Sir Keir Starmer: Why we can’t have four nations pulling in different directions

The coronavirus crisis means that I have had to wait until today to make my first visit to Scotland as Labour leader. I am here with a very clear message: Labour’s history and values run proudly through Scotland – and always will.

Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 10:30 pm
The politics of Brexit are playing a significant part in the Scottish independence debate. 
Picture: Neil Hanna
The politics of Brexit are playing a significant part in the Scottish independence debate. Picture: Neil Hanna

When I ran for leader of the Labour party, I could never have imagined visiting in these circumstances. I know I speak for the whole of the Labour movement when I offer my heartfelt condolences to all the families across Scotland who have lost loved ones to this terrible virus. And heartfelt thanks to all the key workers who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe.

Coronavirus has lifted a curtain on many of the inequalities and fragilities which still exist within Scotland. When we emerge – which we will – we need to have learnt the lessons. There can be no going back to the status quo. We need to build a better future.

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It is my responsibility to lead the charge for that future. To win the trust of people in Scotland that the Labour Party can offer the change we need.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The Labour Party I lead, with Scottish Labour, will speak up for the people of Scotland, whether that is in Holyrood or in Westminster. For those worried for their job, for their loved ones or for their future, we will speak up for you.

I know how anxious people are about the recent rise in coronavirus cases. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be when you’re worried about getting a test result. That’s why the number one priority for governments across the United Kingdom must be protecting people’s lives and livelihoods. Yet in the middle of a global pandemic, the Tories are still banging on about Brexit and the SNP, by their own admission, are still prioritising independence. Rather than acknowledging the deep problems with their response to the virus, like the current testing fiasco or the crisis in our care homes, they are dodging blame and attacking each other.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives in Scotland refuse to stand up to Boris Johnson as he backtracks on his own Brexit deal. Figures across the Conservative party have spoken against his attempts to reignite the chaos and division of Brexit, yet the Scottish Conservatives remain silent.

No government would have found this pandemic easy. But the harsh reality is that we have seen devastating death tolls and among the worst recessions of any major economy, in the UK and Scotland. Hundreds of thousands of Scottish jobs are at risk as the furlough scheme ends next month.

What I, and the Scottish public, want, is to see our governments getting around the table and working together – to defeat this virus and tackle the looming threat of mass unemployment.

Labour in government created devolution so that decisions could be made closer to people. But, for that, we need governments to work in partnership. As we have seen with the recent blame-game over testing in Scotland, if governments spend their time fighting each other there is only one loser – the Scottish people.

So I say to both governments: get a grip, focus on the job in hand and work together to defeat this virus. I continue to believe that a four-nations approach is the best response to the health and economic crises we face. At this crucial time, we cannot have a situation where the four nations of the UK are pulling in different directions.

Scotland is deeply important to me and to the Labour party. I am in no doubt that we have a mountain to climb, both at the next UK general election and next year’s Holyrood elections. But I am confident of the platform Labour will enter those elections on. Our priority will not be another divisive independence referendum – it will be properly funding our National Health Service, protecting jobs and investing in our children’s future. Those are the priorities of the Scottish people, and they are my priorities as leader of the Labour party.

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