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Comment: Labour needs to realise it can’t duck the issue of the constitution any longer

Neil Findlay - Image credit: Holyrood

Comment: Labour needs to realise it can’t duck the issue of the constitution any longer

With over 10,000 of our fellow citizens dead this should have been an election dominated by the pandemic.

It should have been an election where the government that oversaw this level of loss was held to account for their decision making during the past year.

Decisions like the one that saw elderly patients discharged untested or COVID-positive from hospitals into care homes, resulting in the virus spreading through the system and claiming thousands of lives.

Decisions the now departed health secretary denied responsibility for all year, only to admit to “mistakes” from the safe refuge of her home where she nurses her ministerial pension.

Decisions that saw working class school students discriminated against by a rigged exam system because of where they live, only for it to be overturned due to a countrywide uprising, and decisions that ignored pandemic planning advice leaving care staff without PPE, untested and unappreciated.

But alas, no, the election wasn’t about any of that – these issues were barely mentioned.

Neither was the ferries fiasco that has seen hundreds of millions of pounds of public money squandered, the growing educational attainment gap, the drugs crisis where the First Minister said she “took her eye of the ball”.

The scrutiny of these life-changing and life-ending decisions was almost non-existent.

Indeed, the hapless former drugs minister Joe FitzPatrick saw his big majority increase at the election.

Instead, we had an election where the debate about Scotland’s future again dominated.

Of course, a polarised debate over the constitution suits the SNP and the Tories.

Douglas Ross, who performed so badly he couldn’t even get a mention, never mind a photo, on some of the Tory leaflets, couldn’t answer the most basic questions without resorting to his stock line of ‘Vote Tory to stop another divisive referendum’.                                                                                        

And what about Labour? Well, Anas Sarwar had a decent campaign.

He performed well in TV debates. A showman, his dancing outside Livingston football stadium was one of the most watched social media clips of the campaign.

But his effort to focus the debate on a national recovery was yet another failed attempt to get off the constitutional debate, and therein lies Labour’s problem.

The constitution is the debate in Scottish politics.

Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

In reality, Sarwar used the cover of COVID to rebrand the same failed strategy of previous leaders of not wanting to talk about the biggest issue in Scottish politics, whilst trying to tell voters what they should be talking about – health, education and jobs.

I and others have tried unsuccessfully for 10 years to convince successive Labour leaders to develop a credible devo max position, a realistic third option in the independence debate.

An option that if developed credibly and presented effectively, would – in my view – win.

Until Labour does that, it will remain a declining and largely irrelevant force in Scottish politics, not a government in waiting.

Labour must now accept the Scottish people have the right to self-determination, sell that credible devo max position, engage positively and constructively in the debate over Scotland’s future and enter discussions with the SNP to ensure that the third option is on the ballot and that the party is able to influence the timing, question and conduct of any future referendum.

Finally, I wish all the new MSPs the very best.

I wouldn’t dare offer them advice, they should do things their own way, but I can only reflect on what I did as a new MSP a decade ago.

I was very much of the belief I would only be there for one term and either my party or the voters would get rid of me.

So, I decided to have a go, speak up and campaign on issues I felt strongly about.

If my views didn’t always sit comfortably with my party’s position, that was their problem not mine.

Looking across the chamber, my imposter syndrome faded as my confidence rose and when I took a knock I fell back on my principles and philosophy for reassurance.

My naïve hope for this new parliament is that those who have been elected speak up, stick to their principles, throw away the party script, hold all parties (including their own) to account and be true to themselves.

If they do that they will serve our democracy and the voters.

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