Stephen Noon: Labour have key role in independence

Stephen Noon. Picture: Robert Perry
Stephen Noon. Picture: Robert Perry
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BELIEF in Scottish Labour is a big part of winning independence. That statement may seem strange to some of those caught up in the tribal battle that is Scottish parliamentary politics, but it is also the truth.

Recent events in Falkirk should not divert us from the place a vibrant Scottish Labour Party, released from some of the diversions and difficulties created by its London link, will play in our nation’s future. In an independent Scotland, Scottish Labour and Westminster Labour will be two very different parties. To give just one example, I don’t believe a Scottish Labour Party, in the first independence elections in 2016, would choose to follow Ed Balls’ “match the Tories” austerity agenda.

One of the tactics of the No campaign is to present the choice in 2014 as, somehow, being about Alex Salmond and the SNP. But the reality is that Scottish Labour, and the values that sustain and drive that party (values shared by many of us in Scotland), will have an important role to play if we are to make an independent Scotland a success. What is encouraging for all of us on the Yes side of the debate, including a growing Labour for Independence group, is that the official Labour Party in Scotland, while understandably arguing their position powerfully today, will work equally hard for Scotland if and when there is a Yes vote. And that goes for the other No parties too.

The Labour benches at Holyrood have seen an inflow of energetic new talent following the 2011 result, as has been recognised in Johann Lamont’s first front bench reshuffle. I’ve no doubt the Labour Holyrood team would be deepened and broadened further by the arrival of some of the very best of the Westminster party after the 2016 election. I think of men and women like Douglas Alexander, a man whose experience in governmental roles at a UK level would make him a powerful voice for Scotland internationally (whether as a minister or in opposition), or Margaret Curran, whose passion for social justice, sometimes frustrated I’m sure by the political balance at a UK level, would make her an excellent champion for greater equality in the more conducive atmosphere of the Scottish Parliament.

Up and coming Labour talent, including current MP Willie Bain, Glasgow councillor Stephen Curran or Victoria Jamieson, who has been chair of the party, could sit well alongside the likes of Jenny Marra, Kezia Dugdale and Drew Smith, as they move their way up the career ladder.

Following a Yes vote, former First Minister, Henry McLeish, and former Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, would bring unique and valuable insights, and there are a host of other senior Labour thinkers, such as Baroness Kennedy and Susan Deacon who will bring their wisdom to bear. The experience and understanding of Jim Murphy in defence and Europe, would give the Scottish team access to invaluable knowledge as we sought to establish ourselves as central and active partners in the EU and in the agreements with the UK on things like the appropriate sharing of military assets.

Labour politicians, alongside SNP politicians, alongside people of all political persuasions and none, will be part of building and delivering an independent Scotland if there is a Yes vote. It is an exciting prospect and one that few have the privilege to participate in – the birth (or more appropriately, re-birth) of an independent state: we are a fortunate generation to have this opportunity.

After the referendum, Labour’s role is in some ways the most crucial, given that it is in all our interests for Scotland to move forward with energy and unity to 2016. The way they respond to a Yes vote will help determine the sort of independent country Scotland will be.

As with any politician in all parties, and indeed as with any human, there are strengths and weaknesses, and I can imagine some people grinding their teeth as they read the above. But the key point is that the independence pool of talent isn’t just the SNP or the Green Party. And just because I am SNP, doesn’t mean I can’t recognise and applaud the contribution from Scottish Labour if and when the country chooses a different, independent path.

The range of expertise and experience that will be available to an independent Scotland is bigger than many of us first assume and it includes not only these frontline opposition politicians, but also people who currently work delivering defence or welfare or diplomatic services as servants of the UK and who will be there to do the same for Scotland when the time comes. Similarly, there are people at the highest levels of business, the trades union movement, third sector and academia who will do all they can to get our new independent nation off to the best possible start.

Scots have run the Empire, we’ve been integral to the machinery of government of the United Kingdom, and, I’ve heard it said, are disproportionately represented within EU institutions. It’s not only in terms of wealth and our national finances that Scotland has firm foundations for success as an independent nation: in politics and government, there is no doubt, Scotland’s got what it takes too. «

Stephen Noon is the chief strategist for the Yes Campaign