Henry McLeish: Scotland needs freedom to run its finances


by Ben Borland

Former First Minister Henry McLeish has called for Labour to back Scottish financial independence or face political oblivion north of the Border.

Labour veteran Henry McLeish said yesterday that complete fiscal freedom from the UK is the only way his party can return to the front foot against the SNP.

He has put the case for the sensational policy U-turn to UK Labour leader Ed Miliband and senior Scots MP Jim Murphy and said he is “very optimistic” they will agree.

Mr McLeish also described secret plans to bring in a Scottish leader from outwith Holyrood as an “own goal”.

The SNP welcomed his comments, but warned that the rest of Scottish Labour is still “out of touch”.

Mr McLeish, who was First Minister from 2000 to 2001, said the Labour-backed Calman plan to give Holyrood more power was “not sufficient”.

He added: “Fiscal autonomy or devolution max, when Labour gets to that point then we will have a credible alternative to put against independence and there is no doubt it would win the support of the Scottish people in a referendum. 

“I have talked to a lot of people in the party about this, including Ed Miliband. This is Labour’s time. Labour can’t afford to have another humiliating defeat like 2011 or 2007.

“The reason why the SNP is talking up fiscal independence or devo max is they know they can’t get full independence past the Scottish people.

“The SNP is softening its rhetoric on independence and it is important that Labour is not outmanoeuvred again. We can claim that alternative position.”

Mr McLeish also said it would be a mistake to form a “Unionist alliance” with the Conservatives ahead of the SNP’s independence referendum.

Mr Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, and MSP Sarah Boyack are carrying out a review of Scottish Labour following its ballot box hammering on May 5. One of the main issues under consideration is who should replace Iain Gray as leader.

Mr McLeish confirmed rumours that some within the party want to recruit a Scottish leader from Westminster, who would promise to stand down in 2015 and move to Holyrood.

Although supposed ‘heavy hitters’ like Mr Murphy and Douglas Alexander have ruled themselves out, new MPs Tom Greatrex and Gregg McClymont are being considered.

Mr McLeish said: “I’m not sure that the people who think this is a solution have fully thought through the practical implications.”

SNP MP and Treasury Spokesman Stewart Hosie said the former Fife MP and MSP is “right” to back financial independence.

He said: “Henry McLeish joins leading job creators Sir Tom Hunter and Jim McColl in recognising the importance of Scotland having full financial responsibility.”

Courtesy of the Scottish Sunday Express