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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 11:45 GMT
Scottish Labour
On Sunday 12 November, Andrew Marr interviewed Jack McConnell MSP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Jack McConnell MSP
Jack McConnell MSP

ANDREW MARR: ... So I spoke to Jack McConnell just before we came on air and I asked him if he was a bit disappointed at the Nationalists' resurgence.

JACK McCONNELL: Well I wouldn't judge it on the basis of opinion polls. I am very pleased that five years on there are more people working in Scotland, there are less people waiting long in the Health Service. Kids are getting better results in the schools.

So the key things that I identified as priorities five years ago have seen real progress in Scotland.

So I think if there's an argument to be had over the next few months about the future, we're at least starting that argument on solid ground.

ANDREW MARR: Right. And you've got the smoking ban of course. How's that going by the way?

JACK McCONNELL: Smoking ban's been a huge success. I think a good example of Scotland being able to make its own decisions and lead the way in the rest of the UK. We've influenced policy elsewhere. But it was very important for Scotland because of our history of very poor health, particularly in our poorer communities.

ANDREW MARR: So if it's been going well why do fifty one per cent of people say that they'd like full independence?

JACK McCONNELL: Well I wouldn't judge that debate on opinion polls. You know when people are actually asked do you want to have a completely separate interest rate, inflation rate, economic system from the rest of the United Kingdom, do you want to have difficulties in the family ties north and south of the border because of additional bureaucracy or borders put in the way, then they think twice about that. I think the real choice ..

ANDREW MARR: So you think this was a sort of off the cuff answer. And that if the SNP for instance formed an ex-administration with the Liberal Democrats and had a referendum as they say they would, that then people would say no to independence?

JACK McCONNELL: Well I would counsel against even that option. Because I think people in Scotland need to think about what would happen in our economy if there was three or four years of uncertainty in the build up to that referendum. So it's not just the outcome of independence which would lose Scotland the best of both worlds that we have just now.

It is the actual process of having the referendum and the vote on it that would create uncertainty for companies that are looking to invest in Scotland. It would create uncertainty for people who might want to move to Scotland. And it would move Scotland in the wrong direction at a time when we're actually moving in the right direction.

ANDREW MARR: But you've got a heck of a fight on your hands haven't you? I mean you've got these, these elections coming up in May.

Do you think that you could emerge as the, not only the largest party which I suppose most of the, the polls predict, but also still in power with the Liberal Democrats. Or do you think the SNP are coming in?

JACK McCONNELL: Well I relish the challenge of the next few months. It's good to have a contest. It's not really always been like that in the time that I've been First Minister. So it's good to have the debate.

I think what's important though is going to be to convince people that not only is progress being made in Scotland but we can use the powers of devolution as they currently are to go even further.

ANDREW MARR: And while there's all the debate down in England about selection in schools you're going to go ahead with re-introducing some selection for some science academies. Am I right?

JACK McCONNELL: Well I've got a dual objective here. The first is to ensure that no one in Scotland is left behind which is why we're proposing a huge extension of vocational options for youngsters so they're more motivated, more willing to come to school. They get more from school and learn practical skills.

ANDREW MARR: We saw a commission under David Steele, the former Liberal Leader and indeed presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament earlier in the year calling for more powers for the parliament and above all tax raising powers to be used as they're not being used at the moment. What's your position?

JACK McCONNELL: Well I think it's important first of all to be clear that there are only three parties in the Scottish parliament that support so called fiscal autonomy and they all actually support an independent Scotland. That's the, the Socialists, the Trotskyists, the Greens and the Nationalists.

The Liberal, there are people inside the Liberal Party, the Conservatives and Labour who advocate some form of additional tax power. But while it might seem superficially attractive to them, I think they have to think through the consequences. If you have ..

ANDREW MARR: So you're not in favour of the Scottish parliament getting more powers at the moment?

JACK McCONNELL: Well I think there, there are many things that we can still do with the powers that we have that we have not yet done and that we should be moving in the same direction as we are just now but stepping up a gear with those powers.

And I think to change direction and in particular at this point in the growth of the Scottish economy where things are strengthening and we're more prosperous than we've been before, to change ..

ANDREW MARR: You don't need more power. You don't need more power ...

JACK McCONNELL: .. to change economic policy and have a separate tax system in Scotland I think would be a wrong move.

ANDREW MARR: And ahead of these elections would it be a help to you or a hindrance to have the leadership of the Labour Party nationally finally settled? Would you like to go into those elections with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister?

JACK McCONNELL: I would prefer to have an election for the Leadership of the Labour Party next summer, not before my election.

ANDREW MARR: I see. So you, so you're happy to go in with, with Tony Blair as the Prime Minster and, and that, wait until after the Scottish elections?

JACK McCONNELL: I tell you it feels like a great position to be in to have Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Reid, many others, backing us in this election campaign. And I think the team that they have here is going to be a real asset to us in Scotland.

ANDREW MARR: And does it help you as the first minister in Scotland to have a Scottish Prime Minister in, in London as well? Does that reassure your pro-devolution voters?

JACK McCONNELL: You know I think there's, there's great respect for Gordon and for others in the, amongst the Scottish population. But I think the most important thing about our election in May is that it's an election not for Westminster but for the Scottish parliament. It's about choosing the leadership of the Scottish parliament, about the right course for Scotland.

ANDREW MARR: Are you a paid up Gordon Brown man then?

JACK McCONNELL: I'm a great admirer of, of Gordon Brown but I'm also a big admirer of many other figures in the Cabinet. And I think it's wrong ... to speculate.

ANDREW MARR: Including John Reid?

JACK McCONNELL: Well I, I've not speculated on any of these issues and I'm not going to start now.

ANDREW MARR: Jack McConnell thank you very much indeed.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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