Exclusive Interview: Former First Minister Lord Jack McConnell


September 14, 2012 by Nash Riggins

Scotland’s longest-serving political leader, Lord Jack McConnell, has grown weary of his nation’s seemingly never-ending debate over independence.

“This debate has been raging all my adult life,” the former First Minister and Labour life peer said in an exclusive interview this week. “I would like Scotland to move on … we need to try and do more with this country than just argue about independence.”

As Scotland’s third ever First Minister, Lord McConnell is no stranger to the debate surrounding Scottish independence – which has intensified exponentially throughout the past 30 years. Serving as Scotland’s foremost political leader from 2001 to 2007, McConnell was among the first Members of Scottish Parliament (MSP) to be elected in 1999, and served as the nation’s Finance Minister and Education Minister prior to the resignation of Henry McLeish as Scotland’s First Minister in 2001.

Under McConnell’s Labour administration, the Scottish government found unprecedented success by way of social legislation; McConnell sponsored the Fresh talent Initiative, the Project Scotland volunteer scheme, partnerships with developing countries and even ensured that Scotland was the first in the UK to instigate a public smoking ban.

In May 2007, the Scottish National Party narrowly defeated the Labour Party by one seat – initiating an internal power struggle in which up-and-comer MSP Alex Salmond asserted that the Scottish Nationalists had the right to form an executive due to their slim majority. Although ultimately giving way to the SNP’s demands, First Minister McConnell countered then that “there is no moral authority to pursue separation, and moral authority in the parliament will only come through parties working together in the majority.” Five years on, McConnell’s statements prove truer than ever.

“Most conflicts in the world today have some connection with identity,” Lord McConnell asserts. “For the last 100 years, there have broadly been three camps of opinion in Scotland. One is those who feel far more British than Scottish or feel an allegiance to Britain. You’ve then got a group who believe home rule for Scotland – but don’t see breaking up the UK as a necessary precondition for that. Then you’ve got others who define themselves more by the need for Scotland to be out of the UK.”

Although hesitant to “label it as a middle group”, Lord McConnell himself admits to identifying most with those wishing for more powers devolved to the Scottish government, but not outright independence. Indeed, he asserts that – while nationalists have Scotland’s best interests in mind – some of those involved in the SNP’s Yes Campaign simply stray too far from policy debate, and into a divisive culture war which is driven by a search to pass the blame of policy failures onto others.

“Some are positive. Others – I suspect, unfortunately, maybe the majority – define themselves against the UK, and want away from ‘English dominance’,” McConnell asserts. “The motivation behind the change in the late ‘90s was about democratising Scotland. It was never a motivation to reject the UK or to develop a blame culture against the English – which unfortunately, pure nationalism sometimes drifts into.”

In fact, the Yes Campaign is driven based upon a series of divisive and sometimes debatable platforms – including, above all else, that Scotland has “a government in Westminster that most of us did not vote for.” Yet various polls continue to suggest that the Scottish people are not entirely sure of the validity of these claims – a notion that, according to Lord McConnell, can be blamed on the organisation of the campaign.

“This time last year, I would have said that the campaign in favour of independence was probably a favourite to win,” McConnell warns. “This year, I think that’s probably unlikely. I don’t think a lot of the details have been thought through. It might produce a level of concern.”

Lord McConnell likened the current campaign for Scotland’s independence to that of the government’s failed devolution referendum in 1979, in which a lack of campaign organisation and an embarrassing level of voter turnout failed to produce the first Scottish Parliament.

“It was the very first time I ever voted. That campaign didn’t really galvanise public opinion in the way that it should have … and not as much thought had gone into the detail,” McConnell recalls. “Whether or not this campaign will be like 1979 or ’97 I don’t know, but I suspect in the case of Scotland being divided, it’s going to be a lot like ’79. People will become more and more polarised … whether that turns the public off or excites them remains to be seen.”

Indeed, only time will tell whether the events that have yet to unfold will shift public opinion towards voting in favour of an independent Scotland or rejecting it; however, Scotland’s longest-serving political leader maintains that both sides of the fight are only doing what they believe to be in Scotland’s best interest, and deserve equal consideration from every single Scottish voter.

“Scotland is not the kind of place where people accept what they don’t want to accept. It’s just too easy for politicians to snipe and to moan and be negative and to blame others,” McConnell says. “But this is a contest between two fair, positive campaigns. Our aim for Scotland should be to make Scotland the best place inside the UK … so let’s take some responsibility here, and make a big decision once and for all.”


9 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview: Former First Minister Lord Jack McConnell

  1. Bob Duncan says:

    Jack continues to, not so much misinterpret, but rather misunderstand what is happening in Scottish politics, As a First Minister, he was notable mainly for his refusal to distinguish policy in Scotland from that coming from London. His list of self-asserted achievments does not include, notably, the introduction of tuition fees for Scottish students.

    Also, I am still awaiting the positive campaign for the union that Jack, and so many of his colleagues, have been promising for years. Can I ask him exactly when we are likely to see it?

  2. Ian Vallely says:

    Jack may have grown weary of the debate, The rest of Scotland are just beginning to get excited and enthusiastic about it.
    I am constantly being told by the unionist “Better Together” people of the things that will be under threat if we decide to go independent. The freedom to travel without border checks and passports, may be threatened, as will trade with the England, Ireland and Wales, It seems, according to “Better Together” That we may lose membership of the EU and will need to reapply.
    I want to hear just what this union will do to improve the political representation issues for all constituent countries, As far as I am concerned, as a Scot living in Scotland Westminster is so far removed it’s become irrelevant, I have absolutely no control over that parliament. Yet these people are forming International relationships and defense policy on my behalf. It is issues such as this that “Better Together” will need to address or their fight is lost before it even gets started, We as a nation are not afraid any more we have the benefit of social media where the lies can be disassembled and the scare stories put to rest.

  3. James Riley says:

    We need to put this man back in charge right now. SO SO MUCH better than pompous Alex Salmond.

  4. Jocko says:

    Wee Jack was once king of the castle, it was a wee castle built of bricks with London stays to hold the bricks together. Unfortunately these stays were not designed to hold up Scottish bricks and gave way when the going got rough. Just like humpty dumpty Wee Jack came tumbling down and all King Broons English army couldn’t put Wee Jack’s castle back together again.

  5. Chris Byiers says:

    McConnell was out of touch and inspiration as an inept First Minister who was more committed to advancing his career than he ever was in being a meaningful responsive public servant for his country. He treated the office of First Minister as an extension to his role as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Like most Unionist politicians Scotland has always been spelt with a small s, an identity to use when advantageous but with little commitment, principle and substance behind the idea of bettering the nation. I do hear his frustration with the constitutional debate, but if the truth be told the frustration is with the status quo, the political gridlock that nation has found itself in. Nations as best when they govern themselves, that is the bottom line. This is quite clear and if he and his like were so committed to making a difference and advancing their social democratic political agenda, that runs counter to that of Labour party of London, they could commit to their nation, front up and join the growing Scottish Labour and Trade Union movement that realizes independence is the platform to build on. Independence Salmond or the SNP, independence is about enacting policy change in an attempt to end 60 years of ineffectual and neutered British policy that by definition has never be fully committed,fiscally or ideologically, to our nation.

  6. McConnell shafted the Scottish Regiments – he was indeed the worst FM we have had to date. No spine and effectively useless. A Blairite lapdog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: