SCOTTISH Labour’s new leader Johann Lamont declared yesterday that she is refusing to get into a “bidding war” with the SNP on backing more powers for Holyrood.
In her first speech as leader, Lamont backed the present United Kingdom, saying that while more powers for the Scottish Parliament should be examined, it was right for the country to have its future “shared” by control from London and Edinburgh.
In a high-stakes move, she said she would not be “seduced” into a position where calling for more powers at Holyrood “somehow makes you harder, or more Scottish, or even more progressive”.
She also confirmed that both former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and ex-Chancellor Alistair Darling would soon be joining the pro-Union campaign, and that she would work with Conservatives and Liberal Democrat figures in a joint pro-Union effort.
If Scotland was independent now, Lamont said, it would be asking to enter into a Union with the rest of the British Isles to protect itself from the economic storms in Europe.
Meanwhile, she warned against introducing different rates of business tax across the UK, saying London would use its status as an international hub to price other parts of the country out of the market, to the detriment of Scotland.
Lamont, who was speaking at the party’s Spring Conference in Dundee yesterday, added that she was now setting up a new commission, with her in the chair, to make clear Labour’s position ahead of the independence referendum, expected to be held in 2014.
In the first party conference since its drubbing in last year’s Holyrood election, Lamont said: “It is time for us to stop apologising for the mistakes of the past and to start fighting for Scotland. We lost an election. We did not lose our sense of right and wrong. We did not lose our values.”
On the party’s position on Scotland, she insisted that while she wore the Saltire “with pride”, she would not “bind it around my eyes so I cannot see the injustice in our country”.
A substantial part of the speech was devoted to her argument that more powers at Holyrood may not be in the best interests of the country as a whole. She said: “The question is not what powers should Scotland claw back, but which powers should we share? How do we share powers in a way that best benefits Scotland? What do we share with our neighbours to our mutual benefit?”
Lamont said that “pooling tax-raising powers” across the UK could well be in Scotland’s interests. She added: “We have as part of our Union one of the richest international hubs in the world – London. My question is this: is it in the interests of Scotland to enter into tax competition with London or, as someone who has a progressive vision for Scotland, is it better to have a unified tax policy which redistributes wealth to where it is needed most?”
She drew on the banking crisis of 2008 to argue the case for Scotland staying in the UK, saying it showed up the “Union’s strength”.
She added: “In a world of enormous economic uncertainty, one where we see power moving from West to East, I believe that if Scotland were independent today, a Scottish prime minister would be looking to negotiate with our neighbours a Union which shared risks and rewards as the UK does.”
She claimed the SNP wanted to make the country feel “oppressed”. Turning to Salmond, she added: “Putting Saltires around his fireplace is no proof that he is putting Scotland’s interests first, and there is one thing we in this country are good at: spotting a conman when we see one.”
On the pro-Union campaign, she added: “I will lead that campaign but I want it to be a collective leadership. I will draw on all the talents we have in all the institutions in which we serve.”