Speaking in the debate yesterday following the First Minister’s statement on the independence referendum, John warned that the Westminster parties are keen to return to ‘business as usual’, with promises of new powers already being hastily rolled back, and Labour returning to right-wing policies rather than the progressive solidarity they alluded to during the campaign.
He also raised the question of the Treasury’s apparently illegal leaking of market-sensitive information about the Royal Bank of Scotland as part of the UK Government’s anti-independence campaign. Alex Salmond intervened to announce that he will be passing all the information he has on the incident to the appropriate legal authorities.
The unionist parties have been calling for unity – that is, for opposition to their shared neoliberal agenda to end. John pointed out that the gap between much of the Yes movement and the No parties is not just one of constitutional policy, but of deeply-held values: “I am keen that we find common ground — that is important — but I am afraid that the UK unionist parties still view the corporations as being ahead of the citizens. There is no place for that in my outlook on politics.”
Many Yes campaigners will feel disheartened that we did not get everything we wanted, that we don’t have all the levers of power here in Scotland, but if we stay engaged we can still be a formidable force for social and environmental justice, because, as John said: “Democracy is never a lost cause.”
You can watch John’s speech at BBC Democracy Live – skip to 59 minutes 45 seconds.
The full transcript of John’s speech follows. You can read the full debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.
John Finnie: I noted that Alex Rowley said that, “change we will have”, and many speeches have referred to the term “vow”. If the prize of voting no was devo max, the UK parliamentary motion suggests that that is not the prize that we are now being offered.
Many people know that Conservative Party MPs are pushing for the Barnett formula to be scrapped. The confusion among the No camp about its position was highlighted again by Rod Campbell, who talked about the Campbell commission. Perhaps confused is the Lib Dems’ default position on matters fiscal.
I wonder what history will make of the 11th hour offers that were made. I wonder what it will make of the Treasury briefing. Indeed, more important, as the First Minister mentioned, I wonder what the legal authorities will make of the Treasury briefing. We need to follow that with great interest.
Johann Lamont referred to Labour’s devolution commission report on the Sewel convention and the position of the Scottish Parliament. That is to be welcomed. She also mentioned concerns on the workplace. I wonder whether those concerns are necessarily shared by partners in the No campaign, because it had a combined position.
First Minister Alex Salmond: I should have pointed out that it is my intention to put all the information that I have on the Treasury briefing in the hands of the correct legal authorities so that the investigation that the UK cabinet secretary does not want to make can proceed through the appropriate legal authorities. Then we will see what happens.
John Finnie: I thank the First Minister for that intervention. I am reassured by it and will pay great attention to how the matter progresses.
The referendum was not about electing a reforming Labour UK Government. Indeed, I do not think that that is what we are likely to see anyway—I do not know whether there is any commitment to reviewing health and safety in the workplace or the position on employment tribunal fees and arrangements, which reward poor employers.
The Labour leader talked about different ways to get the answer that we both want and not going back to business as usual but, of course, it is business as usual. I do not want a private NHS and, although the Labour Party south of the border has been complaining about that, we have heard very little about it north of the border. I certainly do not want a House of Lords. That is a way of rewarding the donors to the unionist parties and has no place in a liberal democracy.
Neil Findlay (Lab, Lothian): I hear a lot of critique of the no side from Mr Finnie. Where was the critique from the left of the yes camp of some of their regressive stuff that was in the white paper and the Government’s policy? Mr Finnie was silent.
John Finnie: Mr Findlay knows that I have spoken out on corporation tax, for instance, if that is what he is alluding to.
We know that more of the same means more illegal wars. Trigger-happy folk, including peace envoy Mr Blair, are mouthing off. We know that business as usual means Trident, with £1.43 billion being spent on the early design and the cost of replacement being perhaps £130 billion. It means austerity, which I raised during Mr Findlay’s speech, with 60 per cent of the cuts still to come and the Labour Party signed up to 97 per cent of them—and Labour will do more through its attack on the under-25s.
If we are talking about what we all want, let me say that I do not want the same language. I do not want talk of “British jobs for British workers”, for instance.
I am keen that we find common ground — that is important — but I am afraid that the UK unionist parties still view the corporations as being ahead of the citizens. There is no place for that in my outlook on politics.
Politics is about priorities, and priorities have to be funded. The question is what will be improved by the no vote. Will the no vote address the challenge of zero-hours contracts, which concern Mr Findlay? Will it improve the situation in relation to work capability assessments?
The UK will cut the Scottish Government’s funding, which will have implications for the priorities that are decided on in this Parliament.
I share Jackie Baillie’s concern about the 900,000 people who are affected by fuel poverty. She will be aware of the survey in the Highlands and Islands that shows that the vast majority of pensioners in the area are in severe fuel poverty, with the highest percentage in Orkney — it is ironic that most of those pensioners live in sight of the flare at the Flotta oil terminal. Energy is a reserved matter, of course.
I take issue with Jackie Baillie on what she said about people choosing between heating and lighting. That choice is already being made, and is reflected in the decisions of food banks to give out cold food because people do not have the wherewithal to heat food.
Jackie Baillie (Lab, Dumbarton): Will the member take an intervention?
John Finnie: I thank the member, but I will not; I have a few points to make and I have taken a couple.
I respect the result, and it is important that we do so. Mostly, I respect the engagement that has taken place, particularly in many areas where, historically, there has not been engagement. I am thinking about the Radical Independence Campaign event in Merkinch, in Inverness, which showed that people turn out when they are given the facts and encouraged to believe that their views matter. I am sure that all sides of the debate respect that.
Most of all, I respect the aspirations to make things better that many people hold. Of course we will work with everyone to deliver improvements. The fiscal commission working group said that we need economic and taxation levers if we are to do that, but that does not mean that we should not keep fighting for social and environmental justice.
Democracy is a great thing. We need to reinforce that message for people who engaged but who feel that, because they did not get the result that they wanted, it is a lost cause. Democracy is never a lost cause. We commend everyone for their participation in this historic event.