Scottish independence: Labour to defend devolution

Anas Sarwar has said Labour will unveil an alternative to plans for independence. Picture: Hemedia
Anas Sarwar has said Labour will unveil an alternative to plans for independence. Picture: Hemedia
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LABOUR will unveil a new package of workers rights and improvements to the Living Wage as an alternative to the SNP’s plans for independence in the run-up to the referendum, the party’s deputy leader Anas Sarwar has said.

Mr Sarwar said Labour wanted to defend the “gains of devolution” and would set out the party’s vision for social and constitutional reform for Scotland within the UK.

Labour deputy Scottish leader said the social justice proposals would form a key plank of the party’s campaign against independence in the final few months before the referendum.

The move comes after Unionist parties have faced scathing criticism from the SNP for refusing to publish an alternative to the Scottish government’s independence white paper.

Mr Sarwar said that Scots have the “right to see an alternative” to independence if the SNP is defeated in the referendum.

The deputy Scottish Labour leader said the party would set out its own vision of Scotland within the UK in the event of a No vote “well in advance” of the referendum on 18 September.

The Scotsman understands that key pledges in the plan would include extending the Living Wage, a crackdown on controversial zero hours contracts as well as stricter proposals to prevent the blacklisting of trade union activists.

Mr Sarwar, who is the leader of the Unite With Labour campaign for a No vote, also suggested that Labour could still back free NHS prescriptions and free university tuition as the party leadership appeared to distance itself from a review of universality in public services.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont called for an end to Scotland’s “something for nothing” culture in a flagship speech in autumn 2012 when she outlined a policy shift moving the party away from its traditional support for universal free public services.

Ms Lamont launched a new policy commission to look at scrapping free university tuition, free NHS prescriptions and the council tax freeze.

Mr Sarwar said Labour was continuing to examine some universal public services as part of an overall policy review before the 2016 Holyrood elections.

However, Mr Sarwar suggested Labour could continue to back free NHS prescriptions and free university tuition, which he claimed had been delivered as a result of devolution rather than the SNP government.

He said: ”Social justice is part of the gains of devolution and is not about the SNP.

“The gains of devolution - free prescriptions - free tuition are supported by the Labour Party..

”These are things that are naturally looked at when choices are being made.

“We’re not going to write the manifesto now, but it’s right that we look at the costs of these things.”

Mr Sarwar went onto say that Labour would highlight the potential to redistribute wealth within the UK as part of the case against an independent Scotland.

He said that Labour would be “Making the case not just for a social Union, but a redistributive Union” through areas such as progressive tax to fund public services.

Mr Sarwar attacked the SNP government’s white paper that sets out the nationalists vision for independence as “convoluted and incoherent”.

The Glasgow Central MP said his party would not produce an equivalent document, but claimed that voters were entitled to have detailed information on “the whys, the whats and the hows” of Scotland’s future within the UK from a Labour perspective.

He said: “The White Paper says that everything will change, but also that everything will stay the same at the same time. It makes a convoluted and incoherent set of arguments.

“Labour will make a constitutional and social offer well in advance of the referendum. It’s so that we can answer the whys, the whats and the hows.

“People are voting on the SNP’s version of independence - it’s not about having an alternative white paper, but we can’t allow the SNP to present independence as the only change that’s on offer. People have the right to see an alternative.”

Mr Sarwar said the plans from Labour would also include plans to “strengthen devolution and strengthen the Scottish Parliament”.

A Labour devolution commission led by Mr Sarwar is due to unveil plans to devolve further powers to Holyrood at the party’s Scottish conference in Perth in March.

An interim report from the commission to Labour’s 2013 conference in Inverness suggested income tax powers could be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood.

However, SNP MSP John Wilson warned that Westminster, which holds the bulk of powers over employment rights, would fail to deliver the reforms pledged by Sarwar.

Mr Wilson said: “The only way of getting better rights for workers is to vote Yes in the referendum.

“The Labour Party has a track record in promising workers rights and not delivering such as over the working time directive and the social charter.

“Labour also can only deliver these rights if it wins the next General election and even then they might not deliver these improvements for workers.”