Should the Westminster parties fail to listen to the Scottish people they will pay a heavy price at the polls.
Should the Westminster parties fail to listen to the Scottish people they will pay a heavy price at the polls
In less than a month, Scotland has become a different country. The referendum may have – narrowly – delivered a No vote, but new and progressive forces have been unleashed which promise that things will never be the same again.
Westminster may have hung on to its political stewardship and breathed an enormous sigh of relief as a result, but it cannot afford to settle back into a comfortable slumber. Things have changed, changed utterly.
The referendum process saw Scots become more politically engaged and assertive than ever before. We are in a new era of civic politics, where it is ordinary people rather than political parties who set the agenda and drive the outcomes.
This is hugely exciting, bringing a freshness and vibrancy to democracy not just in Scotland, but across these islands.
The genesis of this lies in the Yes campaign. It created the biggest popular political movement in Scottish history. Members of different parties joined with those with no party affiliation in a hugely energising, uplifting and positive drive for a fairer, better, greener and more equal Scotland.
This broad, ecumenical campaign encompassed more than 300 local groups across the country as well as sectoral bodies such as Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, Generation Yes for younger people, the artist-led National Collective and Radical Independence.
There was a renaissance of community, street and doorstep politics, bringing both a new confidence and a sense of expectation. This was at its most visible in the few days before the vote, when thousands of people packed into civic spaces across Scotland in an exuberant and good-natured display of flags, dancing and singing.
The vision of Yes ultimately appealed to 1.6 million Scottish voters – 45 per cent of the total – but unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough to win. And while I will always make the case for independence – and believe that Scotland will become independent – I accept that a majority have not chosen that future at this time.
But a majority – in my view – do want change and so I will work to ensure that the promises of substantial additional powers, made by the Westminster parties days before the vote in an attempt to head off a Yes, are upheld.
It is critical that their pledges are kept. Many people who voted No did so because they believed these vows would be honoured. Polling since the referendum has shown that most people in Scotland want the Scottish Parliament to have control over welfare, pensions and taxation and two thirds want Devo Max – that is, control in Scotland of everything except defence and foreign affairs.
This would not be independence – it would not, for instance, allow us to get rid of Trident, or give us EU member state status – but it would be a major step forward, delivering our chosen levels of public spending, powers to create jobs, the protection of our distinctive NHS and decent social security, and transformative childcare.
This is the settlement, then, that the Scottish people now demand. Should I be elected first minister, I shall work relentlessly for its delivery as well as ensuring that our existing devolved public services – schools, hospitals, police and other services – are of the highest quality.
Should the Westminster parties fail to listen to the voice of the Scottish people on this call for more powers – and it is a loud and clear one – then in my view one thing is certain: they will pay a heavy electoral price at the polls.
High quality service provision and social protections matter in Scotland. This is a country where the consensus between the parties which increasingly defines politics south of the border has been overwhelmingly rejected in favour of a society built on fairness, cohesion and social democracy.
With the rise of UKIP and Tory and Labour parties which continue to move ever rightward, the political gap between Scotland and the UK party establishment continues to grow. It is imperative that Scots are able to make their own choices about how they wish to build their society.
I still believe that independence offers the best way forward, and remain disappointed that it was not the choice we made last month. But these are still good times for Scotland. We are in a period of hope and belief, and the opportunities we now have are unprecedented.
This is a challenge that the Westminster parties must rise to. We can replace poverty with opportunity and austerity with prosperity. The Scottish people are waiting. We are claiming our right, and we expect that claim to be honoured.
Not in the breach, but in the promise.
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is deputy first minister of Scotland and a candidate to replace Alex Salmond as leader of the Scottish National Party