Jim Wallace: Team Scotland within the UK – the best solution

Back in the day when we had a Scottish Government that was more bothered about doing everything it could rather than complaining about what it couldn’t do. When it found it didn’t have the power it needed, it found a way round. That Government, which  implemented transformative social and political change from fair votes for local government to free personal care to leading the way on freedom of information, land reform and the smoking ban, would not have achieved all it did without the leadership of our Jim Wallace. This is a guy who knows how to make things happen. He spoke at the recent Liberal Democrat rally in Edinburgh. This is what he had to say, in full:

Jim Wallace at rally

As an 11 year old in my final year of primary school, I was fascinated by the 1966 General Election and used to wait outside the school gates to get the autographs of the candidates arriving for their election meetings. Recognising this political interest, my father decided to take me to a meeting. It was the Liberal candidate, Roy Semple’s eve of poll meeting. As I recall my father saying, “It will be safe, there won’t be many people there.”

One vivid memory of that evening was the learning of the Liberal Party’s commitment to a strong Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom. I thought it was a good idea then – and it still is today.

Six years later, I joined the Scottish Liberal Party, having read Russell Johnston’s pamphlet ‘To be a Liberal’. And one of the real privileges of my life was to lead the party I joined, aged 17, into the Scottish Parliament, which distinguished predecessors had campaigned for, and which we, as a party through the Constitutional Convention, had done so much to shape. And not only into Parliament, but into government too. So today, on the 17th anniversary of the 1997 referendum, let’s reflect on what we’ve achieved.

Last November I was invited to address a class of first year law students at Aberdeen University. Before going in, the head of the Law School took me aside and said, “Just to be aware. Most of your audience can’t remember a Scotland without a Scottish Parliament.” That a new generation of young Scots takes the Parliament’s existence for granted is a welcome affirmation that we have achieved the permanent legacy of a transfer of power that has brought government closer to the people of Scotland.

But when we talk of powers, we must remind ourselves that powers were not and are not ends in themselves. As a Liberal Democrat, I believe that power should be exercised as close to the people as is consistent with effective and efficient government. That’s why, for  example, the Constitutional Convention had a special section on Scotland’s Islands communities and why we have been engaging with the Islands Councils in their “Our Islands, Our Future’ initiative.

Powers are also the means to deliver the kind of social change and reforms suited to Scotland needs and aspirations. It is through the exercise of power that we can support individuals and families, help businesses and build a fairer society – that is what we sought to achieve  in government.

Remember the first Act of the Parliament which plugged a legal loophole which had led to a man who’d pled guilty to killing a neighbour being released from the State Hospital. Most commentators agreed that Westminster couldn’t and  wouldn’t have acted so expeditiously.

We then legislated to implement a Scottish Law Commission report to simplify the law relating to adults who lacked capacity to enter into legal transactions.

There followed legislation to give communities the right to buy land and individuals the right to responsible access over land, to establish national Parks, We introduced free bus travel for older people, free eye and dental checks and the abolition of tuition fees.

Perhaps most significantly was the ban on smoking in public places. England later followed the trail we had blazed.

And we did all as part of Team Scotland.

Devolution has given us the power to design Scottish solutions to the unique circumstances we face – and to do so 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,monetary and social union.

It is not a static settlement. It is a home rule settlement which has shown itself to be flexible in meeting Scotland’s needs and opportunities from the early devolution of powers which allow Scottish Ministers to develop our renewable energy resources; through the subsequent transfer of powers which paved the way for renewing Scotland’s rail infrastructure and enacting a more liberal freedom of information regime.

Nor did the journey finish with the 1998 Act. The Calman Commission proposed new powers and the Scotland Act 2012, the responsibility of Mike Moore, increases significantly the Parliament’s powers of borrowing and taxation greatly enhancethe accountability of Scottish Ministers and MSPs

And our journey has continued with the proposals of the Steel Commission and Campbell Commission and the clear commitment of all three UK parties to more powers for the Scottish Parliament especially in relation to tax and welfare. Even Gordon Brown is talking about federalism – a measure of just how far we’ve come! And just as the Convention proposals were delivered after the 1997 election, and the Calman proposals in the first session after the 2010 election, so too will the guarantees given this week.

But more important than the extent of the powers is the use of the powers. And I briefly want to look at two issues on powers and the operation of the Parliament to nail myths pedalled by the ‘Yes’ side in this referendum campaign.

I have been angered by the lies and deceit in the Yes side’s claims on the NHS. The NHS is fully devolved, so let’s look at figures published today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which puts a spotlight on the SNP’s stewardship of the NHS in office. Between 2009-10 and 2015-16, spending on the NHS in England will have risen by 4% in real terms. Even with the benefit of full Barnett consequential funding, NHS spending in Scotland will fall by 1% over the same period. The Scottish Government’s priorities under the SNP has been to offer less protection to the NHS than the UK coalition government.

Make no mistake, the Prime Minister cannot privatise the NHS in Scotland. Only the First Minister can do that.

And secondly, can I draw attention to a piece in yesterday’s Guardian where the former Scottish Tory leader reveals the extent to which the SNP minority government between 2007 and 2011, was in cahoots with the Tories. Annabel Goldie says, “The bottom line is that when Alex Salmond needed the Tories, he couldn’t get enough of our help.”

So let’s nail the myth that voting ‘Yes’ will keep the Tories out of government in Scotland. During the three years before David Cameron went through the front door of 10, Downing Street, the Tories had been shaping the government of Scotland through the back door of Bute House – all courtesy of Alex Salmond and the SNP.

But let me finish on a kinder note towards the Scottish Government and quote favourably from their White Paper on the positive case – for a “No” vote.

Such has been the success of the United Kingdom that the Yes campaign wants to keep so much of it:

·         The monarchy

·         The currency

·         The Bank of England

·         The National Lottery

·         The NHS Blood Transfusion & Transplant service

·         The Royal Mint

·         Research Councils

·         Air Accident Investigation Bran

·         Maritime Accident Investigation Branch

·         Committee on Radioactive Waste Management

·         Green Investment Bank

·         Met Office

·         Hydrographic Office

·         UK Benefits System

·         DVLA

and Strictly Come Dancing

No wonder one journalist asked Alex Salmond whether he’d like to retire to Bournemouth!

Through years of campaigning, the Constitutional Convention, the Calman Commission, the Coalition Government’s 2012 Act, Liberal Democrats have done more to bring powers home to Scotland than the Nationalists have ever done.

Building on the Steel & Campbell Commissions we will play our part, after a No vote in delivering more powers.

So vote NO next Thursday for Home Rule for Scotland within our United Kingdom.

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

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11 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Sep '14 - 10:31pm

    I’ll be astonished if Scotland votes to get rid of their UK passports. Stay with us! 🙂

  • Eddie, Take a look at your passport, the first two words at the top of the front cover are EUROPEAN UNION.

    I think you will find that it Is UKIP and the wilder edge of the Tories who want to take these passports away. 🙂

  • @JohnTilley – UKIP and wilder Tory voters are the groups of voters in the rest of the UK most relaxed (or even keen) to see Scotland go.

    Of course, if Scotland leaves then it will be a new applicant to join the EU, and would require the agreement of all existing member states which would include rUK.

    And NATO made it clear today that it would also require the agreement of all existing members for Scotland to join that institution.

  • JUF
    A lot of Scots woud be delighted to be outside NATO.

    But the European Union is an entirely different matter. Any suggestion that the day Scotland is independent Scots citizens of the European Union would be somehow stateless might result in some interesting cases in the European Courts. There is no precedent for part of the European Union dividing into two independent countries. But I find it impossible to believe that the EU will reject five million people who want to stay in the EU whilst embracing Cameron’s England Tories who want a referendum to get out of Europe. Voting YES might be the only way to guarantee Scotland staying in the EU when the London Government threatens withdrawal.

  • I’m not going to vote No, because that would send the minute signal that I am satisfied with the status quo. However anodyne the Yes campaign ideas might be, they are at present the only show in town and beat relying on the worthless guarantees of the three party leaders by a long way.

    I expect to find us having to work against the same stagnant UK system after the 18th, in the aftermath of a No vote and amongst all the subsequent backpedalling from the main parties. But if we want any of our future calls for reform to have any integrity, then voting to strengthen the status quo on Thursday is not the right course.

  • stuart moran 16th Sep '14 - 8:41am

    jedi

    I am not sure whether the EU will reject the application, and I am sure they will also not look at it as a usual expansion of the Union (Juncker has essentially said as much) but at the same time I think there are a lot of unknowns that the Yes campaign is trying to brush under the carpet

    The view from constitutionalists and various Government ministers around the EU is that it will be a negotiation and I find it difficult to see that the Scots will be allowed to maintain the exact same conditions that the UK has negotiated over the years.

    Recent expansions to the EU though have resulted in restrictions of Free Movement (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia) – I am not sure if this will continue with Scotland – I would say no but there are people in the club who may not be quite as welcoming as supposed

    The normal response to this is ‘I reckon’ or ‘I am sure this will happen’ is not that convincing when the future of a country is at question

    Just to emphasise from an Englishman’s point of view (and one who is generally sympathetic to the Scots) that a Yes is goodbye – for good – and no favours given. No currency union without some fiscal control, especially if the Scots are going to start the Irish game of playing with corporation tax…….and no giveaway of assets. Fair, yes but from my point of view fair to the English and not necessarily from an SNP point of view

    We have areas in England as poor and disengaged as Scotland and they should be the priority following a Yes vote on Thursday (if it comes) and not a country that has decided, for better or worse, that the want to go it alone

  • stuart moran 16th Sep ’14 – 8:41am
    ” We have areas in England as poor and disengaged as Scotland and they should be the priority following a Yes vote on Thursday …”

    Scotland is not poor. Some Scots are poor, some parts of Scotland are poor especially those whose communities were victims of the Thatcherite scorched earth approach to traditional industries like mining, steel and shipbuilding. But Scotland is rich in natural resources, renewable energy, fish and the talent of the people.

    Compared to Ireland that other small country formerly ruled by London, Scotland is very rich. The Unionists like to pretend that the Republic of Ireland does not exist, perhaps because a lot of the myths about independence such as the currency myth are shown to be untrue by the experience of Ireland achieving independence.

  • Scotland won’t be subject to transitional controls on movement of labour, because it has been inside the free movement area for decades and so wouldn’t be imposing any new shock variable to any member state’s economy. It would probably not retain the UK’s no questions asked euro optout, as even though fellow small country Denmark has a similar deal, it just doesn’t seem to be that big an issue here. The Schengen Zone optout would be recognised for what it is – a concession to English fears rather than anything Scotland wants – as is currently the case for the Republic of Ireland.

    Long story short, the EU would not treat independent Scotland as a new expansion applicant and Scotland wouldn’t have to queue behind Turkey or anything like that. It would negotiate a new deal which would be comparable with the deals other small, engaged European countries have.

  • Personally, I think Scotland will do better outside the UK . It’s a small country with a fairly low population and decent resources. Countries like that tend to do ok. The scare tactics are coming from the establishment classes. One things for certain if the Scot do vote yes it won’t be business as usual. There will be much gnashing and wailing of teeth as the realisation that the world has changed fully kicks in.

  • T-J the reason people in Scotland and elsewhere fed up with political class and centralism being a member of Europe is a vote for dictatorship from Berlin / Brussels so how’s that solving problem swop London for Brussels even worse

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