SNP conference 2013Tommy Sheppard, former assistant general secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, on why he’s joining the SNP.

Sign me up.

Only four days into the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum and my emotions are still raw. From this distance I’d say we did good; closer than anyone could have imagined when we started on this journey.

Without comparison the Yes campaign has been the biggest progressive movement I’ve been involved with in over 35 years of political activity. The level of involvement has been unparalleled. So many people, so much hope and an incredible unity of purpose. This was a tremendous flowering of democracy – people prepared to confront and overcome the feeling of being powerless in a world controlled by unelected elites. Many on a steep learning curve – developing confidence and articulation by the day. Most of all this was the moment when politics became too important to leave to the politicians.

Gladly, few seem to be content now to go back to the sofa and let the political class just get on with it. We mustn’t. The dialogue about how to change our country and how to involve people in that change must continue. The contacts and direct relationships we all made on social media and on the streets can now be used to continue that discussion, bypassing the mainstream media which has shown itself unable or unwilling to reflect this debate.

Most of all don’t weep. Organise. Let’s take strength and solidarity from the enormous achievement that has just happened. It’s not so much that we lost – we just didn’t win everything. Scotland will never be the same again and it’s up to us to ride the change. We need online discussions, local meetings, and national conferences all to discuss how we maintain the momentum generated in this campaign –and to influence what happens next.

Always there are things we can learn. We probably need a stronger policy on money. Too many people believed that their livelihoods and pensions would be under threat if this rich country took control of its own resources. We need to better confront the accusation that we are undermining social solidarity on these islands, advocating that change can be asymmetrical and it’s okay for one country to get serious about inequality whilst others catch up.

For now we need to take an acute interest in the powers which the UK government has pledged to devolve to Scotland. They don’t quite know what these are or should be. And the Westminster parties may have difficulty agreeing amongst themselves – especially when it comes to taking their backbenchers with them. So let’s insert ourselves into this debate now in a positive way. Seriously, bury the hatchet, bite the lip and engage. We should state clearly what powers must now be delivered and be ready to expose the inadequacy and contradictions in any ill thought through proposals.

The economy is key. I’m no expert but the principle is clear. We have to be more than tax collectors. The economic powers transferred to the Scottish government must be able to give expression to a different set of priorities than exist at Westminster. The new settlement – if settled it be – must provide for more than devolved administration of things. It must allow our government to pursue its own course – even (especially) when that differs from political ambitions on the rest of the island.

The Scottish electorate must be able to elect a government capable of pursuing the social and economic polices the people want. These must include powers to stimulate the economy and create jobs; to invest in new industries not just through grants but through ownership; to redistribute and reduce inequality by altering tax rates.

Crucially, we need a guarantee that any extra taxation will be used to provide extra spending –not become just a means of re-organising existing income. If we achieve a growth in tax income through economic stimulus that extra income must be available to spend in Scotland – not simply result in a reduction in the funds provided by the UK exchequer. Otherwise there’s no point.

The ball is now in the Westminster parties’ court. They need to move quickly and it must be the people of Scotland – yes and no voters – who hold them to account. We will see if the promises were genuine, or just a short-term fix to get past the vote.

45% of us voting to secede from the British state got proposals for more power to Scotland on the table. The guarantor of getting them delivered is that we might do it next time. And by we I mean a majority of the population, not just the 45ers but all those people who genuinely believed that by voting no they would get that better Scotland. If we now get let down then next time they are coming with us. That particular dialogue starts now

To make sure the Westminster elite keep their promise we will need to go forward with all the energy, verve and enthusiasm our mass movement created. But within that we need political and electoral organisation. One that is inclusive and non-sectarian. One that can encourage and work with others in a common cause. Most of all a party that will be the champion of the dispossessed – and speak to those huge communities who have previously put their trust in the Labour party. For the last two years I’ve worked with people in the SNP who, to a man and woman, have demonstrated just that ambition. That’s why, even though I never have and still would not define myself as a nationalist, I am joining them today.