It is a great honour, and a real pleasure, to be here at the University of Glasgow.
For it was here, at this University, that my grandfather taught physiology for so many years.
It was here that my grandmother graduated as one of Scotland’s first female doctors.
It was here that my mum graduated in medicine.
And it was here that my dad graduated in Divinity.
My dad is the kind of Glaswegian who sincerely believes the best thing about Edinburgh is the sign for the M8 motorway back to Glasgow.
Which is why, as a graduate merely of the University of Edinburgh, you will understand the sense of humility with which I speak in this ancient seat of learning today.
This University’s extraordinary history of scholarship– stretching from, Adam Smith James Watt and Lord Kelvin – to John Logie Baird, Joseph Black and Sir John Boyd Orr and a political lineage from Thomas Muir and Elizabeth Lynass to John Smith and Donald Dewar – never mind the strong family ties I feel stretching back over through centuries – challenges me today to take a longer view.
And in that spirit, I’m going to do so today;
First, by reviewing both the state of the referendum campaign with 200 days to go
And secondly by asking what is the real story of how we ended up in this time of decision.
And finally I’ll offer my perspective on what the Party of which I am a representative, needs to do, both over the coming 200 days and in the years beyond to help shape Scotland’s journey again.
Let’s start by acknowledging that these are extraordinary times for Scotland and for Britain. Yet, I’m not sure that either side has yet found the metaphor that resonates with the truth behind the choice about our future on 18th September.
It is already clear that, this referendum asks of each of us deep and fundamental questions about who we are, what kind of nation we are, and what kind of nation we want to become. The debates about the Pound, our Pensions, and our place (if any) in Europe are important in and of themselves, but they speak of deeper ties and deeper questions.
The decision we will make on September 18th is not only the biggest political choice that we will make for our lifetimes. It is a choice that will affect the lives, identities and opportunities of our children and grandchildren.
It is deep. And it is deeply personal.
My dad came here to this University in the mid 1950’s.
He had grown up during the Second World War just south of Glasgow – in Eaglesham, then a village and not a commuter town of far away Glasgow – his dad was the Parish Minister.
He tells a story of one evening during that war, being taken to the upstairs bedroom of the Manse where from the window he was shown the distant flames amidst the darkness of the Blitz raining down on the poor souls of Clydebank.
And as my father describes it, the whole family knew that the suffering of Clydebank was real, immediate and terrible but also that this suffering was being shared by our people – the people of Coventry, Belfast, Cardiff and the East End of London.
To my parents’ generation, pride in our Scottish identity never required a denial of that part of their identity that is British.
So to my dad, today, the idea that we would walk away from the rest of the UK in a few months is something that diminishes his sense of Scottishness and his sense of self rather than enhances it.
The outcome of a Referendum vote next September would not make him more Scottish. His patriotism isn’t shaped or sustained by a flag. It is a living sense of who he is and where he is, formed by relationships with hundreds of fellow Scots, borne out of thousands of historical and political events inherited over hundreds of years.
In other words, Scotland makes us. And Scotland has been very successfully doing that within the UK for generations.
The next generation, my generation, had a similar understanding from a different starting point. I grew up in the Scotland of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. More ‘Gregory’s Girl’, than ‘The Dambusters’. It was a time when our national story was widely shared.
And it was a time when the distinction between patriotism and nationalism was widely understood and accepted.
Those of us who shouted proudly – if often forlornly – for Scotland on the terraces at Hampden or Murrayfield felt no compulsion to embrace political nationalism. Why would we? We are proud Scots, complete in our sense of who we were and where we were from. Nationalists, to be frank, were regarded as a bit odd.
Our national political narrative was driven by reaction to the insensitive, arrogant and selfish politics embodied by Margaret Thatcher.
The narrative told of the fundamental changes to the Nation’s wellbeing caused by the removal and restructuring of the industries and communities, from Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to Ravenscraig, from Linwood to Methil. Not a narrative, incidentally, that stopped at Berwick or Carlisle, far from it. Our struggle was a collective one shared with Consett, Corby and Ebbw Vale.
So, as a student when I joined my compatriots outside New College to protest against Thatcherism when she came to deliver her infamous “Sermon on the Mound” in 1988 or when I joined others in the George Square to demonstrate our support for a Scottish Parliament after the 1992 General Election, we were reflecting John Smith’s affirmation of Home Rule for Scotland as “the settled will of the Scottish people”.
And the heroes of this story, for me, and many other Scots, were the generation of Scottish Labour politicians who gave voice not only to our concerns but also to our hopes: Dewar, Smith, Brown and Cook.
They embodied the possibility of a better Scottish nation – by their commitment to constitutional change certainly, but even more by their shared commitment to social and economic change and solidarity with the poor.
They never saw a contradiction in working for a better Scotland and a better Britain. Both sides of the same coin.
And they were a generation true to their word. In 1997 Labour did deliver Scotland’s Parliament. It is instructive to remember Alex Salmond’s words at the time: Labour couldn’t be trusted to deliver a pizza, never mind a Scottish Parliament. To continue Mr Salmond’s spectacularly inaccurate culinary analog, Labour actually delivered a wide and welcome menu of changes.
We forget what that meant too readily. There was much to do in 1997 but Labour kept faith with the promise we made and the Scotland Bill was put to the forefront of the incoming new government’s legislative programme.
But Labour in Government delivered much more that frames the new constitutional framework for Britain but also changed the nature of our society – reflecting the changes made and needed as we shook off Thatcherism; the Human Rights Act; a part reformed House of Lords (that’s unfinished business); civil partnerships; new maternity and paternity rights; new rights to join a Trade Union.
And a national minimum wage, record levels of investment in schools and hospitals, record levels of employment, a decade of economic growth; the Minimum Income Guarantee and the Working Families Tax Credit. All now often taken for granted – but resisted tooth and nail at the time.
But despite these achievements, Scottish Labour’s understanding of itself and Scotland was increasingly challenged by a changing nation. We rewrote the statute book but we did not, alas, rewrite our story book. We took the fight to the struggles of the day, but we failed to identify those of tomorrow and to articulate the path for the next generation.
And the familiar, unchanged story we told began to lose its resonance in a changing Scotland.
The familiar villain of Thatcherism, in time, moved into history.
And Scottish Labour was, at times, too slow to identify with the underlying but profound changes in the Scottish economy. Too late did we recognise that our policies in Government, while not fully eradicating poverty, had created a more diverse and modern economy – reliant on banks, yes, but strong in bioscience, leading Europe in energy, from oil and gas to renewables, and with modern manufacturing and computer games software thriving.
The SNP saw that economic strength and sought to annex the sense of confidence it generated to their definition of Scotland and its destiny. In contrast Scottish Labour’s apparent comfort in old orthodoxies contributed in these years to my Party’s disorientation and ultimately our vulnerability when we came under attack from a more deft and populist opponent than the Conservatives. We paid a price because the trust that Scotland had previously placed in us to cradle and shape Scotland’s hopes, fears and ambitions was found wanting.
Simultaneously, a resurgent Scottish pride and confidence meant the repository of emotion for many Scots moved from class based institutions to national institutions. And while the love and respect for the BBC, the NHS, the armed forces have stayed strong, other distinctively Scottish institutions grew in the Scottish people’s affections.
Finally, unpopular aspects of both old and New Labour combined to further reduce our support. Old Labour was still associated with a sense that “Labour runs everything” from Westminster to the local council, but was not seen as running them in ways that were moving with the times.
New Labour, on the other hand, despite all its achievements, came to be associated with the conflict in Iraq, the revulsion at the MPs’ expenses scandal, and the wearinesss of ideas borne of successive periods of government in Westminster and Holyrood. The combined impacts of these perceptions caused many voters to leave the Labour fold.
And in 2011, the electoral roof finally came in. The party which, on the day the Scottish Parliament was first elected, could claim without contradiction to be the only true National Party of Scotland, within twelve years found itself supported by only one in eight Scottish voters.
In 2011, I believe Scots were saying that they wanted Scotland to be a better nation. They felt great pride in Scotland and wanted new possibilities for its people.
And in 2011, they self-evidently did not believe Scottish Labour was offering that better way forward.
Why do I share this, at times, painful account of my party’s recent triumphs and defeats?
Because what Scottish Labour didn’t do over the past decade is fundamental to what the SNP were able to do in 2011.
It was our weakness prior to 2011 at least as much as the Nationalists strength that help explain their 2011 victory.
Indeed I believe that when this part of Scotland’s history is written a central truth of the SNP’s decisive victory in May 2011 will be exposed. They won a handsome, indeed historic, victory – despite, and not because of their commitment to establishing a separate sovereign state.
And they knew that truth even then. One colleague of mine who stood against a now senior SNP Minister, recalls taking part in 6 hustings with his SNP opponent – who refused to ever utter the word independence; even when asked a direct question on the issue.
This truth – that the SNP won despite and not because of their commitment to establishing a separate sovereign state – helps explain the central paradox of the referendum campaign now getting underway.
Undoubtedly, there is a mood for change in Scotland, aspiration and ambition are after all part of our national personality. But the majority does not regard independence as the route to achieve the changes we want to see. The changes we want for our families and our nation are different from the change the nationalists demand.
Casting our minds back to the crowds gathered in Catalunya last summer, it is inescapable that Scots are still not enamored still less thrilled by whatever version of Independence Mr Salmond is trying to sell this week.
There is no sense of a Caledonian Spring in the air.
The inconvenient but inescapable truth for the nationalists is that their disagreement is not with their political opponents combined in Better Together– it is with the repeatedly stated wish of the Scottish people.
This referendum is not, in fact, a party political fight.
It is a conflict between the sovereign will of the Scottish people and the settled will of the SNP.
How else do we explain the fact that despite the SNP’s greatest ever election victory, their control of the entire apparatus of the Scottish Government and despite having run Scotland for 6 years, the support for independence remains around a third…roughly the same level of support it has achieved, with ebbs and flows, over the last 40 years?
And this comes after spending thousands of taxpayers pounds on a “National conversation” that never got beyond a monologue preached at the already converted?
The understanding – that separation commands minority and not majority support in modern Scotland – underlies and explains much about the current chaos engulfing the Nationalists over the key issues of Sterling and Europe.
Because, in the face of the granite like resistance of the majority of the Scottish people to separation, the party that sees itself as the party of bravehearts has, in fact, become the feint-hearts.
In the face of the sovereign will of the Scottish people they didn’t find their courage…they lost their nerve.
Their Party leadership decided that reassurance was their only route to victory in this unexpected but unavoidable referendum. This is why we have seen them endeavouring to assert that separation could be achieved without disrupting economic and the symbolic ties between Scotland and the other nations of the UK. Independence once urged on as the catalyst necessary to change everything is now asserted to be a reassuring step that really changes nothing.
Rather than try and shift the opinion polls the Nationalists made a strategic decision to try and follow them. Suddenly and conveniently the older tunes have been dropped and they have discovered their inner Britishness, expressing their support for British institutions from the Monarchy to Dr Who. Ms Sturgeon on her latest foray South confided she had an English Grannie and sometimes even felt a bit British.
Much more fatefully they decided to produce a White Paper which pretends that establishing a separate sovereign state was somehow a seamless and quick exercise in collaborative cooperation.
Intellectually, it was less of a white paper and more of a white flag.
They decided their best hope was to say ‘Everything will change’ to their core supporters and activists, while suggesting simultaneously that ‘Nothing will change’ to the unconvinced majority.
It perhaps would be funny if it were it not so serious. Laughable if it were not so insulting. And also, in truth, a cynical con trick.
Their offer sells the Scottish people short on every level. You would have thought that a party whose sole aim is independence would have been capable of proposing, well, independence.
But Alex Salmond’s proposal does not do that. It fails at the most basic level. It has no coherent proposal to provide us with a currency with which to do business. It does not get more basic than that.
What’s the truth behind the deception?
Scottishness alongside Britishness.
The logic of cooperation.
The reality of interdependence.
That to me is the case for remaining within the UK – not the case for walking away from the UK.
Indeed I’m moved today to ask the SNP: “Isn’t it about time you stopped having the courage of our convictions. And started having the courage of your own?”.
As Adam Tomkins, the John Millar Professor of Public Law at this University puts it:
“There is a case to be made for independence…but it is a case that is honest and upfront with people about the risks involved. It is a case that, in answer to any number of questions about “what would happen …”, says “we cannot be sure, but come with us anyway because, whatever happens, we will finally be free”.
This is the case for independence that is made by independence stalwarts such as Jim Sillars and Margo Macdonald. It may surprise you that I have a lot of time for both of them and how they view politics and conduct their politics. It‘s a case rooted in faith — an unbending belief that whatever the manifold risks of independence they are worth taking because the goal is so prized.
But this is emphatically not the case for independence which the present Nationalist leadership have sought to make in the course of the referendum campaign. Their case, in stark contrast to a freedom crusade, is that a vote for separation poses no risk at all.
They say we’ll still have the same Queen, the same army, the same passport, the same EU membership.
And they go onto assert that we’ll still share with the rest of the UK a deep social union and a common welfare system.
They assert that there will be no border controls on the Solway or Berwick, because they tell us we’ll still be in the same common travel area. They assert we’ll still have the BBC.
The whole of the SNP’s independence White Paper is premised on this approach to independence: the dominant refrain of Scotland’s Future is “seamless transition”.
As Professor Tomkins continues:
“This would be a brilliant and, for the Unionists, an extremely dangerous strategy but for one flaw. The flaw is that independence can be achieved “seamlessly” only if an awful lot of people sacrifice their own interests to the advantage of the Scots”.
That simple but crucial flaw is what explains the crisis engulfing the reassurance strategy devised by the Nationalists to try and win this referendum. It depends upon other countries and institutions putting Scotland’s interests before their own.
The “automatic” EU Membership for a separate Scotland is not in Scotland’s hands. Scottish voters are not stupid. Even if Mr Salmond doesn’t get it they do. If the decision is not yours alone it just cannot be claimed to be “automatic”.
The Currency Union, is not in the SNP’s gift either. In fact – It would require the government of the rest of the UK to convince the House of Commons to cede a degree of national sovereignty to the country that had just rejected it.
Only yesterday, the Chairman of Edinburgh based Standard Life said his company would “take whatever action we consider necessary – including transferring parts of our operations from Scotland – in order to ensure continuity and to protect the interests of our stakeholders”. The fact that an iconic company, based in Scotland for 189 years, is now actively considering such options underlines the very real risks inherent in the Nationalists incoherent assertions.
It is increasingly clear that Mr Salmond is powerless to conscript the rest of Britain just because it would suit him. We know there has been “bluster and bluff” on this topic but the trouble for the SNP is we know the bluster and bluff emanates from the man in Bute House.
In the last month a strategy based on a string of assertions has run fast – very fast – into an unforgiving brick wall of facts.
And as a result their strategy of re-assurance has been reduced to rubble and their hope of selling a seamless ‘velvet revolution’ style separation lies in ruins.
Their response has expressed a mix of confusion and aggression:
Bluff, bluster and bullying may be an alliteration. But it is not a policy.
Having so often told others not to lecture Scotland, Nationalist politicians now find themselves taking to the airwaves to lecture others on what is in their national interest – demanding that those affected by the SNP’s referendum but firth of Scotland do not speak until spoken to and then only in glowing terms.
Of course the Nationalists have past form.
The “legal advice” on which it was asserted repeatedly that Scotland would “automatically” succeed as a member of the EU, never existed apart from in Mr Salmond’s imagination. Thousands of taxpayers’ pounds spent in maintaining a falsehood.
Nor was there any evidence, beyond his own vain hope, that a currency union, never defined or discussed still less agreed, would prove attractive to the rest of the citizens of a country Scotland would have just left.
Their entire strategy has been to assert repeatedly that Scotland unilaterally will be able to cherry-pick the bits of the old British state it wants to keep and then disregard the rest.
The mere fact they want it, they assert, will apparently be enough.
And it would be easy to dismiss their assertions as simply hope masquerading as fact.
But there is a darker side to their discourse.
Because even when a Canadian Banker or a Portuguese Politician challenge these assertions from positions of knowledge, the nationalists rapidly retreat from the harsh light of scrutiny to the dubious refuge of victimhood.
This not only avoids the painful reconciliation of assertion with truth. It reverts to the frame of victimhood that is not and should not be a solid foundation for nationbuilding.
They claim that Scotland, as part of the UK, never gets the government we vote for. This particular claim ignores the fact that the Tories haven’t won a majority in Westminster for more than 20 years.
Indeed, by the time of the referendum, a 16 year old voting for the first time will have had a UK Labour government for three-quarters of their life.
This coalition government will have less than 8 months of its mandate left to run on referendum day.
The polls continue indicate the prospect of change of UK government is real. Only yesterday Tim Montgomerie, founder and former Editor of Conservative Home and now the Comment Editor of The Times wrote “All the polling says the same thing. The Tories are struggling in the North, in Urban Britain, among ethnic minorities and among lower income communities….”.
As Scots we understand there is a fundamental difference between anger with a transient Tory government and supporting the permanent break-up of the UK.
Their claim of an unreformed, unreformable United Kingdom is also nonsense because history teaches that the UK has and can adapt and change to meet the hopes and aspirations of our citizens.
It is that capacity for change that in past decades delivered a system of universal pensions, reformed local government and brought membership of the European Union.
And has seen the creation of a Welsh Assembly, a North Ireland Assembly and a Scottish Parliament.
So in the face of this evidence why do they instead seek refuge in the emotions of grievance and the misplaced identity of victimhood?
They do so not simply to try and change the conversation away from the reality of prospective divorce now seeing the light of day – although that is part of it. They do this because if you look beyond the constant denigration of the motives of others and the attempt to create a sense of victimhood you see something deeper about their politics.
For the Nationalist, this constant indictment of everything from the UK to Britishness, from Treasury Civil Servants to European politicians, serves a central purpose in their constructed narrative of progress, possibility and uplift.
Nationalism in Scotland attempts to provide a simple and simplistic morality tale of Scots being held back by whoever is the chosen ‘other’ of the day.
It is a tale that ignores causality and fault; it misinterprets our shared history, and at times our shared responsibility. It indulges a cultural conceit we on this side of the border are more concerned about social justice, than our friends, neighbours and family members in the rest of the UK who instead are portrayed as all ‘austerity loving Tories’,
At a deeper psychological level, the Nationalists’ two messages – one relentlessly positive, the other relentlessly negative – actually rely upon each other.
When the ‘Yes’ campaign speaks a language of solidarity in separation, it expresses an implicit, if not explicit, criticism of the ‘other’ that holds us back.
For Scottish nationalists, an assertion of fundamental differences and an implicit distrust of those beyond Scotland is a given. Loyalty extends to the Scottish nation and not beyond it.
Indeed beyond Scotland’s border notions of loyalty and solidarity cease to exist.
Scottish Labour’s response
So where does this state of affairs – a Nationalist strategy of reassurance collapsing under the weight of its own falsehood – leave us with just 200 days to go?
Three years on from 2011, now under the leadership of Johann Lamont, Scottish Labour is back winning by-elections and indeed Councils.
But I believe that the collapse of the Nationalist’s reassurance strategy means that a heavy burden of responsibility consequently falls upon our party to reaffirm our claim in the weeks and months ahead to be the party offering what most Scots want: The real prospect of desirable rather than damaging change.
Just this week, the Church of Scotland’s “Imagining Scotland’s Future” published its report.
It was the culmination of thirty-two events held all across Scotland, in Churches and community halls last year.
They were not “are you yes or no” events. They were intended to open up discussion on the values folk want to see in Scotland in the future by focussing on three questions: First, what values are most important to you for the Future of Scotland? Second, how can we make Scotland a better place to be? And third, how do we put our aspirations into action?
The Kirk may have decided to be impartial on the vote but that’s given it the freedom to be very active in creating a new ‘safe space’ for much deeper conversations to happen.
And the results speak for themselves:
Most striking is that in these each of these events the idea that being £500 better off or worse off would affect how people vote in the referendum was simply not present. The consultation clearly found that participants wanted to see value at the heart of public discourse and were not making their decisions on the basis of financial gain or loss.”
There was great dissatisfaction with the democratic partnership between the people and politicians was strong right across the board. There was no sense that Holyrood was any less in need of reform than Westminster; many calls for far greater local decision making capacity and representing more than just an enhancement of existing local government structures
Every event expressed the view that public services especially need to be value led, shaped by local decisions and seen as positive contributions to everyone wellbeing, not simply of benefit to those who use them. Public services are more than a safety net, they are how we build community and society.
There were strong views that too rarely are Scotland’s citizens hearing the language of values in political debate, especially, but not only in the referendum. Participants want to know that their political leaders understand not just the cost of everything but the value of living.
These findings confirm what as Scottish Labour we understand – that the communities that make up Scotland do indeed want change. And whilst Better Together has the important task of telling the story of the United Kingdom and challenging the myths that pass for facts from others, it is the task of each of Scotland’s parties to tell their respective stories of Scotland within the United Kingdom for tomorrow.
And that means in the 200 days ahead sharing our story, as Scottish Labour, about the nation Scotland could be after a rejection of separation in September. I want to be very clear on this. It is not a case of the status quo or separating forever.
As Scottish Labour, to be that voice of hope in the Scottish conversation means talking honestly about what kind of nation we are, and what kind of nation we want to become.
It means being open both on the identity that shapes us and the ideals that drive us.
It means living the difference between patriotism and nationalism, where being Scottish means valuing that which makes us distinctive without feeling challenged by difference.
In my own experience the difference working families in Renfrewshire care about most is not the difference between Scotland and England but between pay and prices and the deep personal cost that brings to individuals across our communities.
The fundamental point is this: for Scottish Labour, it is the pressures which affect people in their everyday lives that define the purpose of our politics and the causes of our time.
Financial pressures – as the money coming into households doesn’t keep up with the rising cost of essentials, never mind the luxuries – with the result that personal debt piles up.
Caring pressures – as parents try to juggle looking after their children and their elderly relatives, while protecting the space and time for childhood and family life.
Personal pressures – as people from all walks of life face the daily experience of loneliness and isolation, or struggle with depression, chronic conditions or addiction.
And social pressures – as neighbourhoods are damaged by disorder, incivility and the pace of local change, weakening the bonds of place and belonging and the possibilities for building a common life.
Some of these pressures are the result of the economic turmoil of recent years; others have deeper roots. Some are material; others moral. Some point to clear prescriptions; others defy simplification.
But they all come down to this: are we up to the challenge of building and sustaining a good society in austere times?
How do we help each other to be the neighbours we would want to be rather than conclude that we should just walk away and leave our neighbours to struggle on their own?
And if this is, as I believe, the defining challenge for our nation, how best should we as Scottish Labour respond?
The time for Scottish Labour to draw up its next election manifesto is some time off, but let me set out five instincts that I believe should be central to Scottish Labour’s sense of hope.
First, caring for our neighbour by investing in people through prioritising full employment and higher wages.
This is essential for raising living standards and funding the public services we all rely upon.
It starts with sustaining a growing economy, but it will also require deeper, structural reform to our economic model, so that productivity and wages can rise and the gains from this higher productivity be more evenly shared. Growth itself is just a measure unless its benefits are secured for the many.
Second, in a related expression of neighbourliness, focusing public services on supporting employment and relationships.
This means prioritising resources on caring services that enable people to work, those neglected twins: childcare and social care, so that more people are able to work and care, more people are able to stay in work for longer, and more people are able to contribute towards the support of the services we need. And that means promoting reforms that bring people together and put them, not bureaucracy, in control.
Third, reflecting our respect for all who pay their taxes and the services that their taxes fund, upholding a commitment to fiscal responsibility.
Difficult choices about which services and areas of spending to prioritise are inevitable.
And so it will also be necessary to consider how best to utilise the widening tax powers available to Holyrood in ways consistent with our vision of Scotland, the needs of our economy and the demands of our society.
Fourth, answering the demand for a more ethical society through the reform of markets which rip people off.
Getting a better deal for consumers from, for example, energy, pensions, and housing markets is central to easing both cost of living pressures and burdens on the state.
Fifth, making the ideal of the people’s sovereignty real by the deliberate redistribution, devolution and sharing of power and responsibility within Scotland.
For Scotland, that means not replacing the past centralisation of power in Westminster with the present and increasing centralisation of power in Holyrood. We did not deliver home rule to see power reside in Edinburgh as easily as it did in London.
This is the approach by which we can mobilise the energies and resources that exist in the systems of everyday life, bringing people together, and recognising that each of us are usually best placed to solve our problems – with the helping hand of others.
Renewing our commitment to stay together in 2014 will afford Scotland an opportunity to look anew both at the challenges we face and the tools we have at our disposal to address them.
The Scottish Parliament already has extensive powers over our education system, healthcare, policing and transport. And as a result of the Calman Commission proposals the Scottish Parliament will also gain new powers over Scottish rates of income tax.
In October 2011 when I first suggested that Scottish Labour needed to be ‘open minded’ about how the architecture of devolution could be improved, some saw it as simply a response to a Nationalist tide that six months after their historic victory was still running strong.
For me, it was never a tactical point, but a considered judgment that a strong Scottish parliament has for decades been part of Scottish Labour’s DNA and that as the authors of devolution we should also be its defenders and developers.
Now, with the Nationalists’ strategy collapsing under the weight of their own falsehoods it is time for Scottish Labour to offer the people of Scotland the best of both worlds: more of the decisions that matter to Scots being taken here in Scotland, backed up by the strength, stability and security of being part of the UK.
That “best of both worlds” approach would start by recognising that the case for Scotland remaining within the UK extends beyond economic advantage and a shared sense of belonging, to social solidarity.
At the heart of that solidarity is the pooling and sharing of resources – as we act together to ensure UK wide pensions, common UK social insurance, common UK children and family benefits, a common minimum wage, and a system of equalising resources, so that everyone irrespective of where they live within the United Kingdom have the same basic democratic, social and economic rights.
But while sustaining this pooling and sharing of resources and risks across the whole of the UK to ensure our common wellbeing and decent standards of life across our entire society, I believe Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission can and should embrace further devolution of powers within the UK and within Scotland.
Next month Johann Lamont’s Devolution Commission will bring forward its final report. It should be a defining point in the debate, where a reckless and wrong White Paper is confronted by the right and radical way forward. Further redistributing of power and responsibility. Strengthening Scotland, and renewing the UK partnership.
Further devolution of tax powers could strengthen the accountability of the Scottish Parliament which today raises only 12% of its own expenditure.
So whether it is considering taxation, employment and skills policy or indeed the responsibilities of the Crown Estates, or the running of Elections. I would encourage my colleagues in the Devolution Commission to range widely and act boldly.
This radical approach is both right in principle and popular in practice. It is what most Scots want. After the referendum I believe that we must act swiftly to bring forward those proposals for change, working with other parties where needed these changes.
It would appeal to many Scots who want to see change, but without the risks, uncertainty and cost of walking away from the United Kingdom.
The case for the best of both worlds – more decisions on the issues that matter being taken here in Scotland with the stability, strength and security of the UK behind us – is the case Scottish Labour must make and lead in the coming 200 days.
It is the better way to a better nation.
The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once wrote that: “In the short term battles are won by weapons, but in the long term they are won by ideas.”
That maxim certainly holds true in politics.
Over the coming 200 days in Scotland we will see a political battle between the idea of working together and the idea of walking away.
It is not only the future of Scotland that will be decided on September 18. It is the future of the whole of the UK.
I do not yet know the outcome of that contest. But I understand the decision will be irreversible, and carries profound consequences.
Independence would mean leaving the UK.
It would mean leaving the UK’s institutions, including the Pound.
Are we in or are we out?
Should we stay or shall we go?
That is the decision we will face.
And so, today, to progressives all across the United Kingdom I say: ‘Let us together make the case for solidarity’.
Continue to speak up not just for solidarity, but for cooperation and working together.
Understand this: without Scotland, the United Kingdom would no longer be the United Kingdom so many cherish across these islands.
Understand this: the solidarity built within these islands is a moral example to the world.
And the break-up of the United Kingdom would send a miserable message to people less fortunate than those of us on these islands.
There is no perfect country anywhere in the world. And I make no claim that the UK is perfect. But as a multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-racial country it works in a way that is the envy of most other nations.
The UK, precisely because of its component nations and our mosaic of traditions, is the best size, the best mix and the best partnership for these islands.
Temperamentally, the UK gives us the best characteristics of being both tolerant and challenging as a nation to our own interests and to those of others.
It is our partnership with one another that empowers and teaches us to show solidarity and cooperation with other nations in the world.
That partnership, forged over centuries, is a vital and valuable attribute of these islands. An intangible asset that makes the UK a country that many other citizens in the world regard as something to aspire to rather than something to recklessly discard.
Not a partnership set in stone or viewed through nostalgic eyes: An evolving compact, fit for purpose and ready to collaborate and co-operate in new and innovative ways.
So today, to my fellow Scots I say: Let us reaffirm our belief in solidarity, cooperation and working together.
I ask: are we ready to tell the world – that the peoples and the nations of the United Kingdom can no longer live together in political union, can no longer cope with the diversity of difference?
As a proud and patriotic Scot I urge my fellow Scots to vote with our hearts and our head.
On September 18th let us reject a damaging divorce, and instead vote for the best of both worlds: More of the decisions that matter to Scots being taken here in Scotland, backed up by the strength, stability and security of the UK.
That is, in my view, the better way to a better nation.