Lord McConnell has said any second referendum on independence should be parked for at least five years to allow the Scottish Government to focus on domestic priorities.
The former Scottish Labour leader, who served as First Minister from 2001 until the SNP’s historic Holyrood election victory in 2007, said “there was a big job to be done” on improving education, the health service and growing the economy north of the border.
Speaking to Stephen Jardine on BBC Radio Scotland this morning, Lord McConnell was asked for his view on when Nicola Sturgeon should call another referendum.
He said: “I have tried not to give either her or Alex advice too much in public. Occasionally we have spoken in private. But my view at the moment would be that it would be wise for her to park that for some time and put at least a minimum number of years on it.”
When asked by presenter Stephen Jardine whether that gap should be 10, 15 or two years, Lord McConnell answered: “I would say at least five, my own preference would be much longer than that – but at least five, depending on public demand and circumstances. The important thing right now is to get back to the government of Scotland. We have had this debate now for several years. It has dominated everything. It has dominated decision making – not just the public debate but actually slowed down government, made every decision dependent on how it might impact on a independence referendum.”
Lord McConnell added that the Scottish Government faced a “a big job to be done”. He said falling education standards had to be reversed and pointed out that there were “genuine worries” in the NHS.
When asked if the devolved parliament had “unleashed” the SNP, the former MSP responded: “You can’t avoid a debate on Scotland either being part of the UK or being independent. That debate was coming at some point. It had to happen.
“I don’t think it was about unleashing a particular force, I think the SNP have very cleverly used that opportunity to keep the debate going for the last 10 years, and the weakness of the other parties gave them the space and time to do that. But they got elected and people wanted them to do that.”
Reflecting on his time as First Minister, Lord McConnell said that devolution had delivered real change for Scots, citing the country’s growing population and the smoking ban as two legacies he was most proud of.
He added; “I think it has delivered things that wouldn’t have been delivered if it had not been there, to me that is the ultimate test. It has had its ups and downs, but politics and governments all over the world have their ups and downs. The United States of America has just gone from Barack Obama to Donald Trump.
“The Scottish Parliament is no different in that respect.
“I think by and large Scotland is a better place for having it there.”