Tonight, Scotland is under new leadership. Irvine born Nicola Sturgeon has become the youngest politician in Scottish political history to take up the post of First Minister of Scotland. And although she has just taken over from Alex Salmond, she is no unknown. Already a major household name within Scottish public life, Nicola has arguably already made her mark.
Although we are still talking about the same Scottish Government in office during this current parliamentary term, she will without doubt make her own desired changes in order for the business of government to be run in the way that she wishes. And that is something that I have little doubt about, because she isn’t Alex Salmond. You cannot have two identical kinds of leader. The beauty about this transition is the fact that we have gone from one admirable First Minister to another impressive First Minister.
Nobody can truly dispute that Alex and Nicola are the UK’s two most formidable politicians and that nobody can truly match them on the political scene. And although the Prime Minister should be applauded for his courage in allowing the Scottish independence referendum to occur in the first place, David Cameron has often found himself on the back foot during the campaign. He didn’t have the courage to take Mr Salmond in a debate over Scotland’s future and although the No side won, the Prime Minister missed an opportunity. I don’t accept that he would have been already defeated from the start, because I think the electorate would have taken the time to hear what he would have had to say.
Furthermore, Mr Cameron keeps stating how “passionate” he is about the union so why didn’t he say that direct to Alex Salmond in a televised debate? If I were in his position, I know I would without hesitancy. Understandably, some might say that the MP for Witney didn’t have a vote in the referendum so why should he bother debating the MSP for Aberdeenshire East? But that’s not the point. David Cameron represents Scotland in his current position, whether he has twenty Conservative MP’s in Scotland or just one (or even none!), and that’s the fundamental point in this context.
But this is all off tangent in the real context of this whole article. The main focus here is on the MSP for Glasgow Southside. We will see a politician who will take us into a new era in Scottish politics who has to focus on three main areas – tackling inequality, maintaining excellent quality public services and new powers for the Scottish Parliament. And these are all linked together.
Scotland at this moment requires a radical new settlement which will equate to proper home rule within the United Kingdom – let’s call it devolution max. I define this is as all powers devolved to Holyrood with the exception of defence, elements of foreign policy (for instance, devolution of powers to enable Scotland to take control of promotion of our country on the international stage, especially during special times of the year such as St Andrews Day and Burns Night) and VAT. I acknowledge that this hasn’t been legally or officially defined, but I reckon if I asked others for their own definition of devo max then I reckon they wouldn’t be far off.
We have to wait until we find out what the outcome of the Smith Commission is in the very near future – I would expect something like devolution max or as close to it as possible. If we end up with any less than this then that would frankly go against the national interest of Scotland. I for one would not want to see an immediate second independence referendum for the time being, but I would certainly not oppose such an idea within the next five years or so if we are only given a diluted settlement. Now I don’t know whether somewhere in Ms Sturgeon’s mind there is the idea of a second referendum under such circumstances, but what I can predict with confidence is that she will keep a strong eye on Westminster and absolutely ensure that Scotland is not put away into the bottom drawer of a cabinet.
We have not invested two and a half years of debate and discussion only to find out that the end result of the No vote was just a small portion of new powers for the Scottish Parliament. That would be absolutely unacceptable and the social, economic and political consequences for the Scottish nation would be very severe and catastrophic. Nobody wants that, so a substantial result must be achieved. Nicola will not settle for something that would bitterly disappoint a substantial number of the Scottish electorate, nor can she afford to.
I am confident that under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, the case for greater autonomy for Scotland can be made and made with vigour, strength and dignity. And why does it all matter in the first place? Because it is the fundamental primer for the nation to take full control of all of the matters that affect us in Scotland – from the running of Scotland’s National Health Service, to our distinctive education system, to how we can make the country as appealing as possible in order to enable for international investment to be made, resulting in sustainable employment and the growth of industry. If we continue to be governed by just receiving a block grant time after time then the effectiveness of governance of the country will be rightfully brought into question.
What Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party and other pro-independence parties, groups and individuals and the Scottish Government want to ensure is that Scotland can finally take responsibility for it’s own governance and place in the world. We live in a fast moving world that is changing all the time. We must not get left behind and must continue to champion the case for Scottish self-determination. As a former Conservative and although at this current time not a member of the Scottish National Party or another pro-independence party, I acknowledge that Ms Sturgeon could take her party further to the left. That is strategically understandable, but she must remember the many right of centre/centrist voters who constantly vote SNP now-a-days. I have no doubt that she will continue to make the case for a more economically competitive Scotland and this should continue on a regular basis.
If there was no case whatsoever for greater autonomy for Scotland then the Yes vote would have been under 40% in September. And although the No side won, it didn’t win convincingly. The issue of the constitutional future of Scotland remains on the table. I have no doubt that many people who voted against Scottish independence would wish for the country to take more responsibility for it’s own affairs. And I certainly know that over 1.6 million people (including me) who voted in favour of Scottish independence will most definitely be unimpressed if we do not receive a satisfactory settlement for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, I have no doubt that Scotland will remain relevant in the minds of many at Westminster and beyond. I had the honour of putting a question to her at a Yes Scotland event in Kirkcaldy earlier this year where I asked her about the future of the currency under an independent Scotland and she put the positive case for Scotland’s future with regard to the currency in a constructive, substantiated and positive manner. She tackled such a difficult issue during the referendum campaign with style. We have a strong leader at the helm tonight and God willing hopefully for sometime to come.
I wish her well as she commences her time leading the nation.