The Scottish Labour ‘Battle Bus’, also known as the #Indyrefexpress, arrived in Stornoway yesterday with less than 50 days to go until the referendum on Scottish independence.
“The important thing for us is that this is a campaign that impacts on every part of Scotland and I think it’s important that we take the largest grassroots campaign that we will ever run in our history to every part of Scotland,” said Anas Sarwar MP who was onboard the big red bus which pulled up at South Beach car park.
The main message from the Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party was that of ‘double devolution’ - empowering individuals and not just politicians.
So does Sarwar think the independence referendum has helped to bring the issue of community empowerment to the fore?
“I know from talking to Rhoda and Dave [Rhoda Grant and David Stewart, Highlands and Islands list MSPs] that well before the referendum they were making the case for more power for Highlands and Islands communities, more say for Highlands and Islands communities,” he said. “They didn’t need a referendum to tell us that, and we didn’t need a referendum for us to listen to them because they have been making that case and fighting that battle for years. So now, in the context of the referendum, people are perhaps paying more attention to it in terms of the media aspect of it, but I think the Labour party has always been alive to it.”
Continuing on the issue of local empowerment Sarwar said: “What actually makes a difference is what politicians chose to do with the powers they’ve got, and the reality is whether that’s the current Scottish Government or the current UK Government I don’t believe either is using the powers they have in the best interest of communities right across the whole United Kingdom - not just in Scotland and not just the Western Isles - and that’s what we want to change.”
So does he believe Scotland will see big changes if it rejects independence on September 18th?
“I have been absolutely clear right from the outset,” said Sarwar, “that this is not a status quo referendum on either side, this is a change referendum and the change we are offering is not one of isolation and division and looking inwards, it’s one of solidarity, sharing and looking outwards and I think that has always been the Scottish way.”
The battle for votes continues to rage on in the Western Isles. This Saturday sees a mass canvassing event organised by ‘Yes Eilean Siar’. Meanwhile stalls at local agricultural shows for both camps continue to draw attention.
Be sure to see next week’s Stornoway Gazette, out Thursday 7th August, as we reveal the first two panellists who will be part of the Stornoway Gazette Big Referendum Debate on September 1st.