One Overriding Aim

One Overriding Aim

The aims of the Party shall be:

(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furthering international cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.

(b) the furtherance of all Scottish interests.

Constitution of the Scottish National Party

Sometimes it’s nice to know that I agree with Unionists on some things. For all the whispers about the SNP “backtracking” on independence, that they “never really wanted a majority/referendum/independence at all,” that it’s all about money and power and influence, it’s good to know that our most determined ideological opponents are fully aware that independence is always foremost to the SNP. Scotland in Union, Unite Against Separation, and all those other organisations who view independence as a profound existential challenge are all too aware that presenting the SNP as “soft” on independence is more dangerous to their cause than to ours – for after 80 years campaigning, no one can seriously claim the SNP are not truly dedicated to Scottish independence. Especially not now, where we are so very close to tipping the balance.

Today, Stewart Hosie was announced as chief organiser and strategist for the SNP’s upcoming summer independence operation:

What’s going to happen is that Stewart Hosie is being given the role as part of his remit. He will take on a role akin to that of Blair Jenkins in the Yes campaign, as chief organiser and strategist.

The party is going to look at the 2014 campaign, what worked, what didn’t, what worked in rural areas, what worked in towns and cities. Clearly we are also going to look at the big issues, the currency, the economy, European Union membership.

There is an incredible appetite for people to be involved. The independence referendum is what brought many of us to the party and we want to make sure that everything we learnt in 2014 is put to good use. We want to be at the heart of the second independence referendum campaign.

I foresee myself becoming very involved in both the summer independence drive and the EU referendum campaign following the Scottish Election: both are, I feel, critical steps in the path to independence.

Whatever you could say about Stuart, independence is first and foremost in his mind. This is because Stuart, like me, and everyone else in the SNP, believes that independence is the best thing for the people of Scotland. That is why it comes first in the manifesto – because it is the ultimate furtherance of all Scottish interests.

Stuart of all people believes this – after all, he was a member of the Referendum Bill (Scotland) Committee:

The role of the committee is to scrutinise the legislation that enabled a referendum on Scottish independence to take place on 18 September 2014.  In particular, the committee’s remit covers:

  • the draft “section 30 Order” that was laid on 22 October 2012 – The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2013
  • the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill, introduced on 11 March 2013
  • the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, introduced on 21 March 2013.

Scrutiny of the section 30 Order was completed in 2012, and scrutiny of the two Bills in 2013, to ensure all the relevant legislation was in place well ahead of the referendum (held on 18 September 2014).

On 9 October 2014, the Committee agreed to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the above legislation, focusing on the experience of 16 and 17-year olds entitled to vote, for the first time, in the referendum. A programme of engagement activities is planned, and further details will be announced in due course. The Committee also agreed to invite evidence, in writing in the first instance, from electoral officials (on measures taken to deal with the high turnout) and from local authorities (on their approach to discussion of the referendum in schools). Oral evidence, and a report to the Parliament, will follow later.

Dates for future meetings of the Committee will be announced in due course.

Stuart McMillan was, thus, one of the MSPs personally involved in delivering the 2014 referendum in the first place. His commitment to independence was clear from his début parliamentary speech on 30th May 2007:

I speak today as the first member of my family to have entered the murky world of politics. Thankfully, they are still talking to me. The support that I have received from my family and friends has been steadfast, and for that I will be eternally grateful. My only sadness is that my father is no longer with us to see me making my maiden speech.

The debate on whether Scotland should be independent will continue even after independence has been achieved. I welcome an honest and open debate about Scottish independence. However, today’s debate is about Scotland being wealthier and fairer.

I want to highlight issues that could make Scotland a wealthier and fairer nation for everyone. Scotland’s devolved status clearly limits the improvements that we can make. However, people should not doubt that the new Scottish Government will continue to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. Today’s debate should be welcomed by everyone in this Parliament.

I stay in Inverclyde, and I am sure that the 1,700 small businesses in the area would welcome the introduction of the small business bonus scheme, under which 1,300 small businesses in the area would pay no rates at all and the other 400 would pay less than they currently do. That would be a massive boost to those companies and the local economy. If those savings were reinvested by those companies, as some of them undoubtedly would be, how many more jobs and opportunities could be created?

Being wealthier and fairer covers many aspects of life, not just small business. A fairer method of paying for local services, with the scrapping of the unfair council tax and its replacement by a local income tax, will also improve the lives of many people. I am sure that that will be debated long after today’s debate is over.

Education is a third and extremely important aspect of being wealthier and fairer. Wealth does not necessarily mean only financial benefits. A wealthy nation is a well-educated nation. The new Scottish Government must ensure that all children have access to a world-class education system. An education system that offers boundless opportunities for every child entering the school gates will repay Scotland a thousandfold. I am delighted to say that, in Scotland, I am not alone in that belief.

Given that that is the case, I must highlight an issue that is of great importance to the community in which I live. The previous Liberal Democrat-run local authority proposed plans to invest in the fabric of Inverclyde schools. I am sure that I am correct when I say that most people were happy that those plans were produced, as Inverclyde schools had been bereft of funding for many years because of the decisions of the previous administration. However, the plans have proved to be explosive, not only because of the public-private partnership/private finance initiative funding element, but because of the reduction in the number of schools from eight to five. The proposals also mean that the new schools will have fewer facilities than the schools they replace and that the largest school will be built on the smallest site. Further, costs have risen from £80 million to £200 million. As if that is not bad enough, I must also point out that the inability of the new schools to cope with their school rolls will result in secondary school pupils being educated in huts.

I am sure that members agree that the points that I have just highlighted—and they are only the tip of the iceberg—are disappointing and require further scrutiny before the plans are accepted as being the way forward. It is, therefore, astounding that the previous Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive agreed to the proposals in April 2006. Public opinion is still massively against the proposals, and it is incumbent on the new council to engineer new proposals. It is also incumbent on MSPs representing Inverclyde to highlight the failings of the proposals to the new Scottish Government ministers.

Scotland needs a wealthier and fairer way forward for everyone. The damning statistics from Inverclyde prove why that is vital for future generations: 39 per cent of the Inverclyde population is economically inactive; 17 per cent of the working-age population claims income support; 22 per cent of people have a long-term illness, health problem or disability; and 21 per cent of children live in a household in which no one is in employment. Further, in 2001, 38 per cent of adults had no qualifications.

Scotland has a long way to go to improve the lives of everyone who lives here. Areas such as Inverclyde can only benefit from a new approach and new policies. I am sure that the new Scottish Government will act accordingly and will step up to the mark to make Scotland wealthier and fairer.

In the event the Scottish people seek a mandate for a future independence referendum, I’d very much like Stuart McMillan to be part of it. His job is not yet done.

StuPoint

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