Saturday, 14 January 2012

Former Labour First Minister labels Union "unfit for purpose"

Former First Minister Henry McLeish today used The Herald to express his view that the Union is "unfit for purpose" and to distance himself from Labour's inflexible stance towards the independence referendum.

Echoing many of the same sentiments and concerns I did when asking if the Liberal Democrats should be associated with "a coalition of negativity", Mr McLeish dismissed the approach favoured by current Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont - one of forming an anti-independence alliance - and instead urged Scottish politicians to rethink the Union rather than concentrate on "saving" it.

He is of course right. The Union is not fit for purpose. And the current arrangements should not be championed by Scottish Labour - let alone a Liberal Democratic party that has disowned them for years.

McLeish, arguably the last Scottish First Minister to genuinely believe in devolution, warned of the risks to all parties of failing to recognise the importance of Scottish identity. He also forewarned of the dangers of being identified with "toxic" partners, of ignoring the need to change and of being perceived as campaigning negatively or using fear to "exploit ignorance". The former First Minister proposed advocating a new "autonomous Scotland, with full fiscal and devolved powers" which would be characterised by "federalism, nationality and identity, diversity and difference, reform and renewal." All in all, it seems like he's urging Scottish Labour to adopt a very similar position to the one I would like the Scottish Liberal Democrats to take up and expressing the kind of things that, until recently, you would normally expect from a Lib Dem leader.

I admire Mr McLeish's honesty and positivity, which sits in stark contrast to much of what has dominated the Scottish political conversation in recent days. I agree with much of what he says. Understandably, and not unlike my concerns for my own party, he fears that Scottish Labour will fact years of decline if it continues to view the argument on Scotland's constitutional future in black-and-white terms, but I also believe he's interested in more than the future of Labour and genuinely concerned with the need to create a more democratic Scotland. He can see that the road to further progress on devolution is not to be found in negative oppositionalism or counter-productive alliances. Whatever his motives, it's a welcome and quite significant intervention and transcends the small-minded politics of party tribalism that have been played out this week.

Naturally, it also reinforces my own arguments that the Liberal Democrats need to take a similarly positive view. I used twitter to ask why, if Henry McLeish can make such an observation, why can't Willie Rennie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. To which Willie responded that I should read his article in tomorrow's Sunday Herald.

I'm intrigued. I hope it this will represent the best indication yet that the Scottish Lib Dems are ready to adopt a positive and liberal stance, being unaligned to any of the "sides" in the campaign and opting to use the referendum to further its own vision for a more autonomous Scotland. We'll see if Willie will simply reiterate the predictable lines Nick Clegg has provided in recent days or whether he can provide something more original. Either way, I think it will be a more than interesting read...


Fourfolksache said...

Andrew I wouldn't hold your breath, based on what we've seen of Willie Rennie so far????
What you need is Charles Kennedy to stand up and support McLeish. The more heavyweights we get the better.
I presume from Kennedy's silence he is in your 'camp'?
Please God there are some more honest men out there.
I have to say I was really disappointed at how the House of Commons behaved against the SNP during and after Moore's speech (nothing new of course but sad nonethe less). That sort of behaviour is what enrages Nationalists, particularly when Scots MP's do it.The longer Liberals stay with this group I'm afraid you are damned for a generation. I think Scottish Liberals have one more chance and it's the one you refer to

Gedguy said...

There are several reasons why the Scottish MPs [mostly Labour] are so determined to halt the rise of self determination.
1. Some believe in the Union. I accept that, in a democracy, each is entitled to their point of view.
2. I suspect that there may be more who see their demise from the Westminster trough as a financial catastrophe.
3. I don't like saying this but I suspect it to be true. That they see their chance to rip off the taxpayers with their corrupt local and national schemes not only coming to an end but also the fear of the possibility of going to jail for massive fraud.

having said all that I do believe, as you know, that it is important that we have a healthy democratic opposition in Scotland. I only hope you are right in your assumptions. Only time will tell.