LibLink: John Barrett: Independence is about country, not cash

Former MP for Edinburgh West John Barrett has made a surprise intervention in the debate on Scottish independence. Writing in the Scotsman last Saturday, he became the only senior figure so far to say that he doesn’t yet know how he’s going to vote in the referendum on 18th September.

He said that the debate so far has become polarised and is switching people off:

There are good people on both sides, who genuinely believe in what they are arguing for. Unfortunately, as they are entrenched in their own positions, they are often unable to view many important issues in a non-party political way. Far too often, this results in the public switching off from the debate.

He thinks that, as a Federalist, the independence proposal on offer has some things to satisfy him and he talks about the possibility of the UK voting to leave the EU in the next Parliament. Even with all the UKIP hype, I’m still convinced that that will not happen. People will realise how many jobs depend on being part of the EU.

Some of the article makes very difficult reading. He is scathing about the Liberal Democrat participation in the coalition, criticising support for military intervention in Syria and ignoring pleas from the party on issues like the Bedroom Tax. He said that it’s not the party he joined 30 years ago. It’s a bit of a shame that he didn’t recognise any of the good things that the coalition has done, like shared parental leave, raising pensions, cutting taxes and extending childcare and mental health provision in England. He could also have balanced his criticism by mentioning Willie Rennie’s successful campaign to get the Scottish Government to extend nursery provision to 2 year olds.

Having said that, he goes on to critique the issues around independence in a very intelligent way, and says that we all need to take responsibility for the debate being as sterile as it has been.

The Scottish public must also accept their share of responsibility for the current state of affairs. If in the run-up to the referendum they only ask “What is in it for me?”, they will be offered a range of unaffordable promises by both sides and should then not be surprised when those promises are not delivered.

It will not be just the fault of politicians if Scotland does not prosper in the future: we all have a responsibility for the country we live in. It is not a lack of funding that puts a strain on our health service; it is a population with a bad diet, that smokes and drinks too much, while taking little or no exercise – that is at the heart of the problem. Anyone who doubts this should visit an A&E unit at the weekend. If the Scottish public want the option they think will deliver a brighter future without them putting in any effort to improve matters, they are living in a fool’s paradise.

He looks at the sort of Scotland he wants to see and says it can only be delivered if people take responsibility to resolve the problems:

What we should be getting from both sides is a clear picture of the Scotland they want to develop for generations to come. I want to see a fairer country at home, with access to a high quality health and education system for all, regardless of ability to pay; a compassionate and considerate country, where those who are able care for those who are less able; a greener country with sustainable energy production at an affordable price; and an internationalist country supporting peace-keeping obligations and those abroad less fortunate than ourselves, while avoiding any involvement in destructive military interventions, where civilians suffer more than anyone else. If this is the Scotland of the future, it is what I will vote for. It is also something that can only be delivered if Scots are prepared to participate in delivering that future: accepting increased personal responsibility will be part of the bargain.

You can read the whole article here.

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

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Interesting and brave article. The only politician I’ve seen to break franks from their party on the IndyRef so far is former Green MSP Robin Harper ( who is voting no.

    I’ve felt for some time that ‘Yes’ will struggle to make progress if they can’t work with rebels in the other parties and pitch messages (for example to Lib Dems on how localism could be better delivered in an independent Scotland.) which will speak to non-SNP supporters.

  • Nigel Lindsday 15th Jan '14 - 3:25pm

    John’s article is thoughtful and thought-provoking. The Liberal position has always been clear – we stand for home rule within a federal UK. Voting “No” will frustrate any chance pf achieving this, as the two Unionist parties will take a “no” vote as endorsement of the status quo. That will close down discussion of constitutional change for years to come. Neither campaign has yet offered a route to the Liberal goal. Until one side or the other does so, I shall remain uncommitted.

  • It’s always interesting to see Lib Dems say they support Home Rule in a federal UK. Where are the detailed proposals to achieve it?

  • For me this is a very significant because someone who was one of our MPs Is able to demonstrate how the party has drifted to the right under Clegg and the Coalition. In particular John Barrett writes –

    ” …. The position is further confused by the fact that the party I joined over 30 years ago bears little resemblance in policy terms to the Liberal Democrats now in government at Westminster. I have not changed my views on opposition to university tuition fees, Trident nuclear missiles and the construction of new nuclear power stations. More recently (and as one who voted with Alistair Carmichael and Alex Salmond against the war in Iraq), the defeat of the government over military action in Syria was something I welcomed. I was stunned to see those party grandees who were at the heart of opposing going to war in Iraq now advocating military action – before inspectors had completed their work. My, how times have changed.

    In Scotland, I was at a Lib-Dem conference when it wholeheartedly opposed the bedroom tax, with not one MP in the room speaking up in favour of government policy, while it still remains something my party in government at Westminster supports. No wonder the public in Scotland drifted away in large numbers from the party at both the last set of Holyrood and council elections. ”

    I do hope the party will take note and stop this drift and restore the party’s confidence in Liberalism and rejection of Conservatism.

  • “Even with all the UKIP hype, I’m still convinced that that will not happen”.

    It probably won’t happen because Cameron will probably lose power. With Labour in power, it definitely won’t happen. However, if (by chance) an EU referendum does occur then I think the public will need to see some pretty convincing new terms before they will give a majority “yes”.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Mark Frankel
    This strikes me as a bit overblown. The American civil war killed 600,000. What will be the death toll under a new Trump presidency?...
  • Martin Gray
    Centrist governments support the rules of international order. Sadly , when it comes to the Palestine those rules , those values , have all but been abandoned...
  • Peter Hirst
    For all its faults, America remains a democracy and we must retain our links. Brexit allows us to show flexibility in our strategic relations. We must now allow...
  • David Raw
    As a long time student of political history who first joined (and was employed by) the Liberal Party way back in 1962, I've come to believe that the basic quali...
  • Peter Hirst
    Putting country before party seems to me to be quite apposite in the context of the last decade. The Party system is a weakness of our present structures. It is...