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Douglas Alexander’s referendum olive branch to SNP

Bringing the country together will be the theme of the St Giles service. Picture: Alamy

Bringing the country together will be the theme of the St Giles service. Picture: Alamy

  • by TOM PETERKIN
 

LABOUR is to invite the SNP to work with it to create a new era of devolution, if Scotland votes against independence in the September referendum.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander will tomorrow call on SNP supporters to help create a new cross-party consensus after a No vote, to heal the political and social division caused by the referendum.

He will ask the nationalists to “join us to work together in the task of making devolution work, not proving devolution wrong”.

Alexander’s plea for unity after the poll comes at the end of a week that has seen yet more anxiety and unease about the unpleasant and threatening language associated with the constitutional debate.

The intemperate nature of the arguments has so concerned the Church of Scotland that the incoming Moderator, the Rev John Chalmers, has decided to invite the politicians leading the Yes and No campaigns to attend a national “service of reconciliation” three days after the vote in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Rev Chalmers says: “It will be important for each side of this campaign to be magnanimous whatever the outcome, and the Church of Scotland, as a national church, is well placed to bring people back together in a spirit of reconciliation.”

In his speech tomorrow, Alexander will warn that the aftermath of the referendum will leave one side devastated – whatever the outcome.

The losers, he will say, will be left “disappointed with deeply personal feelings and hopes about themselves and their nation being dashed by the result”.

The obligation and the challenge then facing politicians and the people is to ensure that Scotland “does not divide more deeply” after September.

Alexander has suggested that a cross-party constitutional convention could be established to examine strengthening Holyrood.

“If Scotland votes to stay with its neighbours, I would urge those who voted Yes to then choose to join us to work together in the task of making devolution work, not proving devolution wrong,” Alexander will say.

“Indeed, I believe that the choice to stay together will create an opportunity for politicians to lay the ground for a way of doing politics differently. Elsewhere, I have argued that the establishment of a national convention could be one way to chart a new course for an old nation. Others will have other ideas, but the tasks of bringing together a divided nation will be real, urgent and important.”

Speaking at an event in Edinburgh to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of the former Labour leader John Smith, Alexander will set out his hope that the result of the referendum would be respected by the SNP if it goes against Alex Salmond’s party.

By holding out an olive branch to his opponents, Alexander hopes that they will agree to work with Labour, rather than immediately starting again to agitate for the break up of the United Kingdom.

“When – as I firmly believe – in September Scotland chooses to stay together with our neighbours across the UK, that will see the rejection of the defining mission of the present Scottish Government and, indeed, of the Scottish National Party,” Alexander will say.

“Indeed, they will face an existential issue if their raison d’etre is rejected by the sovereign will of the Scottish people. But in every crisis there is an opportunity and a choice not defined by difference or grievance, but by possibility, potential and hope.”

On a visit to Scotland on Friday, the UK Labour leader, Ed Miliband, told Scotland on Sunday that it would be up to the people of Scotland whether or not they decided to coalesce around a constitutional convention.

Senior SNP strategists have hinted that they would be prepared to work with other parties in an attempt to strengthen Holyrood, if they fall short of winning independence.

There is, however, a strong element within the SNP for whom independence is the be all and end all. It would be reluctant to accept defeat, even in the short term.

Bringing the country together will be the theme of the St Giles’ service. Invitations will be extended to politicians from both sides of the arguments and senior people across Scotland’s faiths.

Chalmers, who takes up his position as Moderator at the General Assembly later this month, said: “Once the referendum vote has taken place, we shall have neither utopia nor unity. In the coming months, there is a danger the referendum will set people against each other, in their own community, their own street – even their own family.

“It will be important for each side of this campaign to be magnanimous whatever the outcome and the Church of Scotland, as a national church, is well placed to bring people back together in a spirit of reconciliation.

“Politicians represent the people, and it is my hope that by joining together in worship after the referendum they will send the clearest possible message that everyone has a role to play in building Scotland’s future. Even if you are described as a loser, you want to be part of rebuilding the future. You still have a huge amount to input into the shape of the constitution, the shape of the kind of Scotland you want to see. You wouldn’t want those people to retreat, but would want their voice to continue to be heard.”

Last week saw pleas for more civilised political arguments from both sides of the debate. Chris and Colin Weir, the Ayrshire couple who won £161 million on the Euro- Millions lottery and have donated £3m to the Yes movement, called for an end of “smears” and “personal attacks”.

The newly established No Borders organisation, campaigning against independence, has also expressed concern about the “virulent” and “nasty” online attacks “whipped up” by Nationalist websites.

 

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