Salmond’s “false choice” on Scottish independence
22nd April 2012
Scottish Labour Party leader Johann Lamont mounted an impassioned defence of the UK union at CWU annual conference today (Sunday) - accusing SNP leader Alex Salmond of preparing to present Scottish voters with a "false choice" on independence.
Faced with the nightmare of Coalition Government cuts - which, in Scotland, have been unflinchingly handed down to local authorities by the SNP-led Government, Johann claimed Scottish voters are being deliberately set up to believe that the choice is between Tory rule or independence
In her first address to CWU annual conference as leader, Johann - who was wholeheartedly supported by the CWU in the run-up to her election in December - accused the SNP of utilising the "harsh economic approach by the Tories just to further their case for separating off from the rest of the UK, rather than make the hard decisions that would bring respite to the most vulnerable people in society."
"It's my view," Johann explained, "that no one politician was more delighted to see the Tories back in power than Alex Salmond, despite knowing full well the consequences of a Tory Government for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
"It provided him with an opportunity to set Scotland with a false choice - the Tories or independence. Traditionally theses are both concepts that the people of Scotland have rejected and, of course, we know that the problem with David Cameron is not that he's English, but that he's a Tory!"
With the local government elections in Scotland less than a fortnight away, Johann cited the fact that the SNP Government has handed on nearly 90% of the cuts in his budget on to Scottish councils, costing jobs and services.
"In our colleges - the great incubator for young people at a time of high youth unemployment- he has slashed their budgets and diluted their courses. In our health service we have lost 2,000 nurses because of SNP- imposed cuts.
"You may have heard Alex Salmond boasting that Scotland could be a beacon for progressives if it was to go independent, but that is simply a fantasy. Why do we have to wait until after the referendum to get some progressive policies? Scotland doesn't feel so 'progressive' to the women out of work as a direct consequence of SNP policies, or to the 100,000 young people unable to get a job.
"It doesn't feel so progressive if you're having to go without a blanket in a freezing hospital ward because of SNP cuts. And Scotland doesn't feel too progressive if you're housebound and your care visits are squeezed into 15 minute windows because of cuts. "That's the reality of life in Scotland under the SNP - and its only Alex Salmond's brass neck that allows him to argue anything other than that."
Labour, Johann insisted, are the true progressives of both Scottish and UK-wide politics, stressing that the key challenge the party now faces is to "reassume that mantle in the eyes of the Scottish people."
Admitting that Alex Salmond had won last year's election "handsomely", Johann told of the "process of renewal" of that the Scottish Labour Party has now embarked upon, which she is leading.
That task, she said, was a "great privilege and a great responsibility as we try to build our way back from that electoral defeat. The challenge we face is a difficult one but one which we must taken on quickly... and one we must get right."
The stakes could not be higher, Johann explained, because "in 2014 - or whenever the SNP gets round to holding the referendum," Scotland faces a big choice- to break away or stay united.
"I'm sure that most people agree with me that we're better working in co-operation with our neighbours rather than becoming competitors to each other," she stressed.
"The case for separation, at a time when Europe and the world are seeking to come closer together - and where we are increasingly economically interdependent - seems like madness.
"But we cannot be complacent, and the partnership which has served Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England so well for over 300 years is under a very serious threat.
"The SNP, and Alex Salmond's rhetoric, cannot be underestimated given the overwhelming result he achieved last year and given the fear that people have of what the Tory government at a UK level may have planned for them. For me, however, the debate over the constitution is a distraction from what really matters - making people's lives better - but it is a debate that we must have and must win.
"All of our nations benefit from the union, and it's time Alex Salmond started being honest about the consequences of separation. The union has allowed us to share some of our best-loved national institutions, whether it be the BBC, the NHS or, indeed, Royal Mail.
"Would our current postal services be sustainable in an independent Scotland?" Johann asked, pointing out that the uncertainty over that is just one of the "very real consequences of separation that Alex Salmond is blind to, and hopes to keep Scotland in the dark about."
Johann concluded: "In his fantasy world, only independence will lead us to 'the land of milk and honey' - but this is a dishonest argument, and one we can defeat if we stay true to our values and our beliefs.
"I look forward to working with my trade union colleagues, including those in the CWU, to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom and fighting for our common values of quality, opportunity and shared prosperity."
Read the full text of Johann Lamont speech.
Photographs courtesy of Phil Graham @Filmar.