Moray on INDEPENDENCE DAY: A lost opportunity or lucky escape?

Four Moray politicians give their view on what might have been - and has been.
Four Moray politicians give their view on what might have been – and has been

FOR 45% OF SCOTS today could have been one hell of a party – the first day of Scotland’s Independence, if only just a few percentage points more had been achieved back in September 2014.

On that fateful day Moray led the way in rejecting the option of self-determination, the constituency of the man who masterminded the SNP’s campaign, Angus Robertson, finding just 42.44% willing to take the plunge.

Fast forward to March 24 2016, this day that was earmarked as the cut-off point when a ‘Yes’ vote was to become reality. Much has changed – the SNP have stormed to an apparently unassailable position in Scottish politics – while many of the riches that awaited an Independent Scotland have been seen to wash up on a North Sea coast on which the Oil Bounty has run dry.

Not that this has stopped the nationalist march – far from it. Indeed, this week a Scottish Social Attitudes survey is showing support for independence as being at its highest level yet, showing support for the Scottish Parliament taking all decision for the nation standing at 51%.

We asked representatives of the main parties in Moray for their views on what might have been.

Angus Robertson (SNP) – Still dreaming of Independence

Angus Robertson - welcomed some budget measures
Angus Robertson – SNP

There can be little doubt that much like the rest of Scotland, Moray would have been very different today – something that the leader of the SNP Independence campaign and now leader of a very strong SNP group at Westminster, Angus Robertson, knows only too well.

Angus told insideMoray: “As a lifelong Independence campaigner I was clearly disappointed with the referendum result. If it had been a Yes to Independence then we would be taking those first steps today as a normal Independent nation, able to take full responsibility for our own issues and decisions.

“That being said, what is absolutely clear is that people in Scotland are more energised than ever to deliver positive change for our country. Support for Independence is at its highest levels yet in opinion polls and we have a Scottish Government that is the most trusted in Europe.

“Looking ahead we have Scottish Parliament elections on May 5 where Scotland will be electing a Scottish Parliament that will begin a new era with more powers to make the changes that people want to see.

“I am very much looking forward to this next chapter in Scotland’s journey and I remain firmly of the belief that full Independence will be of enormous benefit to Scotland and her people and that we are on that road.”

Douglas Ross (Conservatives) – Hail the victors?

Douglas Ross – Conservative

As a Conservative party member and soon to be MSP unless some major disaster happens, Douglas Ross never had any doubt where his campaigning head was back in 2014. For Douglas, the No vote has proven very fortunate for Moray and for Scotland.

He said: “Alex Salmond promised that after a Yes vote in September 2014, by this day and at a cost of only £200m, we would have separated our country from the rest of the UK.

“This would have been done by the same SNP government who can’t even organise an IT system to pay farmers the CAP payments they’re entitled for almost £200m – so you can see why some feel we had a lucky escape.

“Moray voted strongly in favour to remain part of the United Kingdom and at the end of the day there was a 10% difference across Scotland between separation and staying within the UK.

“We were promised it would be a once in a generation vote but because people didn’t vote for the nationalists dream of independence we constantly hear they may try to hold another referendum. However, they will find it difficult to win the support they need if we look at Scotland today and how it could have been if the Yes side had won.

“Recent figures revealed that due to the oil price slump Scotland has a deficit of 9.7% of GDP while the rest of the UK’s is just 4.9%. That gap equates to £7.4billion and would have been borne solely by Scottish taxpayers if we were now independent rather than being spread across everyone in the UK.

“There is no doubt that politically the SNP have benefited from the referendum, having all but three of Scotland’s MPs is a sign of that. What is not clear, however, is if that electoral success would necessarily lead to another referendum and separation of Scotland from the UK.

“Where would we be on this day as country about to start up on its own? Your heart may be full of excitement for the potential of this new country, but your head would be filled with doubt about how it can survive without the partnership and co-operation of the rest of the United Kingdom that has been such a constant support for more than 300 years.”

James MacKessack-Leitch (Greens) – Lessons to Learn

James MacKessack-Leitch - Greens
James MacKessack-Leitch – Greens

The Moray Greens were stalwart allies of the SNP in the bid for an independent Scotland – while the two parties do not always agree, in this they appeared to be comfortable together.

However, James MacKessack Leitch refuses to dwell too much on what might have been, pointing to the ‘democratic awakening’ that did come from September 2014.

He told insideMoray: “I’m not one for dwelling on what might have been – even if today, in a parallel universe, is Scotland’s Independence day. That said, there are quite clearly some lessons to learn.

“Holyrood now has more power, more ability to make a difference to our lives and society, and MSPs will have more accountability.

“Which means that the next Scottish Government has to prove it can do things differently if it’s serious about a new constitution. Not bicker and blame Westminster for every problem, not just tweak and tinker, but set us on a path of real transformational change.

“The referendum inspired a democratic awakening, but a timid and uninspiring Scottish Government threatens to put the electorate back to sleep. Scotland can be better, and Holyrood must be bolder, whether it’s using the new powers that are coming, or making better use of the ones we already have, the only way to win a fundamental change to the way we’re governed is to step up and take action.

“So far it looks like only I and my colleagues in the Scottish Greens are ready to do just that.”

Sean Morton (Labour) – Sums just never added up

Sean Morton - Labour
Sean Morton – Labour

Sean was at the forefront of the ‘No’ vote in Moray – and never doubted that Scotland would reject the SNP-led campaign. His party perhaps suffered more than most in Scotland, perceived to have ‘sided’ with the Tories and with their leadership in disarray, a heavy price was paid in the UK Elections last year.

But there are signs of recovery on the UK national stage and Sean is fighting hard with his Scottish colleagues to recover home ground.

“The idea that today would have been the day Scotland broke away, for me, just does not bear thinking about,” he told insideMoray.

He added: “The truth is, everything we warned about during the referendum campaign came true. We said the SNP’s sums just didn’t add up and we were proved right. All the evidence now suggests we dodged a bullet.

“After separation the cuts would have been five times more than those being imposed now by George Osborne. That gives a sense of the impact on our schools and hospitals. People were misled by the SNP in the run-up to the referendum and that is simply unforgivable.

“By voting to stay in the UK – and by agreeing to The Vow – Scotland is in a stronger position than we would have been if today was Independence Day. So I’m proud of the role I played in helping ensure Moray delivered a resounding no vote – 58%.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat if need be – but today is also the start of the Scottish Parliament election campaign which means it’s time to move on and deliver real change for Scotland, right now.

“We can avoid the Tory/SNP cuts that are actually taking place to schools and other vital public services now by voting Labour. We have put forward a bold plan to stop the SNP’s cuts by setting a Scottish rate of Income Tax just 1p higher than the rate set by George Osborne.

“Faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future and grow our economy or carrying on with the SNP’s cuts to schools, we choose to use the powers.”