Claim of Right for Scotland

Commons Hansard
6 Sep 2016

Mr. Dave Anderson (Blaydon): It is a privilege to be here before you today, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) on securing this debate.

I am proud that the Labour party is the party of devolution. The Labour party pushed for devolution while in opposition and supported the constitutional convention in every way. We made sure it worked and saw it embraced by the Scottish people. We have consistently supported more powers for Scotland, even when we have not been in a position to implement those additional powers in the devolved Administration. We were supportive of the in/out referendum in 2014 and we were the ones who drove the vow that the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) spoke about. The people of Scotland overwhelmingly supported that vow less than two years ago. That led to the Smith commission, which has delivered to Scotland the most complete and powerful devolved Administration on Earth.

On a personal note, I have been an ardent supporter of devolution for many years. I was the chair of the policy committee of Unison in the late 1990s. During that time, we committed funds, practical and political support and physical resources to London, Wales and Northern Ireland and in particular to Scotland, where we were an integral part of the civil society voice that drove forward the constitutional convention. Things have changed in recent days. We know that the British public's decision to vote for Brexit, whether we agree or disagree with that outcome, has left the United Kingdom fractured. That is the nature of politics. We make decisions - in this case the electorate made the decision for us - knowing that there will be others who disagree with the outcome. While we are in such a fragile economic state, we have a duty to the people to ensure that we do not exacerbate the situation.

Everyone in the Chamber knows the end goal for the Scottish National party. The clue is in the name; it is written on the tin. The question we must ask ourselves, though, is whether now is the time to be pushing that agenda. I take on board what the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) said. I respect the Scottish people. Let me set the record straight: unlike some, I would never say that the Scottish people are unable to choose a Government who represent their best interests. Nor would I say that were Scotland to remove itself from the UK, the country would become destitute and cease to be. What I would say, however, is that there have been two referendums in two years. That is a matter of fact. There was one for the people of Scotland and one for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. In both, the people of Scotland voted to remain as members of those Unions. Is it therefore right to remove them from those Unions against their democratic will?

In the EU referendum in June, 62% of the Scottish electorate exercised their right to vote. In the independence referendum in September 2014, 85% of the same electorate exercised that very same right. The Labour party is the party that is willing to explore the possibility of fulfilling the wishes of the Scottish people as expressed in both referendums to see whether we can give them what they have asked for.

The SNP claims there has been a real shift in public opinion since the independence question and the EU referendum. That is not borne out by what has come over very clearly in public opinion polls. The latest YouGov survey had 54% of those polled expressing their desire to remain within the UK, despite the EU referendum result. Only 37% said they would back another referendum. Are we really saying that that shift warrants a second referendum? Time and again, I have sat and listened to SNP Members expressing their discontent at the people of Scotland repeatedly being ignored by a Government not of their choice. This may come as a surprise to the SNP, but that problem is not experienced solely in Scotland. My constituents in Blaydon elected me as their MP. Only 16% of my constituents voted for the Tories, meaning that a party voted for by only 16% of my constituents is now governing them. As much as it may not be particularly palatable, that is democracy, no matter how much we might not like it.

What is contrary to the principles of democracy, however, is attempting to defy the wishes of the electorate by attempting to use their vote in one referendum to supersede the other. The purpose of devolution was to allow the devolved Administrations to govern themselves and deal with issues that are particularly prevalent in their areas. We are increasingly facing scenarios where those powers go unused, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) so eloquently said. I am referring to the refusal by the SNP Government at Holyrood to use their newly devolved additional income tax-raising powers to alleviate the cuts imposed on them by the Tory Government. The plans proposed by Scottish Labour to raise income tax by 1% would have generated an estimated £600 million a year for the Scottish Government. That would be enough to alleviate the cuts affecting the poor and most vulnerable in our society and to support vital public services.

To use one example, NHS Scotland is facing enormous cuts. In Glasgow alone, it is estimated that there will be cuts of £258 million by 2021. The refusal to raise income tax strikes me as odd. After all, we are dealing with a self-proclaimed left-wing party - a party that surely would wish to do its utmost to alleviate the cuts to the poorest in society and to protect their public services. If we had those powers in Blaydon, I would ensure that we used them to protect the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the disabled so that they would not suffer any more than they already have at the hands of the Tory Government.

Peter Grant rose -

Mr Anderson; I will give way, but please be quick.

Peter Grant: If increasing income tax is such a fantastic idea, how does the hon. Gentleman explain the fact that on the back of that promise, his party had the worst electoral disaster in Scotland for more than 100 years and is now even less popular in Scotland than the Conservatives?

Mr Anderson: The whole debate is about the will of the people. People chose not to go for that, and that is their choice. Scotland, despite the claims made by the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath about Ruth Davidson, still remains historically a socialist heartland. The majority of the electorate are inherently socialist. I therefore argue that to have a Government who would introduce and implement socialist policies, their only option now is to choose Labour.

I turn to the UK Government and express my utter dismay at a piece of correspondence I received recently. The correspondence came in the form of a letter from Citizens Advice Scotland that drew my attention to a report it produced on the poverty premium in Scotland. The report highlights the issues faced by those on the breadline - those who have to choose between electricity and food, as well as those who are forced to go to payday loan companies to make ends meet. The report looks at the impact that has on their mental and physical health and their personal relationships. Those are the daily problems that people face, and they are the issues we should be dealing with. It is what the Labour party would do, and it is what the SNP should be doing. I say to Members from Scotland: please stop talking about constitutional matters and get down to the business of actually helping the people of Scotland. If they did that, they would get more respect.

I am genuinely grateful to hon. Members for the history lesson that I have received today, but I am worried about the problems facing the people in the present and the huge uncertainties we face in the future. That is what we should be spending time talking about in this place and in Holyrood.

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