While Nicola Sturgeon pursues independence at any cost, Scottish Labour will make the case for strong public services within the United Kingdom, argues Jenny Marra MSP
On Monday, as Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to hold a second referendum on independence, news broke that the headteacher of Blairgowrie high school, the local school of John Swinney, Scottish National party deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for education, had put out a plea to parents to come into school to teach maths because of the chronic shortage of maths teachers. It did not get much attention.
Not much of the domestic agenda will, as the prospect, then perhaps the campaign, for a second referendum gets underway; which is a two-fold travesty. First, because there are huge spending problems in the public sector in Scotland which are impacting services. Police Scotland is projecting a deficit of over £200m and continues to be beset by governance problems. My local healthboard NHS Tayside is projecting a defict this year of £18m and primary school pupils in my home city of Dundee have seen school spending on each of their precious heads reduce by nearly £900 since 2010.
It is a two-fold travesty because it is precisely this crisis in public spending that is one of the strongest arguments against Scotland breaking off from the United Kingdom. Scotland as a whole projects a £15bn deficit and without the larger economy of the UK, it is very difficult to see how public spending would not be drastically cut.
But that is to say nothing of the impact between friends and families. Already over the past 24 hours I have found myself thrown back into the trepid conversations you had with people you have known for years, trying to find consensus on how difficult this is going to be without getting into the brutal reality of which side they are on. People lost lifelong friends during the 2014 referendum. That is no exaggeration. The ease with which Jeremy Corbyn said that a referendum would be ‘fine’ shows a crass and frightening lack of appreciation of how emotions run high in these charged referendums, especially in communities blighted by poverty and deprivation with few resources to fall back on. It also shows no understanding of what Labour colleagues went through to fight for the economic and social union of the UK that we built our trade union movement and political party on and for.
In 2014, the SNP told us they wanted to become independent to tackle austerity. Three years later, austerity is not mentioned. They have managed to enhance austerity through their spending priorities and so desperate were they for social security powers that when devolved, they sent them packing for another three years back to Westminster. No, we now need independence because of Brexit. But the ironic truth of the matter is that the position on the European Union is as we set out in 2017; that an independent Scotland will find it very difficult to be a member of the EU. Belgium and Spain will be wary of approving Scotland’s application because of their own secessionist movements and the projected deficits I outlined above will make compliance with the convergence criteria impossible. The SNP themselves are now softening their language around ‘a relationship with Europe’. It is all another excuse to go again.
There are many heavy hearts in the Holyrood parliament this week. For all activists, the press, the third sector, and most of all the voters, the sinking feeling of ‘here we go again’ is in their hearts and on their lips. I doubted sincerely last time that Sturgeon and Swinney really knew what they had unleashed on Scotland – they are intelligent people. But it seems that they are so fanatical for nationalism that they are prepared to put all five million of us through this again. Sturgeon may like to use the language of social justice – but her dismal record speaks for itself. Scottish Labour’s voice will be clear and persistent if and when a referendum comes, making the case for solidarity across the UK, strong and sustainably funded public services, a more equal economy and an international approach that continues to join hands with our closest neighbours.
Jenny Marra MSP is member of Scottish parliament for North East Scotland. She tweets at @JennyMarra
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