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ref date:24 Sep 1999 (SI)
SNP treasurer an Blackford speaks out for independence

POST the establishment of the Scottish parliament there has been a growing debate on the relevance of voting SNP in any Westminster election, and the role of the SNP in the Westminster parliament.

There are even those in the SNP who argue that the route to independence is solely through the Scottish parliament. This can be compared to consigning yourself to taking the A road available and ignoring the faster motorway.

If, as Tam Dalyell suggested, the route of constitutional change takes us down a motorway with no exit, let us take the quickest road to independence.

I see the primary role of the SNP as twofold: First, in graphically pointing to the opportunities that will be created through independence and demonstrating our vision of a society that has enterprise, compassion and democracy as its core driving principles. The development of a dynamicsociety that will deliver high, sustainable economic growth and thereby creating the wealth that will deliver a socially just society.

Secondly, to take advantage of any opportunity that will lead us to independence as quickly as possible. The SNP must be unambiguous that its aim is Scottish independence, and never again should independence appear as point 10 of its list of priorities as it did inthe Scottish election campaign. Thatís what I would call unpardonable folly.

Any election is an opportunity to build the case for independence.

We have a duty to the people of Scotland to argue for a future that offers hope of a better country. A country where, as a priority, we would attack the existence of poverty, that would create educational opportunity free at the point of access and that would create a climate where entrepreneurial activity was encouraged. A country that would accept its international obligations, that would help shape the European Community for the next century. A country that would accept its obligations in supporting world peace and security through the UN but would remove the evil of nuclear weapons from our soil.

We in the SNP tend to believe that we could do much better as an independent nation within the EU. A small country recognising the opportunities and the threats of the global economy at a time of fundamental change, as e-commerce and the know-ledge economy become ever increasingly important.

It is this analysis that helps us argue that the Union has failed Scotland, and increasingly the concept of a United Kingdom, or

Britain has little relevance for a growing number of people in this country.

That is why that any attempt to argue, as some do, that the young generation of Nationalists are relaxed to see themselves as remaining British is false. It is the young generation that is happy to turn their backs on the shortcomings of Britain, and its increasing irrelevance to the future of Scotland.

Any attempt by Nationalists to portray Britishness as partof the appeal of independence, and a part of life in an independent Scotland is intellectually bankrupt.

Above all else the SNP must show leadership, and offer radical alternatives for the people of Scotland. It must be clear that we are not seeking to transfer power from Westminster to Edinburgh for the sake of it, but demonstrate that we can do better.

Labour did not introduce proportional representation for the Scottish elections because it offered them short-term electoral advantage, indeed they knew that it didnít. Labour knew that the likelihood of them or anyone else securing a majority was well nigh impossible.

The construction of a PR system may have cost them outright political power in the short-term, but there is no doubt their real motive was to put a barrier up to the SNP achieving a majority of seats. The outcome of the election makes this clear. Labour achieved 39 per cent of the first vote, which returned 53 MSPs, or 72 per cent of those returned as constituency MPs. Their average over the two ballots was 36 per cent, returning 43 per cent of the MSPs. Under the Westminster rules it is theoretically possible to have a majority of Scottish MPs with perhaps as little as 35 per cent of the vote. It is not possible to achieve this with the Scottish parliament. I would not argue that the SNP should not attempt to gain independence through the parliament, but would only point out there are other, perhaps better vehicles.

It is often claimed that the SNP can become badly squeezed in any Westminster election, and particularly in the Tory years 1979-1997 as Labour became the repository of anti-Tory votes. It is up to us to present a case for independence that seduces Scots away from voting for any party that seeks to prolong the Union.

Scotland has underperformed its potential under both Labour and Conservative governments, and we should be able to take Scotland forward in hope of a better society regardless of the other choices. This acceptance by Nationalists of a squeeze on our vote is acceptance of defeatism. We have to fight on the intellectual high ground in any election and must strive to make sure our message is conveyed in such a way as to be understandable by the electorate and not to confuse them.

We did not engage on the message of independence in the last election, choosing to fight a devolutionary campaign on our opponentís ground. The other parties had a field day; they could attack using pejorative language such as separatism and divorce while our response was to talk about our programme for the Scottish parliament. An opportunity was lost to build the case for independence in the first Scottish election we fought without the distraction of Westminster.

We should not dignify devolution by arguing for it, taking the opportunity that was afforded us by making the case for independence.

Our opponents have attacked the SNP saying that a vote for the SNP at the next election for Westminster would be a wasted vote. Indeed there are those within the SNP who argue that the role of SNP MPs at Westminster will be that of ambassador. This begs the question: ambassadors to whom?

We should make it absolutely clear that a vote for the SNP at the next Westminster election is a vote for independence. There has been the suggestion that the SNP should be making the next Scottish election the independence election.

Perhaps this has got more to do with those who were elected attempting to make sure the party gathers its resources for this election rather than for Westminster. What they ignore is that Westminster allows us to present the case for independence and argue for a mandate to negotiate for independence. Quite a different scenario than the one we presented in May when we argued for a mandate to present a referendum on independence.

The Westminster elections provide a clear pathway to independence. Victory first past the post, leading to negotiations for independence, the results of which are presented to the people of Scotland in a referendum.

It does not bring with it the problems of the last election when the SNP delivered a manifesto for a devolved parliament, finding itself on ground not of its own choosing, but those of our opponents, who should have been the ones selling devolution.

We cannot take the approach today that the first significant opportunity to fight and win is the next Scottish election. Every election is an opportunity to win the fight for independence. If we believe as we do that we can make a fundamental difference to the future of our small country, then we have a duty to present that case, and fight to win at every opportunity.

Any attempt to downplay Westminster as a route to Scottish independence is a gross dereliction of duty to the people of this country we seek to represent. Let us make the next election the independence election. We do not need to wait four years for the next opportunity.