Scottish independence: Lord McConnell backs 'home rule within the UK'

Jack McConnell Lord McConnell was Scotland's First Minister from 2001-07

Scotland should voluntarily share sovereignty with the rest of the UK in areas of common interest, former First Minister Lord McConnell has said.

In a speech ahead of the referendum on Scottish independence, Lord McConnell said home rule within the UK was "the best and most positive system for us".

He called for a "conference for a new union" to debate how the UK is governed after the vote in September.

Yes Scotland said independence should be "the next step" after devolution.

Jack McConnell served as Labour First Minister of Scotland from 2001-07 and became a Labour peer in 2010.

He appeared in Edinburgh alongside his former Lib Dem deputy Lord Wallace, now a UK government minister, at an event to mark the 15th anniversary of the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

He said Scotland was "a better place" with its own devolved Parliament.

Lord McConnell said he did not see himself as a unionist or a nationalist but as "a patriot" adding that he had campaigned for devolution since the referendum in 1979 to decide whether to establish a Scottish Assembly.

He appealed to voters in the 18 September referendum to vote "No" to "save devolution".

He pointed to the introduction of a smoking ban in public places in 2006 as an example of a devolved Scottish Parliament leading the way in the UK, calling it "a law supported by the people because it was made here in Scotland, by people accountable to Scots".

'Share sovereignty'

He added that devolution had made Scotland "economically stronger: with higher employment, strong inward investment, and a booming tourist industry".

And he argued that Scotland currently benefitted from security as part of the UK and services including a network of embassies and consulates to promote Scotland.

"Does it make sense to share sovereignty on foreign affairs, defence, some areas of economic policy, and much that derives from it, both the creation of wealth and its distribution?" he asked.

"Of course it does. And that is why I will be fighting positively for home rule inside the UK."

The former first minister said he didn't support a "centralised" state in the UK.

"I would like to see a conference for the new union, where there is a genuine debate about how the UK should be governed in the 21st century because the UK has now changed," he said.

"It is now a genuine multi-national country and the centre needs to be adapted."

However, such a conference may have to wait until after the 2015 UK general election, he added.

Commenting for on behalf of Yes Scotland, former Scottish Labour chairman Bob Thomson said: "Jack McConnell is very welcome to the debate, but of course many others who campaigned long and hard for the Scottish Parliament are in no doubt that the next step must be a 'Yes' vote for independence - not least Canon Kenyon Wright, who chaired the Constitutional Convention.

"A 'No' vote means years of more Westminster austerity, and the danger of a re-elected Tory government Scotland voted against.

"Only a 'Yes' vote in September guarantees delivery of all the powers Scotland wants and needs, so that we can make our enormous wealth work better for everyone who lives here."

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