Scottish nationalists reject Labour proposals

Issue 

In the light of the recent talks in Ireland, the British Labour Party have put forward a proposal to devolve more powers to Scotland. SARAH STEPHEN was recently in Scotland and spoke to SHONA ROBINSON from the Scottish Nationalist Party.

What is your attitude to the proposals being put forward by the BLP for the devolution of powers to Scotland?

Labour's devolution plans are to establish a Scottish parliament with limited power. It would be devolution given by the British parliament, and any devolution granted is really power retained by it. Labour's plans amount to the possibility of limited tax raising power of three pence in the pound.

What we've said all along and will continue to say is that this will go no way in being able to address the social and economic problems facing Scotland. What we need is a sovereign parliament which can have complete control over foreign policy, economic planning and defence spending. What we want is a peace dividend that we can save to invest in jobs and social issues. Labour's devolution plans go no way to doing that.

We don't believe that their intention is to democratise society. We believe it is attempting to save Labour's skin in Scotland because they are under pressure from the SNP. They have to keep flying the devolution flag in order to beat us during the elections.

Personally, I'm convinced that Labour will never deliver a devolved Scottish parliament. I believe there will always be more "pressing" demands on an incoming Labour government. If they do grant us an assembly, I think the powers will be limited to what the British government is prepared to give away.

Do you think that because the Tories have got so little support in Scotland, that it is any more likely that they will grant some sort of parliamentary powers?

That would undermine their whole argument. Their whole thrust has been to take a strongly pro-Unionist stance. Any weakening of that only weakens the last remaining policy that all the Tories seem to agree on.

Having said that, you do get some independentists within the Tory ranks who feel that to get any credibility back in Scotland at all, they're going to have to address the issue. But the overwhelming majority would say that they want to hold on to the pro-Unionist minority in Scotland. Basically the Tories will concentrate their efforts on the English electorate, to win that way as they have done since 1979.

That's where they're addressing the issue of devolution at the moment. They're going round English constituencies trying to make out that Labour's plans will be a disaster for "Englishness" and the Union.

How much support is there for independence within Scotland?

The SNP has got 25-30% support in opinion polls over the last two to three years, but we polled 33% in Euro-elections across the board. Thirty per cent is really our breakthrough figure. If we could sustain above 30% we would be in a position to be able to challenge Labour. There will then be less than 10% between the two.

We also recognise that people who support independence in Scotland have polled 45-55%. Obviously at the moment there's a gap to be made up between people who support independence and who support the SNP. It's our job to address that and persuade those people to vote for us.

We have a sustained vote which we didn't have in the '70s, where it fluctuated massively. We have now sustained a vote over 25% and hopefully that will grow.

Could you tell a bit more about the SNP, how it is structured and organised?

The SNP is a branch-based party with a lot of emphasis on local politics. Power is decentralised to branches in terms of policy making, which obviously is a crucial part. It's the membership through their branches who dictate policy.

That's something again which stands us apart from the BLP. We don't have policies imposed by the leadership. If that happened, they'd fall flat. It's an important thing in itself, but it's also particularly important for the left because we can win debates that way.

We also have semi-autonomous organisations representing students, youth and traditional unionists. We would estimate our membership to be 20,000, although the SNP doesn't release its membership figures, and neither does any other party.

Interestingly, a poll done a year ago did a class analysis of voting patterns and showed for the first time that the SNP's voters were a majority working class, whereas the BLP's votes were moving towards a majority of middle class. This is a marked change.

In terms of campaigning activities, obviously it's fair to say that electoral politics are important to the SNP, but that should never overshadow what goes on in between — trying to win the hearts and minds of the people has got to be the paramount task. So where local issues exist — it might be around jobs in the city or fishing in the north — the SNP has been very active.

Nationally we've been involved in campaigns which have involved other political parties and independents, such as VAT on domestic fuel and the campaign against water privatisation. We've taken up the issue of racism and in particular racism against English people in which we obviously have a major part to play.

On the nuclear issue, we've continued to campaign against Trident on the Clyde and the importation of nuclear waste. There are rumours that the government is intending to turn an area of Scotland (Rusyth) into a dump for old nuclear submarines.

There is no end of issues that we're working on, but I would say that on top of all the issues that come and go, the main issues we are always campaigning for are around jobs and poverty, addressing that in a way that shows how independence could address those issues. It's always about linking the bread and butter issues to independence.

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