On the Politics Show, Sunday 13 January 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Scottish Labour Party Leader, Wendy Alexander.
JON SOPEL: Welcome to the Politics Show. I'm tempted to start by saying, after all the apocalyptic visions what it would be like under the SNP, have the Scots ever had it so good?
WENDY ALEXANDER: Well I think Scotland doesn't want what the SNP fundamentally are offering, in the sense that the SNP are a party that exist for Scottish independence and two thirds of Scots don't want that for their future. I think the challenge for the Labour Party that we're rising to, is that what Scotland did want in May was change and the question is really whether they were more interested in constitutional change or social change and economic change and I think it's social and economic change that Scots are looking for.
JON SOPEL: So why are they so popular at the moment?
WENDY ALEXANDER: Well, independence is at its lowest ever level in the kind of one trend survey that we have.
JON SOPEL: But in terms of their administration, they're very popular.
WENDY ALEXANDER: Well I think what we've seen is rather a lot of short term populism and the evidence rather is that Scotland wants long term solutions and so for example, because the SNP are a minority administration, we will this week in the parliament be debating the budget and we'll be trying to put on the agenda really the disposed, the poor, the week, who are getting left behind. We've seen in the last seek in Scotland, Save the Children, Women's aid, the mental health organizations, all saying, we are nervous that we're getting left behind.
JON SOPEL: You say populist, they're continuing the sort of populist measures that Labour introduced, like free care for the elderly, isn't that exactly what you would have done.
WENDY ALEXANDER: Well, let me give you an example of some of the things that we're stopping doing, that I think we should be continuing. We should be providing a nursery police for our most vulnerable two year olds in Scotland and we'll be arguing that case this week, the SNP have opposed us.
The SNP are not in favour of our plans to say? you know we heard Alex Salmond talk about teachers pay, the real issue in schools is why is it that for children who when they reach fourteen, don't want to go the academic route, we haven't ever got vocational education right in this country. And we've come up with a raft of proposals to say, it's time to fix that, and they're not in favour of that.
They're also not in favour for example of extending modern apprenticeships in Scotland, the entire future of Scotland isn't dependent on what happens to oil in the North sea but on the skills of our people. So the cutting back or at least the not expanding of modern apprenticeships, a mistake.
JON SOPEL: Okay, constitutionally, you've issued a message I think where you talked about walking taller, rather than walking out of the United Kingdom. What does that mean.
WENDY ALEXANDER: I think there is a self confidence in Scotland and I don't think that's the product of the SNP administration. I think it is that we've had ten years where actually, Scotland have done very well after the twenty that we had under the Conservatives and there's a desire to take more responsibility for own affairs and there's a sense that the devolution project, ten years in, we need to look at it again. But I think what Scots feel is (interjection).
JON SOPEL: If you spool back ten years, the Tories said, this is the slippery slope, and what you're now doing is you're saying well, okay, we've given, if we give some powers to Scotland, and that will stave off demands for independence and that will? it clearly hasn't because the SNP have won. Now you're saying, well the way to stave off fresh calls for independence, is to give even more powers.
WENDY ALEXANDER: No, devolution was never about staving off the SNP, it was about what is right around the world you see examples, of people wanting to live in larger organizations, larger countries. You know, for the big issues like foreign affairs and defence, climate change which is a new issue, migration, they should all be dealt with at a UK level, but there is a desire in Scotland not only to take responsibility for ourselves but also to be more accountable to ourselves and that I think is something that we'll find resonance in the rest of the United Kingdom.
JON SOPEL: Now, as we alluded to in the interview with Alex Salmond, you're subject to an Electoral Commission enquiry of a donation from a Jersey businessman. Are you still confident that your name is going to be cleared of any wrong doing.
WENDY ALEXANDER: Yes. I mean I've said that my campaign team accepted nine hundred and fifty pounds, that turned out to be impermissible. The moment I was aware of that, we referred it to the Electoral Commission and I'm confident that I will be exonerated of any wrong-doing. I want the Electoral Commission to be allowed to get on with their job and I'm getting on with mine, giving Scotland I think the constitutional alternative it's looking for.
JON SOPEL: Why are you so confident when it's clear there has been some form of wrong doing.
WENDY ALEXANDER: Well, I've said a mistake was made. We've provided all the evidence to the Electoral Commission, and I'm confident that I will be exonerated of any wrong-doing and we should really? all political parties have had difficulties, and all political parties agreed that the Electoral Commission is the right body to look at this, they should do so, free from political or other pressure and I'm confident that as I say, I will be exonerated of any wrong doing.
JON SOPEL: When does a public figure resign.
WENDY ALEXANDER: I think you're drawing me in to hypotheticals which I'm really not going to be drawn in to.
JON SOPEL: No, it's not a hypothetical question? a question you must have considered.
WENDY ALEXANDER: I think it's important that politicians take responsibility and I've sought to do so. I said, a mistake was made. The moment I was aware of the mistake, we handed it to the Electoral Commission. As I say, the Electoral Commission should be allowed to look at this nine hundred and fifty pounds, but really, the big issue is for me to be in parliament, leading the opposition on issues like disabled children this week, who are not being given the respite care in Scotland, they are in England or the vulnerable two year olds who are not finding a nursery place.
JON SOPEL: Okay, just clear up one thing and I know it's going back a bit. Did you think about resigning and is it true that you were dissuaded from doing so by your brother because of the awkward position it would leave other people in.
WENDY ALEXANDER: (laughs) No. That is simply not true. Of course I (interjection)
JON SOPEL: What happened.
WENDY ALEXANDER: .. well of course I, I, I, I talked to my brother. There isn't a person watching the television who would say you? talk to my brother but? (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Did you talk to the Prime Minister about your position.
WENDY ALEXANDER: (overlaps) I did absolutely, I've made absolutely clear that since I am absolutely confident that I (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Did you talk to the Prime Minister as well about your position.
WENDY ALEXANDER:. (overlaps) was responsible of no wrong doing, then it was important I should lead the Labour Party. I was unanimously elected.
JON SOPEL: Yes or no, did you talk to the Prime Minister.
WENDY ALEXANDER: (overlaps) there's a job to be I've already said, I've spoken to many Labour colleagues in, including the Prime Minister?
JON SOPEL: Including the Prime Minister.
WENDY ALEXANDER: on all the issues of the day, including the future of Scotland, the budget and indeed lots of matters. But the important thing, the important thing is that all parties agreed the Electoral Commission should look at party financing issues and that politicians should get on with the job.
JON SOPEL: Don't you think though the public has a right to expect that not only are you competent in the way that you govern and make policy, but competent in the way you raise money and would you accept that the Labour Party has failed on that.
WENDY ALEXANDER: I think all parties have failed. We certainly know in Scotland there's been other examples in, in, in the last year. I don't think anybody has managed to avoid any difficulties. I think it's important that we allow the proper body to look at the issues and comment, without undue political pressure or indeed pressure from elsewhere.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Wendy Alexander, thanks very much for being with us.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH WENDY ALEXANDER
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The Politics Show Sunday 9 December 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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