This general election will be the most important for a generation with the choice between Labour’s reforming socialism or Boris Johnson’s shambolic Tories, writes Richard Leonard.
It is as simple as this. Scotland has the power to decide if Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn is in Downing Street by the end of the year. My own assessment is that Johnson represents a dangerous strain of nationalism which poses the biggest threat to the very future of the UK. In stark contrast, the election of a radical and redistributive Labour government is the most positive argument for the UK, and would eclipse the SNP’s case for the establishment of a separate Scottish state. Little wonder that the SNP is more concerned with attacking Labour and talking up another independence referendum.
What is equally puzzling about the Nationalists’ current argument is that it is predicated on Brexit, when an incoming Labour government is pledged to giving the choice back to the people, re-energising the chances of the UK remaining in the EU.
This election offers an unprecedented opportunity to vote in a reforming socialist government, which will transform the lives of people in Scotland like few governments before. This election is about ending the rigged economic system, the decade of cuts and wage squeeze and securing the real change that the people of Scotland need.
There is a rising determination, not least emerging among our school pupil strikers which our representative democracy needs to better reflect, on the need for a new urgency of action and a renewed vitality in our thinking. People are tired of a status quo where the idle rich get richer and the working poor get poorer. This is not just the view from Scotland. It is the view from right across these shared islands.
Tories’ shambolic response to Brexit
An incoming Labour government will be therefore acting from day one to deal with the legacy of the Tory Brexit chaos with a public vote including remain on the ballot paper, reviving our public services, giving 700,000 working women and men in Scotland a pay rise to £10 an hour, and investing an additional £70 billion in Scotland’s public services and infrastructure. Just at the weekend, we announced how Labour’s plan to retrofit homes to the highest energy efficiency standards possible could create at least 18,500 direct and 16,600 indirect jobs in Scotland and give households a cash boost, while tackling the climate emergency. And we will reverse the decision to scrap free TV licences for over-75s.
This is just the start of the transformational change that will improve lives here in Scotland. Since 2007, Scottish politics has been dominated by our constitutional position. The 2014 independence referendum, with its decisive vote to remain in the UK, was said to be a once-in-a-generation test of the sovereign will of the Scottish people. However, the 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU and the shambolic response to Brexit by the Tory Party, not least in the hands of Johnson, has led to fresh agitation for another independence referendum.
The SNP’s own blueprint for a separate Scotland – the Sustainable Growth Commission published in 2018 – acknowledged that an independent Scotland would be shaped by foreign direct investment, by low taxation and by prolonged and intensified austerity as an independent Scotland adjusts to its new reality. This would mean public spending cuts, stealth tax rises, lower wages, greater job insecurity, fewer opportunities for all and poorer public services.
So neither the status quo nor the nationalist prescription are what Scotland and the rest of the UK needs. In fact, in Government, the SNP have been the status quo’s biggest champions, in spite of their rhetoric. They have presided over decline through inaction.
They talk of political sovereignty, but economic sovereignty lies increasingly in the hands of faraway board rooms – increasingly overseas.
Abolish House of Lords
Jeremy Corbyn and I have also been clear that a second independence referendum would not be the priority of a Labour government in its formative years. Labour is opposed to independence and we believe another referendum is neither desirable, nor necessary. The best case against independence will be the election and actions of radical redistributive Labour governments in the UK and in Scotland.
So Labour is committed to securing new powers for the Scottish Parliament, including borrowing powers and the power to enhance employment rights above the UK level – with a clear mandate for these powers to be used to empower every workplace and community.
And we will abolish the unelected House of Lords. Jeremy Corbyn has already stated that “We have a House of Lords that is dominated by a small number of people from London and the South East. I would want to see an elected second chamber that it is representative of all regions and nations of the United Kingdom”.
And the Scottish Parliament must use the powers it already has to lead the way in building the kind of public services and welfare state that we need across the UK, rather than acting as passive receivers of cuts from Westminster. We need an active industrial strategy so that we have a government with a comprehensive economic action plan devised by unions, employers and government and its agencies to move beyond the SNP’s case-by-case industrial rescue service.
Nicola Sturgeon’s focus in this General Election is to talk about independence to divert attention away from the SNP’s failing record in charge of Scotland’s public services and economy.
In Government, the First Minister has voted with the Tories to keep the failed ScotRail franchise in the hands of the Dutch state, letting passengers and workers down. The NHS is missing more targets every single month, letting patients and staff down. The SNP Government has failed to stand up to the Tories and failed to abolish the two-child cap and the rape clause, letting all of us down. With a record like this, little wonder that the SNP want to focus on breaking up the UK.
This is the most important election for a generation. It is not a proxy vote about some future referendum. It is about who forms a government and who runs the UK and in whose interests they govern and legislate for the next five years.
That is not some political game but a serious question that demands proper consideration and deserves an outcome that in my view must lead to the election of a majority Labour government.
Richard Leonard is an MSP for Central Scotland and leader of Scottish Labour