During my lifetime, two views of how Scotland should develop have been fixed on our political landscape. One was a view that argued for Scotland to separate decisively from the rest of the UK, and has been consistently advocated by the Scottish National Party. The other has been a movement for devolution which sought to advance the best interests of the Scottish people while also pursuing the benefits of being part of a political union.
For the SNP, their analysis of the problems facing Scotland has led them to believe that we are held back by pooling sovereignty with Wales, England and Northern Ireland. They have never been devolutionists and their Party’s constitution spells out their aim in black and white: “Independence for Scotland” and “the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty.”
This is why, for those of us who have spent years listening to the SNP tell us they need to get their hands on the economic and fiscal levers in order to tackle the biggest problems Scotland faces, their recent enthusiasm for some kind of extended devolution, and a second question in the referendum, is astonishing.
In 1989, when civic and political Scotland came together to form the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the SNP choose not to take part. Independence would not be considered as an option for Scotland’s future and they weren’t willing to compromise their beliefs.
Again, in 1997, when the Bill enabling a referendum on devolution was passing through the House of Commons, Alex Salmond argued time and again for independence to be included on the ballot paper.
Today, he has the opportunity to put independence to the Scottish people, but he is choosing not to pursue his case with any sort of vigour. Instead, he is sacrificing his principles and struggling to take his supporters with him.
That’s why the list of Nationalists who agree with us that a clear and unambiguous question is the only way to conduct this referendum is growing by the day. Margo MacDonald has called on the First Minister to “ditch the second question”. The SNP’s former leader, Gordon Wilson, has called the suggestion of a second question “defeatism” and in the last two weeks sitting SNP Members of Parliament have made clear their opposition to a second question.
The SNP want Scots to believe that because we want a single question, this means the Scottish Labour Party neither has the will nor the commitment to develop devolution. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We are ambitious for Scotland, ambitious for Scotland’s future and we understand that devolution is a process, not an event.
We know that debates about how much spending power should be at Holyrood are essential, but they are not nearly enough to help us to answer the big questions about how we govern ourselves. No second question on the ballot paper could adequately address the scale and depth of the questions we need to ask to create the best possible settlement for Scotland.
That’s why Labour’s Devolution Commission will set out to answer questions that cut to the heart of the debate and keep our discussions focussed on how we improve the lives of the people we are elected to serve. In short, it will answer questions about the kind of society we want to live in and how we will set out to build it from the solid foundation of our current devolved settlement.
It has always been Scottish Labour, and not the SNP, that has delivered for working people across our nation. And we delivered constitutional change not for the sake of it, but because it was the best way to further improve people’s lives. We will carry on making the case for further devolution. The SNP may be leaving their principles behind, but Scottish Labour will not.
Margaret Curran is the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland