Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

Independence or austerity in the UK under the Tories? Voters will decide

I can get a haircut a week on Monday. Maybe. Hopefully.

As we enter the second year of this pandemic, there’s a sense that, if we proceed with caution, the end just might be in sight. With vaccines suppressing infection rates and the number of deaths dropping dramatically, we might just be able to interact with each other again soon.

Now, slowly, the focus can turn from survival to recovery. We can start to take stock of the damage done and we can tentatively look to the future. We can start to rebuild.

That is the context in which Scotland goes to polls on May 6th. This coming general election will be dominated by two things: Covid and the right to choose our future.

People will judge the performance of the Scottish government in dealing with the pandemic. The tragedy of the deaths of many of our fellow citizens cannot be erased and should not be minimised. And there are lessons to be learned. But overall, I think people will judge that Nicola Sturgeon and her team have done the best they could in the most horrendous of circumstances.

Certainly, when compared to the political leadership at Westminster, the Scottish government has acted with more consistency and purpose. This has brought into sharp focus the powers of devolution – which are limited, but significant. Many are now asking what might have been done with more.

As the year progresses, it will become apparent that the powers which allowed the Scottish government to deal with the emergency, will not be sufficient to recover from it. A simple choice will be unveiled. Either we can grasp the powers needed to rebuild Scotland as a fairer, greener, more equitable country, or we can allow this process to be run by the Tory UK government.

Vast sums have been borrowed by the UK government to fight Covid. The huge question now is whether to continue borrowing and invest in the recovery, or to stop and start cutting spending. The UK chancellor has not yet got a plan, but the mood music he is playing is crystal clear. The pandemic will be paid for on the back of a real terms cut in public services and the wages of those who work in them. Austerity is coming.

If you are uneasy about that, you might want to consider whether it would be better to have a government in Scotland which was able to decide on such things for itself.

And that’s what this election is about. The Tories will try to pretend that the debate on Scotland’s right to choose is a distraction from the Covid recovery. Nothing could be further from the truth - it is central to it.

No-one, and I mean no-one, wants to have another referendum until we are out of this pandemic. I want to be able to ask people in the flesh what sort of future they want, not via a screen. None of us know how soon that will be. But it will come.

Everyone needs to decide in whose hands the future lies. If you want a government that will put that choice in your hands, vote SNP. If you’d prefer Boris Johnson to decide Scotland’s future, vote Conservative.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 26th March 2021