Jim Wallace outlines his case for Scotland remaining in the UK

For 6 years, Jim Wallace was Deputy First Minister in Scotland. On three occasions, he stood in as Acting First Minister. That Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition at Holyrood governed with a can-do attitude at a time of optimism. It delivered some pretty revolutionary things. Free personal care, decent freedom of information, no tuition fees, land reform, getting rid of Section 28 (or Section 2A as it was in Scotland and introducing proportional representation for local government which demolished old Labour fiefdoms. The 8 years of that coalition was focused on what could be done. The 7 since has been focused on what Holyrood can’t do as the SNP claim that they need more powers to deliver the society they want. Their arguments would have a great deal more credibility if they had come close to using the powers that they have. Wallace and his Labour First Ministers almost wrung the neck out of the Scotland Act and if it was found wanting, they found a way to deliver their plans.

To date, nobody has used the tax varying powers that Holyrood has, though and next year brings a whole swathe of new responsibilities and powers in the largely forgotten Scotland Act. That may all be irrelevant in 10 days’ time if we’re looking at a Yes vote in the referendum. I will write more later about what I think the pro UK side has to do to turn the swing to Yes around, but for the moment, have a look at what Jim Wallace told the Church of Scotland this week. He talks a lot about his own personal faith, which may not be for everybody, but stick with it to the end because there is real vision and passion in there about social justice and about giving power back to communities.

First, on the achievements of the Scottish Parliament:

And in the context of this referendum debate, it is a belief that the state exists to serve the individual and not individuals to serve the state. The state or nation is not, for me, the defining political entity. That is why I am not a nationalist.

And if government is there to serve the people, it makes sense to look where government can work most effectively to deliver on behalf of the people. That is why I long campaigned for a strong Scottish Parliament within a United Kingdom – as well as recognising the merit of some decisions being taken at a European level and the need to breathe new life into local democracy across Scotland.

I sometimes think that the existence of a strong Scottish Parliament has been the forgotten dimension in this debate. I campaigned for it; worked for it in the Constitutional Convention and had the privilege of being in that first democratically elected Scottish Parliament and Government.

The powers of the Parliament give us the means to deliver the kind of social change and reforms suited to Scotland needs and aspirations. It is through the exercise of these powers that we can support individuals and families, help businesses and build a fairer society – aspiring to realise the vision which congregations identified in ‘Imagining Scotland’s Future’.

In fifteen years, we have overhauled mental health legislation, given communities the right to buy land and individuals the right to responsible access over land; established National Parks; introduced free bus travel for older people, free eye and dental checks and the abolition of tuition fees, to name but a few.

Perhaps most significantly, particularly in public health terms was the ban on smoking in public places. We blazed the trail and the rest of Britain followed.

We have a dynamic settlement. For example, power was extended to run our railways and to develop our renewable energy resources. The 2012 Scotland Act increases significantly powers of taxation and borrowing.

Yes, it can be improved. But devolution has given us the power to design Scottish solutions to the unique circumstances we face – and to do so whilst benefitting from the strength and stability that we take from being part of the UK: security in defence; security for our pensioners; sharing risk among a population of over 60 million; the economic security and stability from being part of the world’s most successful political and monetary union. As well as benefitting and contributing to a social union.

He then tackles the argument that Scotland would be more socially just:

Those on my side of the argument rightly and fairly point to the economic risks of independence, be it in terms of trade, or public spending.  Independent analysts say these are very real.  But for the moment, let us accept – which I don’t – that Scotland would be better off in the longer term; transitional pain and disruption is inevitable. And I’m in little doubt that it is the less well-off who would feel the effects of that. Those of us who are concerned about the poor should therefore be very concerned about economic disruption.

But in addition to the practical financial consequences, I believe there is a straightforward moral argument which goes to the heart of the idea of a social union. To withdraw from the common welfare provision, which we’ve created in these islands, you have to believe that people in Glasgow, for example, are more deserving of our common support than people in Gateshead or Glamorgan. And that if we have resources, we keep them for ourselves rather than pool them and contribute to their pensions or benefits.

He then goes on to look at Scotland’s place in the world:

Nuclear relocation is not nuclear disarmament – nor even nuclear reduction. There will not be one single nuclear warhead less as a result.

The reduction in warheads achieved under the last Labour Government, and continued in the present UK government’s Strategic Defence & Security Review could only continue in future, without those of us in Scotland, who do care about disarmament issues having a voice in government nor even a choice at the ballot box.

Nor would we any longer be the second largest donor of international aid in the world (aid administered from East Kilbride in Scotland). By 2015, the UK Department will have helped immunise 55 million children against preventable disease, helped to save the lives of 50,000 women in childbirth and a quarter of a million new-born babies. 60 million people will have access to clean, safe water, thanks to the UK.

Together we campaigned against slavery in the eighteenth century; and drafted the European Convention on Human Rights in the 1950s.

In very recent times the UK’s “Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative” –was the core theme of our presidency of the G8 in 2013 – leading to a new UN Security Council Resolution and UN General Assembly Declaration on sexual violence within conflict; and as a United Kingdom, we were one of the foremost nations promoting the UN Arms Trade Treaty which was finally adopted last year.

I don’t doubt that Scotland, from outside the UK, would seek to play a small part in these endeavours. But it would be small – and we should not underestimate the extent to which the remaining UK’s ability to promote justice in the world would be diminished.

You can read the whole thing here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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