A former Labour Government Minister has declared his support for a Yes vote in the independence referendum and is urging Labour supporters to follow his lead.
Leslie Huckfield, who served in James Callaghan’s government in the 1970s, says the direction being followed by both Labour and Tory government at Westminster is a compelling reason for Scotland to vote Yes.
As a lifelong campaigner for social justice, he is calling on all Labour supporters past and present to back independence.
Mr Huckfield was the youngest MP – the “Baby of the House” – when he was elected at the age of 24 in 1967 for the English seat of Nuneaton and Bedworth.
He was Labour’s front bench Industry spokesman from 1979 to 1983 when he championed the alternative policies of British Leyland and other Shop Steward combines. He was under Secretary of State for Industry from 1976 to 1979, serving under Industry Minister Eric Varley.
Mr Huckfield was sponsored throughout his career by the Transport and General Workers’ Union, and is now active in Unite, leading the campaign to extend the Living Wage in Edinburgh.
A Labour member for most of his adult life, Mr Huckfield left the Labour Party in protest at the Iraq war and what he described as, “New Labour’s continuing political drift”.
Mr Huckfield who now lives in Auchterdarder, Perthshire, said: “When I moved to Scotland in 2004 it became apparent that this is a country with a veritable passion for social justice. The agenda in England represents the disintegration of many principles and policies to which Scots hold dearly.
“I want to support the Yes Campaign in any way I can, especially since I don’t believe that many people in Scotland sufficiently understand or recognise the emerging political agenda in England.
“I find worrying not only the coalition agenda under Cameron and Clegg but also that Miliband and New Labour don’t offer anything really different. In short, I believe that an independent Scotland is an opportunity not only to free itself from Tories and a UK Coalition Agenda but also from the agenda of New Labour.”
He added: “New Labour laid the foundations for almost every policy of the coalition government and has produced research showing that the New Labour government initiated the rapid dismantling of the NHS that has led so far to more than £15bn of services in England contracted out of public hands; set university fees of £3,000 which were trebled by the coalition to £9,000; started dismantling the English probation service under the National Offender Management Service; and laid foundations for the coalition’s Work Programme and Universal Credit changes, which were trailed in Lord Freud’s Report to New Labour in 2007.”
On Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s challenge to universal benefits last year, Mr Huckfield said: “I find it very difficult to accept Scottish Labour’s protestations about “something for nothing” benefits and its assertion that to review universal benefits is not a betrayal. In England, New Labour now says openly that it will be tougher on benefits than the Tories and proclaims that many young people will lose their benefits completely unless they are in training. This means in Scotland too.”
Mr Huckfied described how the causes he supported throughout his life could be taken forward in an independent Scotland.
He said: “At school and university I was an active member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and marched from Aldermaston in the 1950s and 1960s. A newly independent Scotland can be free from nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
“As a Minister in 1977, I visited shipyards on the Clyde when they were being brought into public ownership. Nowadays, there is not even a commitment from New Labour that it will keep the East Coast Mainline Service from London to Scotland under direct Department of Transport control.
“I’ve been active in politics for over half a century. For me, an independent Scotland provides an historic opportunity for the implementation of many of the principles and causes which I have supported all my active political life. I’m not saying that this might happen overnight. But most of this won’t happen at all as long as Scotland remains part of the UK.
“A radical independent Scotland is a lifetime’s opportunity to start again. We can lay new foundations in an independent Scotland – to implement the policies and causes that the Labour Party has traditionally supported. That’s why I’m voting Yes on Thursday 18 September 2014 and hope that you will join me.”
Mr Huckfield joins an ever-growing list of senior Labour figures who are backing a Yes vote in September. They include Sir Charles Gray, former leader of Strathclyde Region; Alex Mosson, former Lord Provost of Glasgow; John Mulvey, former leader of Lothian Region; Anum Qaisar, the General Secretary of Muslim Friends of Labour, Scotland; three-times Labour candidate Carol Fox; Bob Thomson, former Chairman of the Scottish Labour Party; Pat Kelly, former President of the Scottish Trades Union Congress; and Jamie Kerr, Vice-Chair of Renfrewshire South Constituency Labour Party.
Commenting, Yes Scotland Chief Executive Blair Jenkins said: “To have the support of a former Labour Government Minister is a major boost for the campaign.
“Like increasing numbers of Labour supporters, Les Huckfield realises that the only way for Scotland to use its enormous wealth, resources and talent to create the the prosperous and fairer country we know it can and should be is to take our own future into our own hands,
“I am delighted to have Les”s support and I am confident that more and more similarly-minded people will come to Yes and get us over the winning line on September 18.”
Speaking to the BBC, a spokesman for the Labour party said: “Everyone knows the overwhelming majority of Labour supporters want Scotland to stay strong in the UK and will be voting ‘No’ in September to stop Alex Salmond breaking up the country.”