Johann Lamont: SNP is more interested in stirring up resentment than having debate

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DEVOLUTION is a process, not an event. That principle was true when Donald Dewar first expressed it and it is true now. I believe that.

I want the current devolved settlement to be renewed, refreshed and deepened, and by that I mean not just moving powers from Westminster to Holyrood but also devolving more power to local government. I believe we need new powers to find new ways to build the economic strength which will enable us to build a stronger, more just Scotland.

How we reshape our government should be a matter of inclusive debate and rigorous study. The measure should not be a dogmatic belief in the transference of power, it should be what best serves the interests of the people of Scotland. But I do not believe that debate can be properly conducted while we are debating Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.

The concepts of devolution and separation are two very different approaches. The nationalists want people to believe that devolution is a half measure of separation. That it is a stop on a line whose terminus is independence.

I believe that to be profoundly wrong.

Sovereignty lies with the people, and we pool sovereignty with other nations to make us all stronger. That is what the UK is all about, and the EU is at its best.

Alex Salmond doesn’t believe in devolution, and I think any offer from him to have a vote on a concept he doesn’t believe in should be regarded with deep suspicion. The core divide in Scottish politics is between the Scottish Labour Party, who believe in devolution, and the SNP, whose credo is separation. Why then would we welcome the SNP having a stab at defining what we believe in?

It is one of the tactics he has adopted in the needlessly convoluted process he has set in train on the way to the referendum. It is a tactic which I believe he thinks will work for him on two levels. First, if Scotland rejects leaving the UK – which I believe we will – if the second option is successful he will claim a victory. Second, he will spin any debate amongst those of us who believe in devolution as splits.

It is wrong to conflate devolution with independence, and the kind of debate that would result would not be worthy of Scotland.

What I want is the referendum to be held quickly. I believe that, once the arguments are properly aired, separation will be firmly rejected and devolution will be re-affirmed as the settled will of the Scottish people.

Then we can have a clear and calm debate on which powers work more effectively for the people of Scotland when they are shared with our neighbours and what new powers we need to exercise at Holyrood and in our communities to make Scotland all it can be.

But don’t let the tortuous process which Alex Salmond started last week fool you. The SNP does not want to talk about the principles and practicalities of separation in this debate – that is one of the reasons why it wants a campaign which confuses it with devolution.

It wants to avoid the debate on principle and instead create enough resentment in the process that Scotland votes out of grievance.

It is one of the reasons Salmond will talk to the Tories, but not to me.

If he is true to his word, we will have a referendum in the year of the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, when he will give us the chance to vote for a better yesterday.

Once that has been defeated, those of us who believe in devolution can start building a better tomorrow.

• Johann Lamont MSP is leader of the Scottish Labour Party