Dear Alistair Darling,
The principle of social welfare as a society-wide responsibility, not a gift from the rich to the poor, is one that has firm roots in Scotland's political history. Monday's debate was an opportunity to remind people of this. Instead, your rhetoric revealed an indifference to that history (and to the ideological roots of your own party.)
In an interview with the Guardian in 2012 you stated that your Father, who you described as a Conservative voter, returned home from Margaret Thatcher's "Sermon on the Mound" distressed by what he had heard. "(H)e had been brought up," you said, "to think you help people who are doing less well," whereas Thatcher had used her speech to emphasise individual responsibility over the greater role of the state.
In a separate interview in the Edinburgh Evening News, you were quoted as saying that your Father had come home "horrified" that day and that neither of your parents ever voted Conservative again. It strikes me that their instinct was sound on that occasion. Two years ago yours was too. It is less sound now.
There were many in Scotland who shared your Father's horror and who share it still. In that interview in 2012 you suggested that you were one such person. It was a surprise, therefore, to be reminded of Thatcher's sermon while listening to your remarks to Alex Salmond on Monday evening.
Margaret Thatcher (May 21, 1988):
"We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. 'If a man will not work he shall not eat' wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians... The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth. How could we respond to the many calls for help, or invest for the future, or support the wonderful artists and craftsmen whose work also glorifies God, unless we had first worked hard and used our talents to create the necessary wealth?"
Alistair Darling (August 26, 2014):
"(W)e have as a country our obligations and a responsibility to help people who need support. However, to do that you need the means to do it. What concerns me is that if you end up in a situation where you're cutting off opportunities for firms that generate wealth and therefore generate taxation to pay for these things then it is going to be less likely that you can provide the level of support that you need in the future."
This similarity will give Scottish supporters of traditional Labour values cause for concern. The Socialist International, of which your party is a member, has the following to say on economic rights and social welfare in its Declaration of Principles:
"Economic rights must not be considered as benefits paid to passive individuals lacking in initiative, but as a necessary base from which to secure the active participation of all citizens in a project for society. This is not a matter of subsidising those on the fringe of society, but of creating the conditions for an integrated society with social welfare for all people."
Your comments on Monday are difficult to reconcile with the spirit of the above. They are less difficult to reconcile with Margaret Thatcher's "Sermon on the Mound", the address that made your Father (and countless others in Scotland) feel so uncomfortable.
Significant numbers of Scottish voters are turning away from the Labour party as represented in Westminster. Many now see an independent Scotland as the only chance for a traditional Labour party, founded on traditional Labour values. Your comments on Monday evening will only have convinced many more that this is the case.