Being Scottish in the age of devolution

Lewis MacDonald

Image © Jeff Barnes

When I was growing up in Stornoway in the 1960s, I soon recognised that there were differences between the Scots and the English, just as I realised that there were different priorities for people in the Western Isles from those living in the central belt of Scotland. We talked about Vietnam and Greenwich Mean Time, the nuclear threat and the Nigerian civil war, and it became clear to me that everything was inter-connected. That made me an internationalist, somebody who wanted to reach out to others in the world. It also made me an opponent of self-interest and pushed me away from parochialism.

The Labour Party in Scotland should be proud of the fashion in which we created a devolved parliament, but I think we have underestimated how much the focus of Scottish political life has shifted away from Westminster to Holyrood in the period since 1999. But that shouldn’t mean that we lose focus on the Union. If anything, the present financial crisis and the spectre of such issues as spiralling youth unemployment and the Eurozone problems should remind Scots that we are stronger as part of Britain, and weaker in isolation. Of course, we have to be able to respond to the challenges of the new political structure and the perception of Westminster has changed, but we are uniquely placed to be able to say to the voters of Britain that we can tackle the problems in our society and do so by working with everybody else in the United Kingdom.

That contrasts markedly with David Cameron’s indifference to Scotland and his lack of understanding of the concerns which affect so many people in this country. The vast majority of the people who took industrial action on 30 November did so, not because they are reckless militants, but because they are deeply worried about their jobs, their pensions and the future of their children and their children’s children. There is nothing self-indulgent about standing up for these principles and Scottish Labour understands their anxieties and is committed to tackling these issues in the future.

 But equally, there is nothing to be gained from Alex Salmond’s determination to press ahead with independence and continue picking fights with London. And I think there is something terribly short-sighted about his vision for Scotland, which seems based on the idea that nothing matters except Scotland. Why else would he sign all his letters as if he was the president of Scotland, rather than the head of a democratic parliament? His attitude is “Scotland first, Scotland last”, as if nobody else matters, but I don’t believe that is a mature or sensible attitude to adopt in a modern, progressive country.

 Ultimately, I am a patriot, I am very proud to be Scottish, and I bow to nobody in my conviction that it is a fantastic place, a special place. But I have no doubt that those of us who live in Scotland will stand or fall on how we get on with the rest of the world as we look to the future. That makes me a socialist, an internationalist, somebody who cares about social justice and ending poverty both at home and abroad. Scotland at its best stands for exactly those things; and it is that kind of Scotland I want to be part of, a country that cares about the world and not just itself.

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