Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
26 September 2014
Onwards and upwards

Onwards and upwards

Scotland has just lived through the most exciting, energising and transformative democratic process in our nation’s long history.

The referendum campaign is something that has brought enormous credit to us as a people and a country. There are not many, if any, nations that have debated and voted on their constitutional future in the way that we have – and that is something we should all be proud of, whatever side of the debate we were on.

But it would be a fatal mistake for anyone, whatever their views and wherever they stand on Scotland’s future, to imagine that that enormous groundswell of politically engaged energy will now simply dissipate in the wake of the referendum.

It will not.

The SNP’s soaring membership is proof of that. That surge – which at the time of writing has gone past 62,000 and is still rising – has already seen the party overtake the Liberal Democrats as the UK’s third biggest party, and SNP membership now easily outstrips that of an increasingly moribund Scottish Labour Party, which former First Minister Henry McLeish says is now in danger of “dying out”.

That extraordinary surge in membership, not just for the SNP but also the Scottish Green Party which also supported and campaigned for a Yes vote, is testament to the huge desire for positive change for Scotland that must be satisfied.

And that huge politically engaged mass of people, from a wide cross-section of the Scottish political spectrum, will demand that Westminster holds to its promises on more powers and delivers on them in short order.

It is worth pausing for a moment to recall what Scotland was promised, during the closing stages of the referendum campaign, in the event of a No vote.

The “vow” given by all the main Westminster party leaders was sold to the people of Scotland as a solemn promise of real, substantial and transformative change coming their way as an alternative to independence.

It was variously described as “home rule” and the closest thing to federalism possible in a non-federal state.

However, the early signs this side of the referendum have not been encouraging. First, we had the Prime Minister, on the morning the result of the vote became clear, saying that more powers for Scotland would only be taken forward “in tandem” with wider constitutional reform across the UK. And since then, nothing that has happened can lead anyone to conclude other than that the more powers agenda is becoming entangled in a power play between factions of the Westminster establishment.

The Tories’ push for “English votes for English laws” – and Labour’s entrenched opposition to anything that they see as diluting their ability to govern effectively in the Commons – risks becoming the battleground on which progress and delivery of more powers for Scotland runs into the sand.

Let me be clear – I believe the “vow” given by Westminster in the closing days of the campaign was crucial in persuading a substantial number of people to vote No, in the expectation that that pledge for substantial more powers would be honoured in full.

As such, there is a moral and democratic imperative weighing heavily on all of the Westminster parties to deliver. Opinion polling shows that there is majority support across Scotland for very substantial devolution, with backing for the transfer of income tax, corporation tax, VAT, welfare and pensions to Holyrood. The test for Westminster now is just how far they are prepared to meet those aspirations.

The SNP has made it clear we will be cooperative partners in contributing to the work of the Commission set up to take forward the delivery of more powers, under the guidance or Lord Robert Smith, and I look forward to that work proving  as fruitful as possible in as short a timescale as possible.

That does not mean that the SNP does not remain resolutely committed to independence – we do, because we believe as strongly as ever that having the full powers of an independent country, with control of all our natural and human resources and the full economic and job-creating powers it entails, is by far the best constitutional option for this country. However, we of course accept the referendum result, and I believe the referendum route remains the correct one for deciding Scotland’s future. 

The next steps in Scotland’s constitutional journey will be taken with a new leader of the SNP and a new First Minister. But I am as certain as I have ever been that the final destination of that journey is independence – that, however, will remain a matter for the people, who in Scotland have always been and remain sovereign.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top