Anyone in the Labour Party who thinks that the Scottish National Party shares our values and aspirations for Scotland needs to think again. Our priorities are not the same, and they never were. Nicola Sturgeon standing down as leader of the SNP and First Minister will make no difference. Her successor will be the candidate SNP members think is most likely to break up the UK.
Our priority is and always has been to seek power in order to improve the lives of ordinary people wherever they live across the United Kingdom, to reduce inequality and promote social justice. Labour Party members want their country to be a better and fairer place. In my view, these are not the priorities of SNP members. They may say they are, but their actions suggest otherwise. To me, it is clear that their priority is to break up the UK, whatever the cost.
I see these differences everyday in the Scottish parliament. When Donald Dewar introduced the Scotland bill to the House of Commons in 1997, he was intent on devolving responsibilities and decision-making to bring them closer to the people that they would have most impact on. He recognised the potential for Scottish Labour MSPs to work alongside colleagues in Westminster to improve the lives of people across Scotland. That is what they did, with relish, working with their colleagues in London rather than against them. And sometimes they ploughed their own furrow – they abolished feudal tenure, introduced the smoking ban and repealed Section 28 to name but three radical policies.
Now we have the worst of all possible political worlds in Scotland. A government in Westminster that does not care if devolution works and a Scottish government in Holyrood who does not want it to work. The SNP are more intent on picking fights with their political opponents south of the border than delivering policies to improve the lives of people in Scotland. They spend so much time making excuses for what they cannot do, that they are not focused on what they can. They are squandering the opportunity they have with the devolution of powers, and people can see it.
Nowhere is it more obvious than in my own portfolio, social security, how the broken relationship between Holyrood and Westminster damages our social fabric. Despite having the powers to do it, Scotland is still not making the changes promised to key disability and carers benefits. They’re playing by the DWP rule book. The Scottish government could have done more and taken control over these and other benefits, but only last week, they requested a postponement of the devolution of said benefits until March 2025. They had initially agreed to take on the benefits in 2020. Of course, it is preferable to blame the UK government than take responsibility closer to home.
Ask any of our MSPs and they will have stories from disabled constituents, anxious and, once again, left at the mercy of the cruel Tory assessments in the DWP. They’re not getting the money they should and the old rules still apply. It could be so different.
And these problems are not limited to the social security brief. They are symptomatic of a wider malaise in Scottish public services. Delivery of decent services in Scotland, whether we are talking about health, education or social security, is not the priority. And it is more than a communication breakdown between London and Edinburgh; it is the consequence of two governments with the wrong priorities.
The incessant sparring in the Supreme Court over another referendum on separation has proven both a waste of time and a waste of money, while the SNP find any new reason to call again for a referendum, all thinly-veiled attempts to bury their own poor record of delivering public services.
How refreshing it would be to have two governments working together for the greater good, not interested in exacerbating differences or taking each other to court. People in Scotland need two governments understanding, respecting and mutually benefitting each other. Only Labour can offer this.
This is not just a pipe dream, it is highly possible and even realistic. We can take heart from the lead we enjoy at a UK level. Additionally, we are predicted to gain votes at both constituency and regional levels in the next Scottish parliament, backed up by our gains at the 2022 local elections. This a reversal of our fortunes, having lost votes in Scotland at every election since 1999. I believe it is because the public are now beginning to hear us, and it is proof that our key aim of restoring public services back to where they were before the Tories and the SNP came to power is cutting through.
Scotland has been hit by a double whammy. A Tory government in the UK and an SNP government in Scotland, both intent on division, both intent on beating the Labour Party, their common enemy. Labour Friends of Scotland exists to campaign for a Labour government. Labour needs Scotland’s Labour revival to continue and more than ever before, Scotland needs Labour.
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