Mandy Rhodes: There are now just six months until the independence referendum, where does it sit in terms of your own political priorities?
Ed Miliband: The referendum is a decision for the people of Scotland, but it is one that I care deeply about. I will be campaigning in Scotland right up until September 18th to keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom. This is the most important decision Scots have taken about the future of their country in centuries; and there is no turning back from the decision. The stakes could not be higher.
MR: Why do you believe that it will be a ‘No’ vote?
EM: Twenty years ago, John Smith said that devolution was “the settled will of the Scottish people”. I believe that is still true today. People want a strong Scottish Parliament, but they also want the protection of being part of something bigger.
The best argument for the UK is what we are able to achieve with it. For me, the UK is a social justice union. The greatest testament to that are the institutions we have built together. The NHS guaranteeing free healthcare to everyone across the UK. The welfare state offering support when times are tough, no matter whether you are in Edinburgh or Exeter. And our ability to spread wealth to areas of greatest need.
MR: The majority of Scots don’t want independence but they do want what we’ll call devo max. How can they trust you to deliver on more powers in the future? They have been there before?
EM: Labour introduced devolution. We supported the Calman Commission. And we voted for the Scotland Act in 2012 which will bring about the biggest transfer of fiscal powers to the Scottish Parliament in the history of the Union. We are the party of devolution, we will continue to support devolution and we will bring forward proposals for enhanced devolution. That is what Johann Lamont’s devolution commission, with my support, will lay out.
Independence and devolution are two different roads. And the SNP have only ever believed in one: independence. They walked out of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the 80s and they argued against further powers after the Calman Commission.
MR: Obviously we are still waiting for Johann’s commission to report on additional powers but it will depend on the UK party putting those in the 2015 manifesto. Can you guarantee you will do that?
EM: I’m clear that across the UK I want to see power given to people so that they can transform their lives, so yes, the Labour Party’s next manifesto will include our plans for further devolution to both the Scottish Parliament and local government.
MR: We already know that Scottish Labour MPs are unhappy with the suggestion that income tax could be devolved. What would your role be in appeasing those concerns and ensuring no rift occurs within the Scottish group of MPs and MSPs?
EM: Labour is the party that delivered devolution – we are also committed to strengthening devolution.
MR: Is there still confusion about who is in charge of the Scottish MPs and almost deference to Westminster?
EM: No. As Leader of the UK Labour Party, I work very closely with Johann as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
MR: Do you think this referendum debate has better informed opinion about how the UK could be constitutionally changed and do you think there will be a thirst for further devolution generally?
EM: The Labour Party’s historic mission has always been about bridging the gap between politics and power. That’s true whether you’re talking about the distance between people and the UK Parliament or the Scottish Parliament. I’m committed to devolving power to people to a local level. The experience of devolution in Scotland and Wales has shown how successful this can be and I think people elsewhere in the UK look at the local control offered by devolution with envy.
MR: There is a fear among Scots that if they vote ‘No’ they will see the Barnett formula cut and that they could be financially punished. Can you allay those concerns?
EM: Let’s be clear about this. The only people putting the Barnett formula at risk are the SNP with their plans for independence. The Union has made us more able to achieve social justice within the UK. This contrasts strongly with the Nationalists who prioritise separation over the economic wellbeing of Scotland.
MR: Another concern is that Scotland votes to stay in the UK and is then faced with an in/out referendum with regard to Europe. Isn’t the safest way for Scots to stay within the EU to vote for independence?
EM: The SNP have tried to pull the wool over people’s eyes about whether an independent Scotland would be part of the European Union. Only last month President Barroso said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU.
MR: This has been an incredibly febrile debate, really very bitter, how do you think Scots and indeed the rest of the UK come back together to live and work happily and without acrimony after it?
EM: I think it’s only through a robust debate that the Scottish people can properly consider the issues at stake in the referendum.
I think the SNP are struggling to deal with some of the detailed analysis that is being applied to their policies – such as what currency an independent Scotland would have and whether it would be a member of the EU.
In the end for Labour, this campaign is about making the case for the Union – so it’s not about healing wounds afterwards, it’s about bringing together the whole of the United Kingdom by having this debate.
MR: Was Labour too slow in recognising that the SNP had stolen their clothes in terms of being of the Left and isn’t that an ongoing issue for the party that in Scotland, the electorate have a choice between two left-of-centre parties and it basically becomes a competition about who best represents Scottish interests. How do you overcome that?
EM: If elected Prime Minister, I will take on the gas and electricity companies, freeze energy bills for every household, and overhaul our broken energy market. Labour will tax bankers’ bonuses and use the money to get our unemployed young people back to work. We will scrap the bedroom tax. And bring an end to exploitative zero-hours contracts which are keeping thousands of Scots in working poverty. And we will reintroduce the 50p tax rate to help bring the deficit down in a fair way.
For all the SNP’s claims about making Scotland a “progressive beacon,” the Nationalists have opposed or been silent on all of these policies. The truth is they cannot be the party of social justice.
MR: There are some in your own party that support independence and think it could revitalise Labour’s fortunes in Scotland. Can you understand that thinking?
EM: No. On every Labour Party membership card you’ll find the same words – “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.” The Labour Party is about working together – not competing with each other in a race to the bottom.
MR: If it is a ‘Yes’ vote, will you recognise that it is the democratic will of the Scots and help constructively in any negotiations to smooth the break-up?
EM: As I’ve said before, the independence referendum is a decision for the Scottish people.
MR: One good thing about the referendum debate is the way people are talking about politics. Do you think you’ll see a similar engagement around an in/out EU referendum and what is your position on it?
EM: The next Labour government will legislate for a new lock: there would be no transfer of powers from the UK to the EU without an in/out referendum on our continued membership of the EU.
MR: You said recently in the New Statesman that “electoral reform is not the answer to disengagement with politics”. What is?
EM: I think politicians need to strengthen their link with working people. That’s why – a few weeks ago at Labour Party Special Conference – we changed our party to ensure that we are more able to connect with working people across the country.
MR: Following the Daily Mail’s attack on your father and this current campaign against Harriet Harman, do you feel this is a taste of things to come ahead of the 2015 election?
EM: I’ve always said that the 2015 General Election is going to be a tough fight.
MR: What will your rally call be to Scotland in terms of the party conference?
EM: That the UK is a social justice union and the best way of achieving social justice within the Union is through a Labour government, both in Westminster and Holyrood.
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