‘The Optimism of Politics’ — speech here
Johann Lamont MSP, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, perhaps in response to accusations of too much negativity in the Better Together campaign, explained her optimism for a Scottish future where a progressive movement across the UK could tackle the important issues of inequality in education, health and employment.
At the beginning of the speech, Lamont discussed her Hebridean background, in a Gaelic speaking family, and the surprise often shown by people who would assume that a connection to the islands would make one a nationalist. She countered that her understanding of inequality and injustice in Scotland made her a socialist, not a nationalist. Clearly stating that she spent her life standing against nationalism Lamont commented; “Geography and identity didn’t determine those who had power and those who didn’t.” Throughout the speech, Lamont touched back on the idea that inequality in Scotland cannot be addressed by “simply erecting a border”, at one point stating she did not believe the notion that Scots would “unite behind a bold and progressive vision once we have thrown off the shackles placed on us by our neighbours”.
A central argument in her speech was that real change in Scotland can be made now and does not have to wait for a referendum. She focused on three main areas—education, health and the economy—in which redistribution of wealth and opportunity could be accomplished without independence, implying it could be better achieved within the union, and could make a significant difference in the lives of Scottish people.
The speech ended with a call to work for change from within, in partnership with progressives across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. “The answer is to change the government, not the constitution.”
The Young Academy of Scotland posed four specific questions to each of the five speakers in this series via an open letter. First, what are the biggest risks and opportunities of independence? Second, how would an independent Scotland ensure sufficient research funding to maintain their reputation for quality research and innovation? Third, what specific plans would your party implement to ensure Scotland’s economy? Fourth, what is your detailed vision for post-referendum Scotland?
While Lamont did not directly address these questions in her speech, elements were briefly touched on in the question period. Regarding a question about the possibility of the UK opting out of the EU, Ms Lamont speculated on why British people might feel disconnected from the EU and stated that we need to be positive about communicating to the public why the EU is important. Regarding a question about what incentive Westminster will have to negotiate for further devolution following a ‘no’ vote and what the Scottish Labour party would have to offer in terms of increased devolution, Lamont deferred specifics until the upcoming report from the Devolution Commission is published and suggested that the whole of the UK benefits by settling questions about devolution, rather than evading them.
The final question cited the results of a recent poll by the Law Society of Scotland, which found that most voters felt disengaged and uninformed about the debate, and asked why this was and what can be done. Lamont’s response was one that resonated with many in the audience- she encouraged non-governmental bodies to engage pro actively with the debate, providing independent evidence and, more importantly, opinions in their areas of expertise. “Saying nothing is not being neutral.” As the lecture closed, those present from the aforementioned bodies looked forward to engaging in the forthcoming opportunities to discuss opinions with the remaining leaders who are participating in this joint YAS/DHI lecture series whilst also having the opportunity afterwards to reflect on the quality of evidence, analysis and policy drawn from all invited speakers.
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