higher than anticipated by independent forecasters.

“With long-term unemployment rising,” he said, “and many now facing their second or third Christmas on the dole, it is essential that the coalition revisits its failed economic strategy. Unemployed people do not wish to be patronised by the chancellor trying to blame the impact of his own domestic blunders on troubles in the eurozone.

“Instead, they will want to see a new approach; one that makes fiscal consolidation contingent on growth and much more balanced towards fair taxation. They need to see a genuine strategy for jobs and growth; not the series of irrelevant supply side interventions announced in the autumn statement which will simply re-embed a failed economic model.”

For the Federation of Small Businesses, Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox OBE said that the figures made “grim reading for government at all levels. They represent not only a complicated problem that will take co-ordinated and concerted action to resolve, but a traumatic period in many individuals’ and families’ lives.

“The employment that the small business community can create and sustain is now more important than ever. We need to see practical measures to help growing businesses to take on employees as part of a wider package to stimulate business confidence, alongside moves to encourage a new generation of entrepreneurs.”

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce were extremely concerned by the figures. Chief executive Liz Cameron warned that the high levels of youth unemployment were of particular concern. “We cannot afford for a generation of our young people to lose out on the development of their skills,” she said.

“With businesses across Scotland battling to see their way through to the general economic recovery, they need the right support from governments north and south of the border to employ more young people and gear up for future success.”

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snp1SNP strategists believe there will be no need for a “devo max” option in the referendum if they can make independence appear as reasonable as possible.

Senior SNP figures have revealed that their plans for an independent Scotland – which will be published in detail before the referendum – will be deliberately moderated in a bid to appeal to wavering Scots.

The proposals will stress the continuation of many aspects of British life in an attempt to do away with any need to put “devo max” or “indy lite” on the ballot paper.

Alex Salmond has offered a three question referendum: independence, “devo max” and the status quo. And he has challenged his opponents to come up with a form of “devo max” which could then be put to the people.

However, Mr Salmond’s offer has been knocked back by all three main unionist parties, who believe the first minister is laying a trap for them.

They believe Mr Salmond only wants “devo max” on the ballot paper to give him a fallback position in case outright independence isn’t successful.

But it has now emerged that the SNP strategy will be to make independence appear to be reasonable, not only so that there will be no need for a “devo max” option, but also to win over all those Scots who might have voted for “devo max”.

Indeed, the version of independence that will be put to Scots will look remarkably similar to those versions of “indy lite” which have been trailed by the SNP in the past.

The plans will adopt a “best of British” theme. They will include:

● Keeping the Queen as Scotland’s head of state and the royal family.

● Keeping the pound as Scotland’s currency.

● Relying on the Bank of England to anchor for that currency.

● Allowing interest rates to be set by the London-based Monetary Policy Committee for the whole of the UK.

● Creating a new “social union” between Scotland and England to replace the existing parliamentary union.

● Keeping UK embassies as joint UK/Scottish bases.

● Keeping most BBC programmes in their usual places – so Scots can continue to watch EastEnders and their other favourite shows at the usual time.

● Allowing British defence forces to use Scottish bases and to work alongside Scottish service personnel.

● Setting up only the most minimal control posts on the Scottish–English border.

● Keeping the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency as the body organising driving licences for the whole of the UK, including an independent Scotland.

● Keeping the same sort of vehicle number plates in an independent Scotland as in the rest of the UK.

A key SNP strategist said: “People think we are being clever by allowing a second option of ‘devo max’ to be put on the ballot paper for the referendum, but they miss the point.

“Look at what we are saying about the currency, the royal family, the social union, the BBC and so on. We are going to present a view of independence which is so overwhelmingly reasonable that there will be no need for ‘devo max’.”

David McLetchie, for the Conservatives, said: “However the SNP dresses it up, separation is separation. It is the Nationalists who are scurrying around trying to find this way or that to sell the unpalatable. It won’t work. The SNP prescription of so-called independence in Europe – and the euro – is a recipe for ruin.

“The majority of Scots are content and proud to be Scottish and British. It is the way we are. Scotland is better off in Britain.”

And Iain Gray, Scottish Labour leader, said: “It is as if Alex Salmond is giving up on separation and trying to replace it with some kind of federalism, so he should be honest and admit it.

“His problem is he knows the majority of Scots oppose separation so he keeps trying to rebrand it in some watered down sense as ‘devo max’ or ‘indy lite’. But no matter what window dressing he puts on it he cannot escape the hard facts about what separation will mean and how the uncertainty over it already threatens investment.”

And Mr Gray added: “No matter how much the SNP try they cannot avoid key questions such as what would be the effect on pensions, benefits, tax rates and EU membership.”

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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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Michael Levack, chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation <em>Picture: SBF</em>

Michael Levack, chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation Picture: SBF

Business leaders have been expressing concern about the latest Scottish economic growth figures. According to the Scottish government, the economy grew by just by 0.1 per cent during the spring, the same as the rest of the UK. Any lower and the country would officially be back into recession.

The strongest growth was seen the production sector, mainly driven by utilities such as electricity, gas and water. The services sector also grew by 0.1 per cent, with distribution, hotels and catering performing reasonably well.

However, output in construction fell by 2.3 per cent. The last figure prompted the chief executive of the Scottish Building Federation to call for more government action.

Michael Levack warned that “this significant contraction in the construction industry of 2.3 per cent in the second quarter of the year is deeply concerning and must act as a wake-up call. It translates as around 10,000 jobs being lost in just three months. The construction industry is a key driver of Scotland’s economy, but we are continuing to suffer a prolonged slump.

“We need to see an even stronger emphasis from the Scottish government on protecting and consolidating capital investment in construction projects to support the industry and start rebuilding employment, skills and capacity.”

His concern was shared by Iain McMillan, Scottish director of the CBI Scotland. “Scotland’s economic recovery is tepid,” he said, “and lacks any discernible vigour and momentum, with expansion in some sectors being offset by weaker performance in others. That is why we continue to argue that the Scottish government’s spending plans should be improved in order to better galvanise growth.”

Mr McMillan called for a far bolder approach to making savings, to release money for further investment in infrastructure and support for exporters. He also called for two business tax rises – on retailers and on empty commercial premises – to be scrapped.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warned that many of the smallest firms are being put under real pressure by rising energy and fuel costs. It said that the big energy companies, like the banks, were making it difficult for the small business community to drive the recovery.

The FSB Scottish policy convenor, Andy Willox OBE, said that Scottish businesses and consumers lacked the confidence to spend and invest – resulting in today’s stagnant gross domestic product figures. “We need to see continued and co-ordinated action by government at all levels,” he said, “to boost small businesses and help them create the new private sector jobs the economy urgently needs.”

The Scottish finance secretary, John Swinney, pointed out that Scotland’s economy had continued to grow in the second quarter of 2011 and that the Scottish labour market continues to outperform the UK as a whole. But he added that “these figures reinforce the urgent need for the UK government to deliver a Plan MacB approach, to ensure that the recovery we are building here in Scotland is not derailed by Westminster’s wrong-headed economic policy.”

Mr Swinney added that “the Scottish government is using all of the economic powers at our disposal to secure new jobs and investment, and strengthen recovery. This must deliver real action in the areas where Scottish government policy is making a difference: increased capital expenditure, improved access to finance for medium and small-sized businesses, and the introduction of measures to boost consumer confidence and economic security.”

But Scottish Labour described the figures as “deeply worrying”. According to their finance spokesman, Richard Baker, “these figures show Scotland teetering on brink of recession and that the economy is actually going backwards. The SNP’s economic plan simply isn’t working. Far from the SNP’s Plan MacB working, it is actually making things even worse with persistent stagnation, rising unemployment and fears for key sectors.”

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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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Ken Macintosh MSP <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

Ken Macintosh MSP Picture: Scottish parliament

Labour MSP Ken Macintosh is trying his best to laugh off the embarrassing snub delivered to his leadership bid by UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband – but, deep down, he will be fuming.

This is what happened when Mr Miliband sat down to do an interview with BBC Scotland’s Tim Reid today.

Mr Reid: “Can you name the three of them [the Scottish Labour leadership candidates]?”

Mr Miliband: “There is Tom Harris. Um, er, there is Johann Lamont, er and a third candidate who is also going to be putting themself forward.”

Mr Reid: “He is the frontrunner. Ken Macintosh.”

Mr Miliband: “Ken Macintosh, yes.”

Mr Reid: “He is the frontrunner and you can’t name him.”

Mr Miliband: “No. Ken Macintosh is going to be an excellent candidate.”

It has been a long and tiring week for the UK Labour leader, but this really was something he should have spotted. Or, rather, one of his press advisers should have spotted it.

There was only one subject BBC Scotland were going to ask about, and that was the Scottish leadership race. It was imperative that Mr Miliband went to the interview well briefed. He had to know who the candidates were and it is a massive gaffe that he didn’t.

It doesn’t do Mr Macintosh – the MSP for Eastwood – any good. He may well win – and, if he does, what will his relationship with Mr Miliband be like then?

It hasn’t done Labour any good because it looks amateurish and the SNP have had a great deal of fun exploiting this embarrassment as much as possible.

And it doesn’t do Mr Miliband any good because it makes him seem out of touch and badly briefed.

If anybody thought Labour had left its tendency for cock-ups behind it in the election should think again.

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