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by Andrew Learmonth
17 November 2021
Jack McConnell: 'Scotland is worse than it has ever been'

© Anna Moffat

Jack McConnell: 'Scotland is worse than it has ever been'

Jack McConnell has said Scotland is "worse than it has ever been," accusing the SNP of failing to properly utilise the powers of devolution to improve the lives of Scots. 

In an interview with Holyrood magazine to mark the 20th year since he became First Minister, the peer also criticised Scottish Labour's MPs, accusing them of never properly embracing devolution. 

He also attacked the No campaign during the 2014 referendum, saying they “played an opposite of whatever playing a blinder is”. 

The former maths teacher also, for the first time, revealed he’d been a card-carrying member of the SNP in his teens, joining the local branch on Arran when he was 16. He switched to Labour three years later after his first year at Stirling University. 

Speaking to Holyrood’s Mandy Rhodes, McConnell said he believed a devolved parliament should have created "a new quality of public debate in Scotland, that we would see us making, mostly, the right choices and vitally, improving life across every part of Scotland. "

He added: “I absolutely believed that’s what it would mean, and I think we tried to do that. But I think we’re in a situation now where probably Scotland is worse than it has ever been. And I find that just incredibly sad. I’m really, really, sad. Really, I mean, really. I’ve just found this year sad, everything about the Scottish Parliament election this year, before, during and after it."

The ex-Labour leader said he believes Scotland is “stuck in a situation where we’re not sure how we improve things anymore.”

McConnell was one of the first MSPs, winning the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency in 1999. He became Scotland's third first minister just two years later following the untimely death of Donald Dewar, and the sudden resignation of Henry McLeish.

It was a post he held until 2007 when Labour won 46 seats at the election, losing to Alex Salmond's SNP by one. The party have since slipped back into third place, winning just 24 MSPs at the election in May. 

Asked where he believes his party got it wrong, McConnell is critical of Scottish Labour MPs who undermined his leadership. 

He told Holyrood: “But I think the thing that went wrong, at its core, in the post-devolution Labour Party, is that there was a real split between the majority of members of the Scottish Parliament, who, whatever they might have thought in 1999, came to believe in the Scottish Parliament as an instrument of progress and a good thing in itself, and that contrasted with the majority, probably the majority, of MPs who found it difficult to come to terms with that new framework where they had less responsibility at Westminster than they’d had before and they felt a bit threatened, seeing that [the Scottish Parliament] as a positive development.” 

He also said Labour needed to embrace a four nation approach to the United Kingdom. 

McConnell criticised former Labour leader Ed Miliband for embracing a “one-nation position at a time when that was catastrophic for the Scottish Labour Party”.

He said: “I’ve always been really clear in my own head about the right of the Welsh to identify their own constitutional position, the right of the Scots, the right of the Northern Irish, the rights of the English, to ultimately all make their own decisions. 

“The UK is not one nation, it’s a multinational construct. It’s the most successful one in the world. But until Labour, not just Scottish Labour but Labour as a whole, is comfortable describing it in that way, then we’re always going to look a bit out of sorts because that’s how the people personally feel.”

This, McConnell said, caused problems for the No campaign during the referendum: “I think that the Scottish Government, tactically, played a blinder and almost won, and the forces in favour of Scotland staying in the UK played an opposite of whatever playing a blinder is, but basically, they kept shooting themselves in the foot, and almost lost. 

“Basically because they didn’t know how to argue for devolution.” 

Read the full interview with Jack McConnell here

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - SNP minister's 'disappointment and loss' over Derek Mackay texting scandal

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