Leader: Party leaders must find common ground

The pledge by rivals Murphy and Sturgeon (pictured) to work together can help unite a divided nation. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The pledge by rivals Murphy and Sturgeon (pictured) to work together can help unite a divided nation. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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WHEN Jim Murphy was elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party on 13 December, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was among the first to offer congratulations. “I know,” she said, “that the challenges of leadership are never easy, so I offer my very best wishes.”

Beyond this routine message of goodwill was a promise from the First Minister: “While we will undoubtedly cross swords often in the months ahead, my door is always open to those who wish to find common ground and work together in the best interests of people in Scotland – something I hope we will have the opportunity to do.” Mr Murphy was equally enthusiastic about the potential for co-operation, revealing that after delivering his victory speech he called Ms Sturgeon “to say I’m looking forward to working together with her for the good of Scotland”.

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A cynic might say that such warm words between rival politicians are utterly hollow. Ms Sturgeon would hardly have greeted Mr Murphy’s election with insults and wishes of ill fortune – in public, at any rate. But we should do each of these politicians the courtesy of taking them at their word.

The independence referendum was, necessarily, divisive; 2014 was a year during which Scotland was polarised to an extent not witnessed in living memory. And it seems the divisions created during the campaign remain, more than three months later.

So there are especially good reasons for our political leaders from across the constitutional canyon to make a genuine effort to come together in this new year, whenever they find common ground.

The big dividing issue of the past year is settled for the time being at any rate – even Ms Sturgeon says the issue of independence is one for Holyrood elections, not UK general elections.

We have a right to expect a renewed focus on practical, non-constitutional matters that have been neglected as our political life has been consumed by the question of whether to remain part of the UK or to strike out as an independent nation.

Scotland’s priorities for 2015 are the same as they were during the most fraught moments of the long and drawn-out referendum campaign. We need a stronger economy, we need more and higher quality jobs, we need to tackle poverty, we need a health service that meets the demands of an increasingly elderly population and we need an education system that helps give our children the best start in life.

Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Murphy have both promised to find common ground where they can. This newspaper will be watching closely to see that both live up to this pledge – there is no shortage of suitable subjects for co-operation.

After the year just passed, Scots need to hear from our political leaders about what we can all do, together, to make our country a fairer place.

Exposing abuse must be priority

When five men were jailed in 2010 for grooming young girls for sex in Rotherham, it was presented to the wider world as a grotesque but isolated case.

While the shock was very real at what had happened to many young and particularly vulnerable victims, there was at least the reassuring knowledge that this was a one-off; the fault of a dysfunctional local council and incompetent police force.

Almost five years later, it is abundantly clear that Rotherham was just the tip of the iceberg.

As local authorities and police forces around the country each re-examined their own patch, thousands of cases of terrifying abuse came to light, as well as troubling stories about police and social workers unwilling to act, often for reasons of misplaced cultural sensitivity when perpetrators were from ethnic minorities.

Cases of child sexual exploitation (CSE) are now coming to Scottish courts and a leading charity yesterday warned that young people are being groomed by predators in every town in Britain.

We can take some comfort from the renewed focus on CSE. That prosecutions are now being mounted shows that police and social work departments have woken up to the extent of the problem.

This is an especially difficult area of child protection, not least because many of the young girls involved do not identify as victims. But the challenges presented by investigating these crimes must be overcome. The protection of vulnerable children from abuse, and the bringing to justice of the abusers, must be a Police Scotland priority throughout the year ahead.

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