Johann Lamont MSP, leader of The Scottish Labour Party, calls on Alex Salmond to have the debate on independence now, and to have the referendum.
There’s going to be a referendum on whether or not Scotland separates from the rest of the UK – on that point, everyone agrees.
There are differences – stark differences – on timing, procedure and rules. I want the referendum to be held as quickly as possible; Alex Salmond has had five years to bring forward a poll but hasn’t done so. I want the Electoral Commission, with its office in Edinburgh, to set the rules and police the spending limits; Alex Salmond doesn’t.
At heart, this referendum is not about the procedures, and we should not fall into the trap of substituting process for substance.
The referendum does not belong to politicians, or parliaments, or governments. This referendum belongs to the people of Scotland and on an issue this important, we deserve a clear and fair process that will not see the decision dragged through the courts. If the latest proposals from the UK government help there to be a quick, clear and decisive referendum result I would welcome them, although I am yet to see the details.
But one thing I welcome. In two separate interviews this morning, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the SNP supports a single question referendum. All the Scottish parties now agree on that point. That is good progress and once the decision is make we can get on with the process of improving devolution so we can improve our country.
The decision, when it comes, on whether we abolish devolution and separate Scotland from the rest of the UK is most profound. For many reasons, I believe that the people of Scotland will choose for our nation to remain part of the United Kingdom, but few of them are to do with the mechanics of the poll because the arguments for and against separation will not be won and lost on procedure.
They will be won and lost on what is in the national interest of Scotland.
Together, the different countries of the UK have built a progressive welfare state, shared risks, challenges and rewards and embedded the concept of a welfare state in to the heart of our nations. We have stood together in dark times against fascism and been a beacon to the world of how nations can work together without losing their identities but indeed by strengthening them. I believe there is much more that unites our countries than divides them.
The SNP have never been able to adequately describe the problem to which separation is the answer. Poverty will not be erased by erecting a border – but even if it were, I am as offended by a child growing up in poverty in Liverpool or Newcastle or London as I am to a child in poverty in Glasgow or Dundee or Aberdeen.
Nationalists who seek to paint their opponents – the vast majority of Scots – as being unpatriotic do a disservice to their cause. We love our country and believe in its potential, but loving Scotland doesn’t mean you must be a nationalist. I believe that Scotland is big enough, strong enough, and powerful enough to stand in comradeship with our friends, families, colleagues and neighbours, but will never impugn the motives of those that disagree with me.
Throughout history, certain generations have been entrusted to make profound decisions about the future of their nations. This is such a time, and in the coming weeks and months, under my leadership, Scottish Labour will seek to move forward this debate. Process is secondary to the national question now under examination.
I want a debate on the merits of the argument.
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