Press Release on the Independence White Paper

Here is a press release from me, in which I react to the Independence White Paper, which was launched by the Scottish Government on Tuesday.

“HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS MSP:  INDY WHITE PAPER PUTS SCOTLAND’S KIDS FIRST

Independent Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has congratulated the Scottish Government on the independence white paper Scotland’s Future [1], saying they are right to put Scotland’s children first with a plan to provide 1,140 hours of childcare for all three and four year-olds, and all vulnerable two-year-olds.

Ms Urquhart also pointed out that many, including herself, will have some disagreements with parts the Government’s plans – such as on NATO membership, monarchy and currency – but that independence means that decisions on these issues will be finally be in the hands of the people of Scotland to take for themselves.

Ms Urquhart said:

“Our children are, to quote the title of the white paper, Scotland’s Future. They are the reason we should want to build a better nation and they’ll also be the ones who will do much of the building. So the government are to be congratulated for making world-class childcare and early years education a top priority for an independent Scotland

“Quite unlike the direction of travel at Westminster, the white paper sets out an ambition for a more equal Scotland. Greater equality for women must be central to that, and the childcare pledge will make it much easier for mothers to continue their careers if they choose to, and to flexibly share parenting duties with fathers.

“Much progress has been made on childcare in Scotland in recent years, but we need independence to achieve this radical an expansion. That’s because it is a stimulus measure that will pay for itself in the extra tax received from women choosing to work who otherwise would not be able to – but that can only work if the revenues stay in Scotland. Control of our economy by the UK Treasury makes it impossible for Scotland to pursue forward-thinking, stimulus policies like this and ties us into the austerity death spiral.

“The white paper is only one party’s vision, but it is a vision that should inspire confidence that Scotland can and will be a successful, progressive, independent country with many options available to her. The paper itself acknowledges ‘some would prefer Scotland to become a republic, to leave the EU or NATO, or to have our own currency’ – and I would prefer all of those things. But after independence I will have a fair chance to make my case to fellow Scots, while under Westminster those decisions are not ours to take.”

ENDS

For more information or comment, please contact Gary Cocker on gary.cocker@scottish.parliament.uk or 0131 348 5053.

Notes to editors:

1. The white paper Scotland’s Future is available at http://www.scotreferendum.com/ as a PDF or eBook. Hard copies can be ordered free in the UK bye by phoning 0300 012 1809 or emailing referendumwhitepaper@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

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SPEECH: Closing Speech, Trident Debate, 20th March 2013

16:27
Jean Urquhart: We have had a good debate and, again, I repeat my support for the Scottish Government’s bringing this entirely relevant matter to the chamber.

Ruth Davidson’s suggestion that the retention of Trident nuclear missiles showed responsible government led to Alasdair Allan’s brilliant question whether she was also suggesting that every country without a nuclear deterrent was irresponsible. Of course, the answer was that they were when perhaps the answer should have been that countries without nuclear weapons are more responsible with regard to global as well as local security.
Ruth Davidson: My point was that the UK was a responsible signatory to the NPT and that countries such as North Korea and Iran that, since the NPT’s establishment, were seeking to bring on nuclear weapons were indeed irresponsible.
Jean Urquhart: I rest my case. We still have not heard a reasonable answer to Alasdair Allan’s still relevant question.

All sides of the chamber will agree that multilateral disarmament is to be desired, but how do we achieve that? Somebody has to go first and I believe that, with independence, Scotland could do that and be the leader in the world as it has been in so many other areas.

We heard extraordinarily emotive language from Ms Davidson, who talked about us

“walking away from our neighbours”.

In fact, we will be walking towards our neighbours.

Ruth Davidson gave us a terrific list of alternative uses for the money that would be saved by ending the nuclear deterrent, all of which have been suggested by members of the SNP. There is no lack of ideas—it is a shame that she could find nothing to recommend Trident.
Ruth Davidson: The comment about

“walking away from our neighbours”

was a direct quote from Angus Robertson at the SNP conference, which I believe the member attended. My point in listing the huge number of alternatives was to point out the number of times her former colleagues in the SNP have spent the £163 million for Trident. By my reckoning, it is about 20 times per year.
Jean Urquhart: I am well aware of what the member intended, but the point is that those are all worthy areas on which to spend the money and areas where it is needed.

Ken Macintosh stated that the SNP is somehow not serious about getting rid of Trident and that the debate was some kind of jokey waste of time so that a bit of rhetoric about independence could be heard. How dare he? Many people have an ambition to rid the United Kingdom of nuclear weapons, but the difference is that his party has had its shot and failed.
Ken Macintosh: I certainly did not think that the SNP was joking—independence is a deadly serious matter. However, how does the SNP’s desire to get rid of Trident square with its desire to remain as a member of NATO?
Jean Urquhart: The SNP has explained its position on that. I do not agree with it, so why would I try to explain it?

There is a real issue for the Labour Party. We know about the number of people with Labour Party membership cards who believe that the only route now to be rid of Trident on the Clyde is to vote yes in the referendum.

Mr Macintosh suggested that the issue that he again highlighted is shattering the unity of the SNP. I should know about that. The disagreement is not over the outcome of unilateral nuclear disarmament; it is about the route that we take to achieve the goal. The big common factor—and the big difference with the Labour Party, which has failed in its ambition—is self-determination by the Scottish people. I can assure Mr Macintosh that, on that, there is no disunity. Labour needs to understand that inescapable fact. Better together? I do not think so.

What a funny wee speech from Mr McMahon. When someone knows that they are wrong, they often cover it up by poking fun at people who are trying to deal with a serious subject. He is right that the Scots arnae stupit. They have had 60 years of political rhetoric and claims that we will be rid of Trident from the Clyde, but nobody has achieved it. Now, it is within the grasp of the Scottish people to achieve self-determination and unilateral nuclear disarmament, and to head towards multilateralism. I urge them to do that.

Those members who are not in the SNP or the Independent and Green group need to think on this: if they believe, as most of us seem to do, that the only option that is open is the one that everybody has, come October 2014, will we be closer to being free of Trident if we vote yes to better together, or if we vote to be able to make the decision for ourselves? I ask members to support my amendment.

16:33

 

SPEECH: Opening Speech, Trident Debate (20th March 2013)

15:04
Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I am sure that it has not escaped the notice of those members in the chamber that I am the only member of the independent and Green group to speak in the debate. It is unfortunate that business has been scheduled during the PCS strike, and that it has kept my fellow group members away from the debate. Members of all parties had to cross picket lines today but the topic of Trident is so central to my support for independence that I decided to come in to speak to my amendment.

At the outset, I make it clear that I support every element of the Government’s motion and applaud its decision to bring the subject to the chamber for debate. Our amendment is designed to add strength to the motion and not to replace, denigrate or contradict it. I also express my sadness, but not my surprise, at the better together campaign for issuing a briefing in advance of today’s debate on what they think is the positive case for Trident and attempting to score points against the Government over the issues raised in my amendment. I thought that, at least on the issue of squandering billions of pounds on unnecessary, unworkable and immoral weapons of indiscriminate slaughter, there would be some sort of consensus and serious debate, regardless of constitutional preference. However, it seems that the better together campaign is now a cold house for anti-Trident campaigners. It has alienated churches, unions, peace groups, and the majority of the people in Scotland.

It will not come as news to many in the chamber that the issue of an independent Scotland’s NATO membership led me to become an independent member. I cannot support Scotland’s membership of a nuclear alliance, particularly when it pressurises its members to spend a minimum of 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defence, regardless of the geopolitical circumstances of the time. Not surprisingly, NATO expects a contribution to its military common fund from each member state. In 2011-12, that amounted to £106.7 million from the United Kingdom. That means that, even if we could secure an opt-out from any collective military efforts, we would still be contributing financially to drone attacks on civilians and other aggressive military action.

I doubt that those who rail against NATO actions in Afghanistan will make allowances for Scotland because we were not the country that pushed the button. The UK should have been outraged when two innocent young Afghanis were killed recently by NATO troops because they thought that they were terrorists. There was hardly a whisper from the UK Government.

Nuclear weapons are a stain on humanity, whether they are in Scottish waters, American bases or Russian silos. The argument of those who wish to keep Trident essentially boils down to, “After you, I insist,”; in the Labour Party’s case, if it is cheap enough, it does not seem to mind. However, a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament report entitled “Nowhere to Go” highlights the fact that there are no viable alternative bases for Trident in the UK. If we get rid of Trident from Scottish waters, it is gone for good. My concern is that the disarmament of the UK would not be in NATO’s interests and that barriers will be erected against such a step.

Although Canada and Greece have removed nuclear weapons from their soil as members of NATO, I believe that those weapons had reached their sell-by date and those countries had the strategic cover of close neighbours who host nuclear weapons. The imposition of nuclear missiles on German, Belgian and Dutch soil, against the wishes of their Parliaments and citizens, should be a warning to us all about the co-operative nature of NATO.

Norway’s experience with NATO should also be a lesson. Although Norway has successfully resisted the imposition of nuclear weapons on Norwegian soil, it has not succeeded in changing NATO’s nuclear policy, which was reaffirmed last year at its Chicago conference. Every member of NATO is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but no significant efforts have been made to reduce the number of weapons that the alliance holds and shares. The treaty has therefore failed.
Bob Doris (Glasgow) (SNP): I have a lot of sympathy with much of Jean Urquhart’s amendment but will she also acknowledge that the Scottish Government has made it clear that if it comes to a choice between NATO and a nuclear-free Scotland, a nuclear-free Scotland will win every time?
Jean Urquhart: I accept the member’s statement—of course I do. However, there is a positive alternative to NATO membership that allows Scotland to act as a responsible global citizen. There are many examples of other nations that operate outside NATO and yet are more than adequately prepared to defend themselves. Those countries are not pariahs on the world stage and are not subject to threats from abroad. Given the recent St Patrick’s day celebrations in America, one would have to be very brave to claim that Ireland’s non-membership of NATO has somehow resulted in its isolation or affected its ties with the world’s remaining superpower. Ireland, along with a number of other non-NATO countries such as Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and much of central and eastern Europe, is a member of partnership for peace, which promotes bilateral co-operation between NATO and the partnership for peace countries on a case-by-case basis.
The Presiding Officer: The member needs to start winding up.
Jean Urquhart: Although some of those countries plan to accede to NATO, others view partnership for peace as an opportunity to co-operate internationally without compromise and without signing up to a military alliance that is predicated on a nuclear first-strike policy.
The Presiding Officer: You must bring your remarks to a close, Ms Urquhart.
Jean Urquhart: As the SNP campaign for nuclear disarmament briefing in advance of the NATO debate stated, an independent Scotland

“should not sneak timidly onto the world stage, afraid of our own shadow.”

Getting rid of Trident would herald the beginning of real nuclear disarmament, as would a distinctly different Scottish defence policy.

I move amendment S4M-05988.1, to leave out from “and further” to end and insert:

“; considers membership of NATO to be a barrier to the removal of Trident, whether as part of the UK or as an independent Scotland; believes that membership of an alliance predicated on a nuclear first strike policy is as harmful to Scotland’s international reputation, and poses the same threat from external agents, as the presence of a nuclear deterrent in Scottish waters; notes that European countries such as Ireland, Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO and are still considered to be full, cooperative members of the international community; further calls on the UK Government to disarm Trident and not to replace it with any other nuclear weapons system, and commits to ensuring that, in the event of independence, Trident will not be permitted to operate from Scottish waters.”

15:11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: INDEPENDENT/GREEN GROUP SECURE NATO AMENDMENT TO TRIDENT DEBATE

The Independent/Green Group in the Scottish Parliament will highlight the incompatibility of NATO membership with nuclear disarmament in the Scottish Parliament’s debate on Trident on Wednesday.

The Group’s amendment to the Government’s motion has been accepted for debate by the Presiding Officer, giving Parliament a chance to discuss the relationship between Britain’s nuclear deterrent housed in Scotland and membership of NATO. Jean Urquhart MSP will represent the Group, who opposed the scheduling of any business in Parliament on Wednesday due to the PCS strike taking place, in the debate.

Jean said:

“I have been a member of CND for decades, and look forward to moving the amendment on behalf of the Group. Membership of NATO and removing Trident are such contradictory aims that I believe it’s vital that we have a chance to highlight this and to have an honest discussion about Scotland’s future. It’s just a pity that such important business was scheduled on a strike day and that one of the Group had to cross the picket line to make these points.”

Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said:

“We know how unpopular Trident is with the majority of Scots so it is disappointing that discussion of this important issue will be limited due to the SNP Government scheduling the debate on a strike day. I urge members of all parties in parliament to seriously consider how membership of NATO, an alliance predicated on a nuclear first strike policy, helps Scotland’s international reputation.

“Scottish Greens led a debate on Trident in the last session of parliament which resulted in a historic vote against its renewal. Just think of the powerful, positive message we would send by ending a system that has horrific humanitarian consequences.”

The original Government motion, and the amendment lodged by Jean Urquhart MSP, are as follows:

 

S4M-05988 Keith Brown: Trident-That the Parliament acknowledges the devastating humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons; endorses the Secretary-General of the United Nations’s five-point plan for nuclear disarmament; calls on the UK Government to acknowledge the opposition of the Scottish Parliament to nuclear weapons and to the presence of Trident in Scotland, and further calls on the UK Government to explore options for the removal of Trident ahead of the so-called main gate decision in 2016.

 

Supported by: Nicola Sturgeon, Margaret Burgess

 

S4M-05988.1 Jean Urquhart: Trident—As an amendment to motion S4M-05988 in the name of Keith Brown (Trident), leave out from “and further” to end and insert “; considers membership of NATO to be a barrier to the removal of Trident, whether as part of the UK or as an independent Scotland; believes that membership of an alliance predicated on a nuclear first strike policy is as harmful to Scotland’s international reputation, and poses the same threat from external agents, as the presence of a nuclear deterrent in Scottish waters; notes that European countries such as Ireland, Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO and are still considered to be full, cooperative members of the international community; further calls on the UK Government to disarm Trident and not to replace it with any other nuclear weapons system, and commits to ensuring that, in the event of independence, Trident will not be permitted to operate from Scottish waters.”

Supported by: Margo MacDonald, John Finnie, Alison Johnstone, Patrick Harvie

Statement

As many of you will know, I have resigned from the Scottish National Party due to its change of policy in relation to NATO membership post-independence. I will continue to sit in the Scottish Parliament as an independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

I would like to make it clear that I remain fully committed to securing a Yes vote in the independence referendum in 2014, and that I will continue to support the Scottish Government on most issues.

For the time being, I will continue to be a member of both the Finance Committee and the Equal Opportunities Committee, and will maintain my involvement in a number of cross-party working groups within the Parliament, including the Crofting Cross-Party Group of which I am Deputy Convener.

I would like to thank those who have been in touch to offer their support and advice, particularly those from the Highlands and Islands who I have been so proud to represent since May 2011 and anticipate serving as one of their MSPs for the rest of this parliamentary term.

I look forward to hearing from many more people across the region in the months and years to come and to working with them to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous and more peaceful nation.

Jean Urquhart