Glasgow politicians go head to head in independence debate

TWO Glasgow politicians are at the forefront of the independence debate, clashing oover whether Scotland should go it alone or remain in the United Kingdom.

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Glasgow Southside MSP Nicola Sturgeon believes independence will help build a better Scotland
Glasgow Southside MSP Nicola Sturgeon believes independence will help build a better Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont may be poles apart on the constitution but there are similarities in their motivations.

Both got into politics not on constitutional issues but after witnessing poverty and injustice in their communities.

Their respective parents and strong family values loom large in their guiding principles and other women politicians inspired and shaped their careers.

Both became interested in politics at an early age, for Deputy First Minister ms Sturgeon that was at secondary school in Irvine.

She said: "I had a good modern studies teacher who encouraged that, and it quickly became party political. I also had an English teacher who assumed I would join the Labour Party.

"Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister and inequality was rife, while Neil Kinnock was taking the Labour party in a different direction and I became aware of that. So, at 16, I joined the SNP."

Growing up in the Anderston area of Glasgow, Labour leader Ms Lamont has early memories of political events.

She said: "I remember Harold Wilson being elected and being pleased but I was very young, too young to know what it was about.

"I had a very strong sense that life was hard for people. My father always worked but there was always a sense that many others were really poor. I remember doing homework by candlelight under the Heath government.

"I joined the Labour club in 1975. It seemed like the natural place to go."

The fight against poverty and the experience of women has guided her career.

But other issues, like apartheid and the Pinochet regime in Chile also drew her into an active political life.

Ms Lamont said: "Poverty and injustice were the big issues. I was aware people with money could do things others could not. I was also becoming aware of violence against women.

"It was round about the time of the first women's refuge in Glasgow. And I was thinking, no matter how clever you could be as a woman it wasn't enough . Men still exercised power.

"Inequality was about more than income. "

Ms Sturgeon was also motivated to become politically active by the problems she saw in her own community.

She said: "For a lot of people growing up in Irvine it was unemployment - it was rife.

"I remember being scared of my dad being made redundant.

"Another big issue was nuclear weapons and the contradiction of money being spent on weapons of mass destruction but somehow there was none for young people and jobs."

Once they had dipped their toes in the political water, the pair both found inspiration from other women.

Ms Sturgeon said: "When I was getting into politics Kay Ullrich was a woman I learned a lot from, and I had huge admiration for Winnie Ewing."

For Ms Lamont others women had blazed a trail in the Labour Party.

She said: "I remember Shirley Williams caught my attention in the Labour Party, she was criticised for how she looked but was a very clever woman. At home, Maria Fyfe and Janey Buchan were inspirations."

While Ms Sturgeon chose the SNP over Labour, Ms Lamont rejected the temptations on offer to Labour members in the 1970s and 1980s.

She said: "It was a time of splits in the Labour Party and the breakaway Scottish Labour Party was set up, by Jim Sillars, and the SDP was established. I never felt I wanted to go to either. Labour was my natural home."

But for both the overarching influence was closer to home, and remains so, with their abundant respect for their parents evident to anyone who asks.

Ms Sturgeon said: "My guiding lights have always been my mum and dad.

"They taught me you can achieve what you want to. That has been my bedrock. I can't see past them."

The Labour leader has on occasion quoted her mother when jousting with the First Minister at Holyrood.

She said: "My mother and father were big influences. My dad was at sea a lot and he worked phenomenally hard. And my mother was a very strong character with a sharp tongue."

In an age of career politicians, with some mapping out their planned rise and plotting their route to the top from an early age, it is surprising that neither woman ever imagined they would be in the positions they are in today.

Both are on the verge of being forever in the annals of Scottish history.

The honour of being Scotland's first woman First Minister is within either's grasp and it is a possibility for both they could be the first Prime Minister of an independent Scotland.

Both are honest enough to admit that the idea has crossed their mind.

Ms Sturgeon said she never thought she would be doing politics as a 'job'.

She: "There's nothing wrong with being honest and I have wanted to be at the top. I would be lying if I said no. One day that might be a possibility.

"I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it

"If I don't do anything else in politics then being Health Secretary and Deputy First Minister is very lucky. If there is an opportunity for more then that's great"

"If you could ask my 16- year-old self would I become Deputy First Minister campaigning for independence in a referendum, she would say, 'don't be daft'."

The Labour leader admits the prospect of the top job she would rather not consider, but is prepared to rise to it if necessary.

She said: "Yes I think ahead. I wouldn't be doing this job if I didn't.

"The important prize is accepting the result. There is a possibility people will vote yes, I don't think they will, but it is possible and the election there after may lead to opportunities.

"No matter the constitutional arrangement, the things I came into politics for will remain.

"Poverty will still be the challenge, and winning the argument to focus on it.

"I believe we can win it inside the UK."

"The SNP was always a thread through those years, but I never imagined I would be prosecuting the case for Scotland in the UK. What is the substance of the debate, is it equality or identity? I have never understood the identity argument.

Where the two women differ, and they do greatly, is on how the issues of poverty and inequality are tackled. The similarities end and the combative politicians take re-emerge.

Ms Lamont said: "If you want to do something about health and inequality we have to find the policies to do it. Can we do it better within the UK or as a separate country?

"The SNP will tell you it is an inevitable consequence of independence. It is not, we have to win the argument for the budget to do it.

Ms Sturgeon said the current constitutional arrangement does not allow Scotland to tackle the issues effectively.

She said: "We have to do all we can with the powers we have but there's no government in the world that can tackle poverty without powers over tax and being able to set minimum wage levels.

"That way you are trying to do it with one hand tied behind your back.

MUCH of what lies beneath the education attainment gap is the conditions children are growing up in.

"Children need to be able to learn in a safe secure healthy environment and sadly too many don't have that."

The future aims for both are clear and until September it is about securing the constitutional settlement they believe is best for Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Support is now in the low 40%s and I detect more movement.

"I've lost count of the number of people who have said to ne they don't normally vote but they will vote in the referendum.

"Now, they're not all voting yes but they are more likely to be less than no. They know the current system is broken."

For Ms Lamont there is also the question of getting Labour back into power at Holyrood.

She said: "There will be challenges two years ahead and we have to continue winning back trust.

"We have been making progress and winning people's trust.

"That's what is getting me up in the morning."

stewart.paterson@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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