I worked harder during the independence referendum campaign than in any political battle I have been involved in. I knocked on hundreds of doors, made countless telephone calls, handed out thousands of leaflets and spoke at scores of campaign events.
I was – and always will be – passionate about improving the lives of ordinary Scots and that is why I could never support independence because it would harm the life chances of so many people.
In the early hours of September 19, 2014, I remember being happy at the result - but I was mostly relieved.
Relieved that we had chosen solidarity over separation.
Relieved that we would continue to pool and share resources across Britain to fund our schools and hospitals. And relieved that Scotland’s public services had been spared the billions of pounds worth of extra cuts that leaving the UK would bring.
More than anything, though, I was relieved that the campaign was finally over. For some people it was a great exercise in democracy, but for many of us it was a horrible and divisive experience. Families fell out, friendships were strained and communities were torn apart. It was the most divisive event in Scotland’s recent history and that will always be Alex Salmond’s legacy – a man of division who did so much damage to the country he led.
We cannot go back to that. Scotland is already divided enough – we don’t need, or want, any more division.
That is why Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for another divisive independence referendum should be shelved. The will of the people of Scotland is clear – more than 2million of us voted to remain in the UK. Here in Edinburgh 61 per cent of voters chose solidarity over nationalism. That was a clear mandate in a vote we were promised by the SNP would be a ‘once-in-a-generation’ event. That’s the mandate the SNP must respect.
During the last divisive referendum campaign the Nationalists stopped governing and campaigned for independence. Instead of working night and day to improve the NHS and give young people the best start in life, the only goal for the Nationalists was independence. We can’t afford for that to happen again.
Around 80,000 people in Edinburgh live in poverty. And half of those are in work. Tackling this scandal must be a priority. The way to lift people out of poverty isn’t to campaign for another divisive referendum. It’s to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in our public services. But instead of doing that, the SNP has cut £27million from Edinburgh’s budget this year alone. Cutting funding for schools and care of the elderly doesn’t tackle poverty, it only makes things worse.
Labour will never support independence. Being part of the UK has delivered for the people of Edinburgh and Scotland.
Our city thrives as a finance sector thanks to being part of the UK, and the world-class university research that takes place here in Edinburgh is made possible by being part of the UK.
The UK pension system provides for our older people in their retirement. We have the greatest armed forces in the world, who keep us safe and provide humanitarian relief to some of the poorest parts of the world.
Leaving the UK would mean an extra £15billion worth of spending cuts to our schools and hospitals. I will never support something that would be so catastrophic for ordinary working families in Scotland. The question for Nicola Sturgeon is why would she?
Kezia Dugdale is Scottish Labour leader and Lothian MSP