In search of solidarity
Q&A with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband
Mandy Rhodes: You have praised the referendum campaign for getting the public engaged in politics. How do you think that can be maintained?
Ed Miliband: I think that giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote has been an excellent idea. The next Labour government will give 16 and 17 year olds the vote.
MR: Apart from the heightened interest in politics, the referendum debate has been healthy in terms of us having to think about the shape of a society we would like to live in, what kind of Britain would you like to see emerge over the next 10 years and how do you intend to do it?
EM: As Prime Minister, I’m determined to build a country that works for everyone, not just a few at the top. That is the sort of Britain that I want to see develop over the next 10 years.
MR: One of the flaws in the Better Together approach was that if we are better together then why are things not better together right now. Is it just that you believe we are better together only when Labour is in power and if so, how are you going to reverse the consequences of the Tory’s austerity programme and the emergence of such terrible indictments as the rise in child poverty and use of food banks?
EM: I don’t agree with the premise of your question – Better Together is making the case well for Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom. It is appalling that there are people in this country who have to choose between heating and eating. The increase in food banks in Scotland, and across the UK has become the hallmark of this Tory-led Government. That’s why I have made the cost of living crisis central to my leadership of the Labour Party, and why I will take action to tackle it as Prime Minister. But fundamentally, I believe that the United Kingdom is a social justice union – with a joint commitment to supporting the most vulnerable whether they are in Glasgow or Newcastle.
MR: In one of the key moments of the televised referendum leaders’ debates, Salmond asked Alistair Darling what three employment-creating powers he would devolve to Scotland, he couldn’t name them specifically. What would your plan be to grow employment in Scotland?
EM: Alistair made clear that the Scottish Parliament already has a significant number of job-creating powers. But Labour will also devolve the work programme, housing benefit – which can be used to build more homes – and significant income tax powers.
MR: One of the central planks of your party’s argument against independence was for the poor of Scotland to stand in solidarity with the poor in the rest of the UK, how do you intend to improve their plight?
EM: I’ll scrap the bedroom tax, increase the minimum wage and put our young people back to work.
MR: How can you argue with the SNP’s ‘bairns not bombs’ approach to Trident? Can you really justify spending billions of pounds on Trident when there are children living in poverty?
EM: The SNP plans for Trident would see the UK’s deterrent pushed 200 miles south, but wouldn’t make a bit of difference to reducing the number of nuclear weapons around the world. The best way to reduce the number of nuclear weapons is working multilaterally. As part of the UK, we have said we want to achieve ‘global zero’ – that’s easier to achieve with a seat at the top table.
MR: All the UK parties have said they will give more to Scotland, what exactly are you going to offer in your manifesto?
EM: The Labour Party is proposing strong additional powers including more devolution of income tax and social security.
MR: How can Scots trust you to deliver more powers when history has taught us that politicians don’t always do what they say they will do?
EM: We have set out a delivery plan for the next stage of devolution starting the day after the referendum with a draft bill published as soon as the end of January. This will give Scotland major new financial powers including over income tax and social security.
MR: Will further devolution of power throughout the UK be something that you would like to see happen and what shape would that take?
EM: I’m committed to further devolution across the UK. The next Labour government will enact the biggest economic devolution of power to England’s great towns and cities in a hundred years.
MR: The referendum debate has thrown up lots of challenges to the rest of the UK including the concentration of wealth and power in London – London accounts for 30 per cent of the UK’s GDP – do you recognise that imbalance and the dangers inherent within it and do you plan any recalibration of the economy?
EM: We’ve already pledged to put Welsh devolution on the same legal footing as Scottish devolution. We also need to hand power down from Parliament to councils and also reinvigorate regional economies – that’s why the next Labour government will introduce a network of regional banks that will help boost regional economies and rebuild trust in the banking system.
MR: The fight in Scotland has been loosely between the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party with the SNP claiming much of the traditional Labour social justice agenda, do you think that’s a front and how does Labour reclaim that agenda?
EM: The SNP aren’t the party of social justice – you just have to look at Alex Salmond’s White Paper which includes an unfunded 3p tax cut in corporation tax. This will result in cuts to public services and the main winners will be the energy company bosses.
MR: Labour clearly has some major difficulties in Scotland, given it was a country that you could previously largely depend on for electoral support, what are you doing wrong and do you think that Johann will lead the party back into power in 2016?
EM: Labour won the general election in Scotland in 2010. We had a very bad result in 2011, and we learned from it. We said at the time that we had a lot of work to do. But since then we’ve won a majority of council by-elections from the SNP, and won Scottish Parliament by-elections against them as well. Johann is doing a great job and she’ll be a great First Minister in 2016.
MR: You have made very personal statements about your own profile and the dangers of personality politics and yet your own party seems obsessed by Alex Salmond. Does personality politics only matter when it’s not yours that is being criticised?
EM: I think the Labour Party cares about the risks to social justice both in Scotland and across the UK that Alex Salmond’s plans will lead to. That’s what we care about.
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