Brexit and independence are the politics of division. Only by working together will we succeed – Ian Murray MP

Almost exactly one year ago, people across Edinburgh were braving the December weather to vote in one of the most important elections in a generation.

The Covid recovery, not the independence debate, is the main priority for Scotland (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
The Covid recovery, not the independence debate, is the main priority for Scotland (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

I was proud to be re-elected as the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, but many of my colleagues were not as fortunate. It was a disastrous night for the Labour Party as Boris Johnson and the Tories swept to power with an 80-seat majority.

Nobody could have guessed how much our lives would change in just 12 short months, with the worst pandemic in a century, and the deepest recession in over 300 years.

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But remarkably, despite the Prime Minister’s promise of an “oven-ready deal”, Brexit is still not done.

Instead, we are potentially just a fortnight away from crashing out of the EU with no deal. That would be a disastrous outcome for Edinburgh and the entire country.

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A broken promise on Brexit isn’t Johnson’s only calamity. His repeated failure to respond effectively to the Covid-19 pandemic has been there for all to see.

We also saw, in recent weeks, what Johnson really thinks of one of Labour’s great achievements – devolution.

He described it, as you may have read, as a “disaster”. In truth, the disaster is his last 12 months in office.

Of course, it is not just the Prime Minister who doesn’t believe in devolution, but the First Minister too.

Nicola Sturgeon wants to tear up the devolution settlement by ripping Scotland out of the UK.

In fact, she is so determined to do so that on St Andrew’s Day, while over 1,000 Scots were in hospital with Covid-19, she was addressing SNP members about her plans for separation.

The First Minister believes we should have another divisive referendum as soon as next year and is using precious parliamentary time to pass the law.

Regardless of whether you want Scotland to stay in the UK or not, it’s simply folly to have any referendum at a time when we all have to concentrate on building back together from the devastation of this virus.

That is not to say that I believe the status quo should be maintained.

Next week, Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, will deliver the JP Mackintosh lecture. In it, Keir will outline Labour’s proposals for bringing about reform of the entire UK’s structures to deliver power closer to communities.

It must be about the whole UK, with England needing most advancement but, for Scotland, it’s about getting powers out of Holyrood and into communities across the country as much as it is about getting powers out of Westminster.

Labour must, and will, present an answer on the constitution. However, the truth is it is not our foremost priority, and it’s not the foremost priority of the Scottish people either.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over, but even when the vaccination programme has rolled out we will have a huge task in rebuilding jobs and livelihoods from the devastation of 2020.

That must be our focus for the next five years, not a return to the old politics whether that be Brexit or separation.

I believe that if we take on our problems together, instead of taking on each other, there is nothing that we cannot achieve.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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