Scots want a path through this pandemic, not a path to separation
Scottish politics has been paralysed for the last decade by this question to the detriment of the things we all value the most, writes Ian Murray MP. | PA Images
There is no appetite for another Scottish Independence referendum whilst we deal with the devastating impact of Covid-19. That’s why Labour is focused on jobs, jobs, jobs – not borders, flags and currencies.
Scottish Labour will be heading into next year’s Holyrood election with a clear commitment to oppose a divisive and unwanted second independence referendum.
That is the policy position adopted by our Scottish Executive Committee, and it is worth repeating once again as the SNP ramps up its campaign for a second vote on leaving the UK – a campaign it started the day after losing the 2014 referendum.
It is also a position supported by the vast majority of people in Scotland.
Recent opinion polls have demonstrated there is no appetite for another contest any time soon as we grapple with the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked in one poll to prioritise the issues facing Scotland, independence was selected by just 11 per cent of Scots. What people really want their politicians to focus on is protecting our NHS, fixing our once world-beating education system, and rebuilding our economy.
That’s why Labour is focused on jobs, jobs, jobs – not borders, flags and currencies.
We have a duty to ensure that next year’s election debate is not dominated by the constitution. Current events make this the worst possible time to have a referendum on whether to have another referendum. That would do a huge disservice to those who have lost their jobs, those who are on the front line in the fight against Covid-19, and those who have tragically lost loved ones as governments struggle to deal with the pandemic.
It won’t be easy – the SNP has barely stopped campaigning for the break-up of Britain, with Nicola Sturgeon even using precious time for a parliamentary Bill on another referendum in the middle of the crisis. And the media across the UK is obsessed with hypothesising about Scotland’s constitutional future, too often from a position of ignorance.
But this is not the debate taking place in living rooms and kitchens across Scotland. People are talking about a path through the pandemic, not the path to separation.
Yes, recent opinion polls have suggested that some people would consider changing their minds and could vote differently if there ever was another contest – but that is not the same as wanting to be asked again right now. Nor does it translate to actual votes when you again pose the same unanswered questions about currency, borders, EU membership, the economy, deficit and jobs.
People have not forgotten how divisive the last campaign was for Scottish society, and how government was put on hold for months on end. I would argue Scottish politics has been paralysed for the last decade by this question to the detriment of the things we all value the most.
That’s why Scots are saying the immediate priority for both the UK and Scottish governments must be the NHS, education and jobs. They want their governments to work together.
There is little doubt the Prime Minister is as big a threat to our UK as any nationalist
A recent poll for the Scottish Fabians found that 76 per cent of Scots want the Scottish and UK governments to work together on the issues that impact their lives – not constantly squabbling with artificially created grievances to create division.
It’s no surprise that the SNP government isn’t working well with the UK government – that’s the entire basis for the nationalists’ grievance campaign. Yet it’s being made easy for them thanks to Boris Johnson’s cavalier approach to the Union. There is little doubt the Prime Minister is as big a threat to our UK as any nationalist.
In Labour, we recognise that the governance of the UK needs reform. That's why Keir Starmer has been taking forward his vision for a radical federalism via a voter led constitutional convention. We are not, and have never been, a party of the status quo and our argument for change is more powerful than ever.
We are committed to addressing the disparity of powers at different levels across the UK so that no part of the country is left behind. But, right now, the entire focus must be on making devolution work as we chart a course through the pandemic.
Keir Starmer has put forward a series of constructive proposals, including investing in labs to expand testing and contract tracing, a 24-hour guarantee on results, and regular routine testing for high risk workplaces, such as care homes and hospitals – and critically fixing the broken Test and Trace (Test and Protect in Scotland) systems.
These are the kind of practical solutions that people want their politicians to focus on at this time of crisis. They are solutions designed to work for every community in the UK – not tear communities apart.
Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South and shadow secretary of state for Scotland.