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ref date:12 May 1998 (SI)
SNP leader urges Scots to dump New Labour

Alex Salmond: leader of the SNP makes it crystal clear to current "New Labour" voters what the Scottish National party will do for Scotland and why.

IN less than 12 months the voters of Scotland will choose their first parliament for almost 300 years. And 6 May, 1999, will see the first ever Scottish general election and it is now obvious that the choice for government at that election will lie between London-based "new" Labour and the SNP - Scotland's party.

"Policy, policy, policy," said Donald Dewar in these pages yesterday, will be the offering from "new" Labour. Real and lasting change, and a building of our confidence and abilities as a nation is what the SNP offers. Action, not just action plans.

"New" Labour went to the electorate last May with a manifesto so thin and transparent that you could see daylight through it. The policy vacuum was deliberate and designed to draw off Tory support in the south of England. But having been elected by a landslide even in Tory heartlands, Tony Blair has been caught with a largely empty policy portfolio which has been hurriedly filled in by borrowing the old right-wing mantras from the discredited Conservatives.

However, in Scotland there is another way forward. Next year, we have the opportunity to embark on a programme of social and economic development that can create a more just and a more enterprising society. It is the SNP's aim to deliver such a society if trusted to do so by the people.

Let me make a clear pledge about the SNP in government. We will work to make the new parliament work. Of course, its powers are limited. And the financial strait-jacket, designed by the Tories and tightened by Gordon Brown, will further constrain freedom of action. But there are still possibilities-a-plenty for real change for the better in Scotland.

The SNP has already started to lay out some of the ideas that we are considering for our manifesto. We wish to tackle a wide range of issues which for too long have been neglected, mishandled or ignored by Westminster. Education has not been ignored by Westminster - it has suffered from too much political meddling. The continued insistence on school reforms without resources to implement them does not lie well with the much-needed change of approach that "new" Labour constantly talked of - and particularly when the reality at ground level is relentless cutting of education budgets as part of the local authority settlement. "New deal schools" - apparently the big educational idea of "new" Labour in Scotland - are an interesting possibility, but can never be the cornerstone of a Scottish educational system that is being allowed to decline day by day.

New technology and its increasing use by pupils is a firmer basis for change, but new technology has to be housed in buildings that are not decaying and has to be introduced and sustained by a teaching profession that is valued and encouraged, not blamed and bullied.

In last year's general election, the SNP presented the only detailed and costed manifesto from a Scottish perspective. This, of course, included clear policies on such vital matters as education, housing and health.

For example, we proposed a new largely non-political health commission to take the strategic decisions on the National Health Service out of the party political arena - an idea whose time is now coming.

In keeping with this commitment to clear and well thought-out policies we are at present examining line by line the Scottish Office budget and setting this against the policy priorities for Scotland today We are not helped in this matter, of course, by the Government's refusal to make financial commitments beyond this year and its reluctance to accord the opposition the access to civil servants that is demanded for itself as a democratic right when in the same position.

However, that obstruction will not stop the task in hand, and we are already planting out clear initiatives on areas which have lain fallow on the Scottish political scene for far too long.

One of the key issues is land reform. The independent land commission, financed by the SNP, has laid the foundations for a radical approach to community involvement in land use and planning, alongside the abolition of feudal tenure.

Another SNP priority is a new agenda for equality and race relations, to involve everyone in Scotland in the future of our country.

Scottish business and industry is looking to the parliament to encourage enterprise and build success: there has been a broad welcome for our detailed plans for a new "export from Scotland" unit that will assist our companies in selling Scotland to the world and take the maximum advantage of the new national profile that a new Scottish parliament will bring.

Far from making, as Donald Dewar desperately claims, "every policy area a proxy for the constitutional struggle" we wish to do exactly the opposite.

The SNP wishes to make Scottish government work hard to deliver real change that will have real effect and we also want to offer the democratic opportunity for Scots to move on if they so wish.

The events of last September were a beginning, not an end - a process rather than an event. The SNP's offer of a single referendum during the first term of an SNP administration is an expression of belief in the right of the Scottish people to progress as far and as fast as they alone wish.

On the 4 June last year Mr Dewar suggested to me in the Commons that the SNP should do exactly that if ever in a position to do so.

The timescale of events may not be as Mr Dewar envisaged then, but he is hardly in a position to renege now on the democratic principles so clearly articulated in our joint referendum campaign of last year.

To deny Scotland a right to an opinion on constitutional change is to restart the old process of closing down what Scotland is allowed to do, and to reimpose the type of political culture that left Scotland frozen in a democratic ice age during the Tory years.

The SNP's strategy for the next year is very simple. We will articulate the practical policies we believe will make a difference to our country. And we will promote the right of Scotland to grow in confidence, ability and standing so that we can move forward as a nation. The pace of that process will be entirely in the hands of the Scottish people.

If elected, we will govern well in the things that the Scottish parliament can do, and seek to encourage national confidence so that Scots can govern well in all aspects of our national life.

Scotland can only develop if it has a flourishing, effective, hard-working parliament. Only such a successful parliament can lead us to independence.