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Speech in Scottish Parliament Michael McMahon

14 June 2007

Moved Labour amendment:

Michael McMahon (Hamilton North and Bellshill) (Lab): Eight years on from the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the views of Donald Dewar, quite rightly, remain important to much of what happens here. I am never totally comfortable when speculating on what his stance would have been on any given situation, but I am as confident as I can be that although he did not want to shackle in any way the matters that could be aired here, it was never his intention for members continually to attempt to give parliamentary authority to matters over which the Parliament has no competence.

Sandra White (Glasgow) (SNP): Will the member take an intervention?

Michael McMahon: Let me make some progress.

The Labour Party will not be an accessory to such endeavours. The people of Scotland clearly decided the responsibilities of the Parliament when they voted for the devolved settlement. The settlement was established and we respect that judgment. The constitutional settlement contained in the Scotland Act 1998 clearly established the boundaries between devolved and reserved issues. That is why in the past six years no disputes between this Parliament and Westminster have had to go to the Privy Council. However, members on the Labour benches have detected that, in the early weeks of this session of the Parliament, the new Executive and some other parties have no such scruples in relation to respect for the settled will of the Scottish people. We do not intend to waste Parliament's time on matters for which it is not responsible.

Alasdair Allan (Western Isles) (SNP): The Parliament has already heard many expressions of deference to Westminster. Will the member also defer to the majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster, who—unlike, apparently, members on the Labour benches opposite—have a view on the issue?

Michael McMahon: We will not defer to anyone, but we will respect the devolved settlement. It is ironic that at a time when Alex Salmond is challenging Westminster for encroaching on Scottish legal matters, we are encroaching on Westminster's responsibilities for defence matters. We want to use this Parliament to focus on the matters over which it has power and for which it has responsibility, and to ensure that there is no free-for-all that shows no respect for the devolved settlement or the cause of good government.

Sandra White: The member mentioned that he respected the judgment of the Scottish people, yet he does not respect their wishes. The vast majority of the Scottish people do not want Trident on their shores, down the road on the Clyde. Will he explain his position?

Michael McMahon: The wishes of the Scottish people are for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom and for MPs to represent their views on defence matters in Westminster—MPs are elected to go there to deal with that issue. We should recall that the reason why this Parliament came into being was that we did not want vital matters of importance to the people of Scotland to be squeezed into short debates held after midnight at Westminster. To squeeze a reserved matter into a short debate here is little better than what happened previously in London.

The Labour Party believes that the role of the Scottish Parliament is to concentrate on and debate the matters for which it has competence.

Patrick Harvie: The member seems unclear about whether we are debating the issue for too long or short a time. Why does he support—as I do—the Labour Party when it brings international development issues to the chamber but reject the notion that we should debate other issues of importance to the people of Scotland, such as this reserved issue?

Michael McMahon: The debate is both too short and unnecessary.

The Labour Party is concerned that our minority Government and some Opposition parties want to make the discussion of reserved matters almost the norm in this session. That is what we are opposed to this morning. We take a stance against that tendency, which is why we have never sought to lodge motions on matters that were not our responsibility. Other parties would serve this place better if they followed that principle, rather than merely posturing for effect.

I move amendment S3M-169.3, to leave out from "congratulates" to end and insert:

"affirms that defence policy is, and should remain, the responsibility of the UK Parliament"

Summed up for Labour -

Michael McMahon: In my opening speech, I concentrated on our concerns about having this debate; in my closing speech, I will comment on issues that have been raised during the debate.

The Green party's motion clearly shows that it has few scruples. It is a so-called anti-nuclear peace party, but its lodging a motion that proposes only a delay in a vote on implementing a new nuclear arsenal merely to make a transparent and feeble attempt to cobble together an anti-Labour majority in the chamber is an example of political deception that is almost unparalleled in the Parliament. We probably should have expected such a fraud, given the way in which the Greens have recently dodged transport and environmental issues to serve their new nationalist masters. For a pacifist party, the Green party has become adept at the military two-step as Green members dance around each issue making excuses for their latest sell-out.

Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): Does the member agree that it sits rather ill for the Green party to lodge such a motion for its first debate in the new session, given that its members failed to turn up to discuss the future of agri-environment schemes for the next seven years?

Michael McMahon: I could not agree more.

Perhaps worse is the fact that the debate is based on the most facile, superficial and obtuse argument possible, which Bruce Crawford and his colleagues have again put eloquently. The Greens and the nats are so opposed to Trident that they want to pursue a course that would lead Scotland to utter impotence in making decisions on it. The independence parties regularly say that they want Scotland to be like Ireland. If they follow their line of reasoning to its natural conclusion, that is exactly where they will be in relation to Trident. I agree with Iain Smith about that.

Alasdair Allan: Will the member take an intervention?

Michael McMahon: No. I want to make progress.

Durness in the Highlands is further away from Faslane than is Donegal. The member of Parliament for Durness has a vote on Trident at Westminster, but no elected representative in Donegal can have an input into that debate. If Scotland gained independence from Westminster and was like Ireland, Whitehall would still own and control Trident missile systems and would make Scotland, like Ireland, the powerless neighbour of a nuclear state.

Jamie Hepburn: Is Michael McMahon calling for the reincorporation of the Republic of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Michael McMahon: The member's intervention is not clever—and nor was his intervention in Jackie Ballie's speech. He will need to step to the mark if he is to make interventions that contribute to the debate.

Trident would still be replaced, but it would be relocated to a port in England or Wales. Scotland, its First Minister, any future president or even its current cardinal would have no more say over issues relating to Trident than the Taoiseach, the Irish President or any other Irish politician.

Keith Brown (Ochil) (SNP): The Irish do not have Trident.

Michael McMahon: That is right, and they cannot influence the Trident debate.

If the independence movement's ambition is to have no influence over Trident, that ambition is short-sighted. If Scotland wants to have a say on Britain's nuclear missile capability, it must remain part of Britain and allow its MPs to take part in that debate. Scotland will lose its voice on the matter if it gets independence—that is the logical consequence of Scottish independence. However, this debate is not about logic—it is about the all too typical grandstanding that we have come to expect from the nationalist coalition. That is what members have aimed at: Parliament should not be so easily fooled or seduced by the superficiality of the motion, and it should not support it.