So much Labour and yet so little in return

I HAVE been asked by many why I left New Labour and joined the SNP. It's important that I make my position clear as it was a move I made only after a great deal of consideration.

After all, I had been a member of the Labour Party for over 20 years, serving as a councillor since 1988 and holding positions including Group Secretary and Whip, culminating as Deputy Lord Provost. In addition, I had years of activity in the trade union movement including serving on the National Executive of CPSA.

The council has achieved things of which I am proud, though certain recent threatened school closures and current transport chaos are not among them.

It's impossible to be unaware of the problems and disappointment some recent council decisions have caused. I still, though, have friends in the party - though I think some may be reviewing their membership for similar reasons.

My reasons are twofold. Firstly, in the new world in which we now live, I am convinced that Scotland as an independent nation cannot only prosper but deliver the dreams and aspirations that Scots possess for their country. I have always been a proud Scot but worried about an independent Scotland surviving in the big wide world.

Recently, though, I have seen what other small nations, such as Lithuania and the other Baltic States, can do. Countries with smaller populations and far fewer resources have achieved so much more. They do not have the potential wealth possessed by Scotland as the largest oil producer in the European Union. Yet they stand proud as independent nations and work towards delivering their people's dreams of a vibrant economy and social justice. The time has came for Scotland to move on from devolution to being an independent nation within the European Community.

Secondly, but equally, New Labour no longer adheres to the values of the party I joined. I became a member at the height of Margaret Thatcher's reign and Scotland was suffering under her yoke. I stood with others in opposing the worst excesses of her rule.

Some years later, I and other members in New Labour were told that to be electable, we were required to follow the policies of Tony Blair. Like others, I rejoiced when the party came to power in 1997, but that was in the belief that it would change the way we were being governed, not simply continue the Tory policies that were failing Scotland.

But nothing changed. Tony Blair has acted in an arrogant and high-handed fashion, ignoring not just the wishes of ordinary Labour members, but the needs and wants of the people of Scotland. They are not acting as a Labour government should. Draconian security measures such as expensive but ineffective ID cards are being implemented.

Now a Labour minister seeks to instigate lie detector tests for benefit claimants, some of the weakest and most vulnerable in our community. The party I was proud to join would have opposed these policies, not thought about introducing them.

The New Labour leadership in Scotland sought to allay fears by suggesting matters would change when Blair departed. But, at their recent conference, the PM announced his intention to drive on with so-called reforms and heir apparent Gordon Brown indicated that there would be no change under his government.

During the same conference, a party stalwart, Walter Wolfgang, was manhandled and ejected for daring to criticise a New Labour minister. I knew then the time was up. The Labour Party will not change, but Scotland has.

Scotland can do so much better than this. Our economy is underperforming and there are areas of poverty and deprivation that are scandalous in a developed country. The oil wealth that lies off our shores must be used to benefit the people of Scotland, not frittered away. Norway, for example, has recently announced its intention to use its oil wealth to eradicate poverty. Scotland could do likewise. When other nations smaller than Scotland are not only joining the European Union, but prospering within it, it is time for Scotland to return to being an independent nation.

The SNP is the only party that represents the hopes and dreams of those who seek a social democratic Scotland. It offers the opportunity for Scotland to be the nation that we know it can be - a vibrant economy and socially just land, like other small nations like Ireland, Denmark or Finland.

The SNP stands up for the policies and principles that the people of Scotland believe in - justice, fairness and opportunity. New Labour betrayed the principles I adhered to. It's up to others to consider their political future. I have taken a positive, rather than negative, step.

Steve Cardownie is Edinburgh City Council's Deputy Lord Provost. He left the Labour Party and joined the SNP this week