As Parliament returned following the Christmas and New Year Period one issue has dominated headlines – the SNPs proposed referendum on the separation of Scotland from the rest of the UK.
The referendum on separation will, when it comes, present the most significant political choice that the people of Scotland will face in their lives.
In light of this, Labour last week brought forward a debate on Scotland’s future to begin to tease out the detail to the SNPs vision for Scotland.
There are a great many fundamental questions that separation from the UK will pose for Scotland from the currency we use to our membership of international organisations like the EU and NATO.
Until we have definitive answers to these questions, people will not be in a position to make an informed choice. Voters deserve a rigorous debate on these issues to arm them with the facts of the argument.
The SNP’s victory at the last Scottish elections has given them the mandate to call a referendum. However, they do not, as yet have the legal powers to hold a binding vote. I think it’s vital that the process of the referendum is fair and clear to everyone.
The UK Government has expressed a willingness to grant power to the Scottish Government. My understanding is that a preference has been set by UK Ministers for a single question referendum, held as soon as possible and overseen by the Electoral Commission which currently runs the Scottish and UK Parliament elections. I will be looking closely to see the full detail of what is brought forward.
However, this is a wider debate than Alex Salmond vs. David Cameron and negotiations on the referendum must be informed by input from opposition parties and wider civic Scotland. I believe it is now in the best interests of all parties to come together to agree the terms of the referendum to ensure that the result cannot be subjected to legal challenge.
Throughout the debate, I have been angered by the claims that those who hold the Scottish Government to account are somehow putting Scotland down. Similarly, we can do without the recent tendency for some in the SNP ranks to label opponents of their vision as anti-Scottish.
This sort of rhetoric is deeply offensive to the majority of Scots who oppose separation and has no place in this debate. I am deeply proud to be Scottish and believe that we benefit socially and economically as part of the United Kingdom.
The people of Scotland deserve a mature debate. For my part I will be working to highlight Scotland’s achievements and to assert the belief that the countries of the United Kingdom can achieve more by standing together than apart.
Over the last 12 years I’ve been proud to serve in the Scottish Parliament and believe that we have strengthened devolution over that time. New railways powers, achieved after detailed discussion and negotiation. New marine powers enabling sustainable and integrated management of our seas. And the new powers in the Scotland Bill agreed in the last session of the Scottish Parliament. After all the debate last week about the timing of the referendum however – we still don’t actually have a date!