Independence isn’t the answer

Speech given at Undecided Women’s Debate in Leith on 20 August 2014

Ladies, it is a pleasure to be here tonight and take part in a discussion with you about the future of our country.

Firstly, I want to say something that I think often gets lost in the heat and noise of the referendum debate: we all want the best for Scotland and for the people that live here – we just have different views on how best to achieve that. I don’t doubt the passion and commitment that Nicola and Lari have for this country and I would hope they don’t doubt the passion and commitment that Kezia and I have either.

But we are here because we do have very different ideas about independence for Scotland and on 18 September we will make different choices in the ballot box.

This is what the referendum is about: choice.

Why am I voting No? Simply, because I see no reason to vote Yes. I truly believe that Scotland is better and stronger as part of the UK and the problems we do have are not answered by independence. The problems we have are answered by better governments with better policies and the political will to act on their priorities. Independence is not needed for that nor can guarantee it.

The SNP is the driving force of the Yes campaign and has had independence as its defining goal for 80 years. They have wanted independence in times of war and times of peace; in times of prosperity and times of austerity; before and after oil was discovered in the North Sea; whether there was a labour, conservative or coalition government. They have wanted independence no matter what. To every problem, independence has been the answer.

But now the SNP and the broader Yes campaign have to explain what independence would mean for Scotland and they don’t have credible answers on some of the most important questions:

1. How would we join the EU, how long would it take and on what basis?
2. What would happen to cross border pensions, savings and mortgages?
3. What would happen to the 360,000 jobs with companies based in the rest of the UK?
4. What would happen to the 65% of Scottish exports which currently go to the rUK without trade barriers and the 250,000 jobs that rely on them?
5. What happens when the oil runs out?
6. What currency will we have?

These are serious questions and they deserve serious answers. They effect every part of our lives and the future of the country.

On the question of currency, in just the last three days we have had a currency union, sterlingisation and sterlingisation as a transition to another as yet unnamed currency all mentioned.

When we ask for serious answers and clarification, all we get in response from the SNP and Yes campaign is accusations of ‘scaremongering’.

But I suspect the truth is that for most people in the Yes campaign, they would want independence no matter what the answers were to any of the questions I just listed. They want independence because they always have.

Voting Yes is a choice. Very few choices in life don’t have pros and cons. The Yes campaign would have you believe that every person in Scotland would get to keep the things they like about the UK, get rid of the things they don’t and there would be no teething problems or down sides to independence. Who really buys that? The referendum is just a choice over where decisions that effect this country are made. It does not guarantee anything else.

In June, I read a newspaper article which had interviews with a number of Yes voters from across the political spectrum. It included a farmer, a billionaire, a woman from the radical independence campaign, a young man from Easterhouse and an Edinburgh financier.

They all had their own bold vision for an independent Scotland, but it was very much their own. When the Edinburgh financier’s vision of a ‘right-leaning country’ was put the woman from the radical independence campaign, she said “that’s just not going to happen”. When the radical independence campaign’s vision was put to the financier, he rolled his eyes and described them as “the mad fringe left”. Even in an independent Scotland there will be arguments about the choices we make and not everyone will be happy. I’m sure that even in Norway there are people who are unhappy about the choices their politicians make.

I think that for many voting Yes, independence is a blank canvas to project all of their hopes and dreams upon. Either they do not consider the down sides or they don’t care because independence is worth any down side.

I don’t think the majority of people in this country think that way. From my months on the doorstep, people want to know about how the independence would affect them and their loved ones. They want to make an informed choice.

I don’t believe that Scotland needs to take a leap in the dark to be better. We can and do prosper as part of the UK.

With the further devolution coming next year and more promised by all of the unionist parties, we can have more control over the decisions that effect us with a strong, devolved parliament at Holyrood.

We can have influence on the world stage by virtue of the UK’s leading role in the EU, UN and Nato.

We can have unfettered access to a jobs and trade market ten times our own.

We can have strength and security for our public services by pooling and sharing resources with the rest of the UK.

Next month, some in this country will vote Yes because they believe in independence come what may, with all the pros and cons, no matter the consequences. Although I disagree, I can respect that.

However, don’t chose Yes on the basis that everything you like will stay, everything you don’t will go, that it will be all pros with no cons. Life isn’t like that and independence wouldn’t be like that either.

I believe that Scots and Scotland have a bright future in the United Kingdom; our journey as a nation is not over. We are constantly evolving together and finding new answers to our problems. For me independence is not an answer to our problems, this is why next month, I’ll be voting No.

Salmond And Yes Campaign Can’t Give The People What They Want: Answers

Last week, I was sceptical about the impact the debate would have. I wasn’t convinced that we would see or hear much that we hadn’t before or that many outside of the ‘bubble’ would be interested; Alistair Darling would present the calm and measured case for the Union; we would get the usual rhetorical flourishes from Alex Salmond; the substance would come second place to style.

How wrong I was.

On Tuesday night, a staggering 1.7 million people tuned in, Alistair Darling gave a full blooded, passionate and aggressive performance and substance did matter.

But most importantly, Alex Salmond, First Minister and figurehead of the cause for an independent Scotland, faltered on the issue which is now at the heart of the referendum campaign: what is the plan B on the currency.

For the last six months, I have been speaking to voters about the referendum several times a week. The people I speak to for the longest are those that are undecided. I ask them what the issues are that matter to them and what will make up their mind one way or another. Time and again, the response I get is ‘I don’t feel I have enough answers about independence yet.”

The currency is key on the doorstep. You don’t have to have a Nobel Laureate in economics to appreciate that currency has an impact on jobs, trade, pensions, mortgages, interest rates and the economy – basically every other issue in the referendum debate. Uncertainty over what you would get paid in and what you would spend in the shops has been the biggest issue for the undecided voters I have spoken to.

Six months ago, these voters were willing to give the Yes campaign time to give them the facts they needed before they ruled out a vote for independence. They thought they would have them before they went to the polls.

Fast forward to August and I am still being told, “I don’t feel I have enough answers about independence yet.”

That we have got to less than six weeks until the referendum vote and the Yes campaign have failed to address the key issue for these voters is a problem of their own making.

A surprising number of the undecided voters I have spoken to since last Tuesday watched the debate. They are obviously keen to hear the arguments in their search for answers. They have not been impressed with Alex Salmond’s failure to give them the answers – and the reassurance – that they want and need. That the first poll post debate showed such a massive increase of lead for the No campaign shows how important the debate – and its content – has been for voters.

I am confident that the Yes campaign will lose the referendum for the same reason Alex Salmond lost the debate: lack of answers on the issues that matter most to voters.

This is not to say that the Better Together campaign and everyone working for a No vote can or should rely on a weakening opponent. There is no room for complacency, after all.

I don’t want people to just vote against independence; I want them to vote for the Union. Our positive vision for a strong Scotland in the UK, with enhanced devolution for Holyrood, needs to remain integral to our campaign as we go into the final stretch.

I have my own radical vision for Scotland: a strong and proud devolved Scottish Parliament which uses the powers it has to improves the day to day lives of those that live in this country and stands up for its interests; better Governments with better policies that make lives better; a parliament that uses cooperation and consensus to makes laws rather than one that relies on a government majority; politicians who focus on the issues that really matter – jobs, health, education, housing, transport – rather than the constitution.

This shouldn’t be radical, but in the summer of 2014, it seems that way. This is the Scotland that the majority of voters yearn for. If there is a No vote next month, lets all get to work on giving them what they want.

Does banning e-cigarettes send the wrong smoke signals?

A few months ago I was on a bus with a young man using an e-cigarette. It was pretty unpleasant. It filled the bus with an awful smelling cloud. 

Their use on buses has been prohibited since June 2013, but it made me think about their use in other public places: I may find it unpleasant, but if it isn’t harmful to me, should they be banned?

E-cigarettes are a booming industry and smokers are turning to them in their millions as a ‘healthy’ alternative. But medical opinion is divided on whether they really should be seen that way.

On Tuesday the Metro ran a story about a new study that suggested that e-cigarettes ‘may cause cancer like normal cigarettes’. On Thursday, the Times had another new study that concluded that doctors should recommend e-cigarettes as a ‘harmless way to help smokers quit’.

It is early days for research into the impact of ‘vaping’ but how should public policy respond?

The Scottish Labour Party is rightly proud of introducing a smoking ban in public places in 2006. It had a transformative effect on public spaces and our attitudes to smoking. Decreases in child asthma, heart attack admissions to A&E and premature births have all been attributed to the smoking ban.

But should the public ban be extended to e-cigarettes? No. Or at least, not yet.

Cigarettes were banned in public places the grounds of their impact on the health of non-smokers. So far, there is no body of evidence that the same can be said for passive vaping. Such evidence would be needed before such a ban could be justified. Otherwise, the grounds upon which the 2006 smoking ban was based become hugely undermined. The state cannot ban e-cigarettes just because we find them objectionable, like I did on that bus.

There also appears be a health case to support holding back from a ban.

About 25% of all deaths in Scotland are linked to smoking tobacco. But smoking related deaths amongst the poorest in Scotland are more than double that among the most well-off. Moving smokers from tobacco to vapour, with a view to quitting entirely, would have a momentous impact upon the overall well-being of Scots as well as tackling this huge health inequality.

If e-cigarettes can be used as an effective replacement therapy that can prevent some of these deaths, we shouldn’t be putting up the barriers to their use, we should be keeping them down.

None of this is to say that e-cigarettes shouldn’t be regulated in terms of safety, standards and advertising and there are plans afoot for this to be the case. And if they are classified as medical products then this opens up the possibility of them being available free on NHS prescription in Scotland.

The smoking ban was one of the greatest achievements of the first decade of the Scottish Parliament. With the evidence and the public on their side, Holyrood enacted legislation that has been, and will continue to be, of tremendous benefit to health of our nation.

But unless the same solid evidence is there for e-cigarettes, we should resist a ban on their use in public places.