Jack McConnell answers your questions
In response to questions from scotsman.com readers, Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, discusses coalitions, paying for his policies and being a socialist.
If there is an increase in spending to pay for an increase in nurses and new police officers and a reduction in class sizes, with no increase in Tax or business rates, does this mean massive increases in the council tax? If not where is the money coming from?
The money comes from the United Kingdom economy. Scotland benefits through our membership of the UK. Our budget reflects the social, economic and geographical circumstances of Scotland. And obviously the current strength of the UK economy has the Scottish budget increasing to record levels. Our job is to ensure that that money is not wasted and that we don't squander the opportunities that it provides. We get maximum for money by ensuring that any investment is matched by reforms to improve our education and health services.
Stewart Kirkpatrick: To what extent are you dependent on Gordon Brown having got his sums right?
As things currently stand even with the additonal costs of the war in Iraq and the other challenges in the global economy the curret budgets of the Scottish parliament, the devolved budgets, have been guaranteed for the next three years. That level of investment, therefore, is there for us to plan towards but also, I think, to secure improvements from. I think the biggest challenge that we face in the next parliament is making sure that that investment, which is guaranteed, is not squandered.
Have the Liberal Democrats been an asset to the coalition?
I think that not only have the Liberal Democrats been an asset but the coalition has been an asset for Scotland because that partnership has worked well and has given the pro-devolution parties a chance to work together.
Whether or not there is a Labour majority next Thursday I would want to work with other parties on policies on which we can agree. That may involve at different stages coalition partnerships with Liberal Democrats but it should also involve working with others in the parliament with whom we can have a common agenda.
Stewart Kirkpatrick: Would you be prepared to enter into a coalition with a party other than the Liberal Democrats?
Under current circumstances I can't envisage that as a likely possibility because the other parties in the parliament are all really quite opposed to devolution and the Scottish Parliament. The Tories have never been in favour. The Nationalists and Tommy Sheridan's party both are totally opposed to the devolved parliament. They want to rip it up and start again with the upheaval of the creation of a separate Scotland.
I can't imagine that any of them would be constructive enough or positive enough to want to work with us in a coalition. And that would count out that possibility.
Were you to be the First Minister in the next Parliament, how keen would you be to have the most able Labour MSPs in your cabinet?
I will always have those that I believe are best at the jobs that need to be filled in those jobs.
Stewart Kirkpatrick: I think what the questioner is getting at is how do you square that statement with having people like Wendy Alexander, Angus MacKay and Susan Deacon on the backbenches?
Both Wendy Alexander and Susan Deacon themselves decided that they did not wish to be members of the cabinet at the time I was discussing jobs with them. That's a choice they made.
I think the people who are filling the jobs that they could have done are doing those jobs extremely well. Margaret Curran at social justice has made a huge difference implementing the biggest public sector modernisation project in Europe: the Glasgow housing stock transfer.
Iain Gray has been an outstanding enterprise minister who has built an excellent partnership with the business community in Scotland. He is driving up the agenda improvements in skills and transport infrastructure in a way that I think will produce real improvements in Scotland over the next few years.
Is there any prospect of the Labour Party returning to its more traditional values where their actions are truly representative of the views held by those who elected them in the first place or will they continue to adopt policies more suitable for a Conservative government?
I totally disagree that the policies that I am pursuing are in any way Conservative policies. The values that brought me into the Labour Party and made me want to stand for parliament are values of equality of opportunity, values of opposition to discrimination. But also, much more importantly, values about ambition and aspiration for youngsters whatever background they come from. These values are as true today as they always were.
The challenge for the Scottish Labour Party is to make sure that those values are applied with policies that are relevant to the modern world.
If socialists don't change as society changes and make sure that they are relevant and up to date in the solutions that they offer then socialism as a political creed would die.
Stewart Kirkpatrick: We don't tend to hear the "S" word much from Labour politicians, would you describe yourself as a socialist?
Yes. I use the word regularly but I use it in a modern setting. The socialism that I represent is a socialism about bringing everybody up and ensuring that young people have ambition and aspiration, not levelling people down.
It's about liberating people not about the state taking control of their lives. I believe that this is a philosophy that allows me to devise the policies and the real priorities for Scotland that will make a huge difference in the Scottish parliament and beyond over the next four years.
What is your proudest achievement as First Minister?
I think my proudest achievement as First Minister has been - in those short 16 months - to bring focus on real priorities and to bring a direction to the executive and the work of the Scottish parliament that I think at times had been missed before.
Devolution was always about much more than just creating a parliament and reinvigorating the Scottish national identity. It was about what we do with that parliament and how we make a difference.
Over the last 16 months I have applied a fresh approach and energy to our agenda for enterprise and growing the Scottish economy; an absolute commitment to driving through reforms to deliver excellence in education and health; a fresh approach and renewed effort to deal with problems like youth crime and drugs. Also something that had been neglected in Scottish politics for far too long: a commitment to increase our investment in transport and deliver transport projects that are efficient and faster than ever before.
I think that focusing on those priorities was the right thing to do and I'm very proud that I've been able to do that so far. What I want to have is a mandate on Thursday to pursue those priorities with more vigour, more energy, more determination and more results over the next four years.
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