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Clash of the First Ministers

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Clash of the First Ministers

FORMER First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Henry McLeish clashed over Scottish devolution during a Wigtown Book Festival panel discussion at the weekend.

The sold-out event, which was chaired by former BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor and also included Conservative Liz Smith, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, on the panel.

The Scotland Act, 25 Years On explored all that has happened since the legislation was passed in November 1998 – paving the way for a devolved Scotland.

Key topics included how it’s all turned out, what a quarter of a century of Holyrood government has taught us and, in a turbulent political year, what will happen next?

Sturgeon said she still believes that Scotland will become independent, attacking the current Westminster government for “democracy denial” in refusing a fresh independence referendum.

She also stated that she is no longer entirely confident that the Scottish Parliament will survive and claimed: “We have a government that has no respect for the Scottish Parliament.

“If we aren’t careful we will wake up one day in a few years and will wonder whatever happened to our Scottish Parliament.”

And she said that the continued refusal to hold a referendum was “unsustainable” and that “Scotland will have a choice and that choice will be independence”

McLeish condemned the SNP, saying: “I think Scotland has stalled on a number of major issues, and it’s been stalled by the relentless focus on independence.”

He argued that “the dial has not shifted, there are no more people in favour of independence than there were in the past and the momentum has gone out of the independence movement.”

For the next five years, he said, there must be a complete focus on sorting out issues around the economy, health service and education and said that the next general election must be treated as an opportunity to remove a Conservative government which is destroying services with policies that promote “private affluence and public squalor”.

McLeish said there needs to be an evolution in the powers available to all the UK’s devolved administrations and a framework agreed so they can more readily adapt in the face of changing times and challenges.

However he also attacked Westminster saying that he believed that the Scotland Act and the devolution it brought has been far more respected in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

And he warned that unless UK governments showed proper respect for devolution then “the seeds of the end of the union could lie in Westminster”.

Both former FMs agreed that Scotland needs more powers to address its own affairs.

They, along with Smith, also agreed that politics has become toxic and new ways need to be found for people and politicians to debate and disagree with respect.

She said: “Politics is toxic. Politics and politicians are deeply unpopular and we have to tackle that.

“I believe what the people of Scotland really want is for us to be addressing the problems that confront us all and to see both parliaments working together to make this happen.”


Pic by Colin Hattersley

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