Sunday, 20 April 2014

It's not about flags, labels or the past. A Yes vote is about the future.

A poll in today's Scotland on Sunday suggests that English born Scots currently intend to vote 2:1 against independence.

I was born in England and I will once again be supporting England in this summer's World Cup finals. Having moved to Scotland 38 years ago, I think of myself as neither English nor Scottish, defaulting to 'British' when asked my nationality.

But independence is not about flags, labels or the past. It's about the future of the country I call home and below is a transcript of a speech I gave at a recent public meeting organised by Yes Midlothian spelling out why I am passionate about independence and will be voting Yes on September 18th.

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It is now less than six months to the referendum. Looking back to six months ago, I was to say the least, lukewarm towards Independence.

Yes, I felt it would put Scotland in a place it belonged and one day it would happen anyway - it just seemed to be the direction we were heading.

I was never in doubt that we could manage economically and surviving as an independent nation was never an issue for me. Now that even David Cameron has said the same, it is no longer an issue for anyone.

Six months ago, while I supported Independence, I was not passionate about it, simply because I had other priorities. 

However, it was only when listening to Robin McAlpine, who gave a presentation to the Scottish Greens’ conference in October, that I began to realise that the changes I want to see can only happen in an independent Scotland.

That’s not to say they definitely will happen but that as things stand, they definitely won’t as part of the UK.

So what priorities do the Greens have?

We live in a world with finite resources. If humanity is to survive, we need to manage those resources better.

The pie isn’t getting any bigger and if anything it will need to get smaller if catastrophic destruction of the planet is to be avoided.

Importantly, we need to look at how we share out what we already have rather than relying on a fragile model of exploitation of resources and people to fuel a wasteful and consumer obsessed world.

And this can only be achieved by reducing inequality.

 Reducing inequality also brings many other benefits.

Anyone who has read ‘The Spirit Level’ by Wilkinson and Pickett, will be convinced that reducing inequality is also the key to reducing many of the social problems we face - their study looked at 

Level of Trust
Mental Illness including drug & alcohol addiction
Life expectancy & infant mortality
Children's educational performance
Teenage pregnancies
Imprisonment rates
And social mobility

They looked at all of these across over 20 countries and across each of the states in the US (to show it’s inequality, not the wealth of a country which is the problem). In all cases there was a close co-relation between all of these problems and inequality. Reduce inequality and each of these problems diminishes. 

We’ve heard a lot about the Nordic countries in the independence debate and how countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have lower levels of inequality, and as the Spirit Level shows, these countries display lower levels of social problems like those I’ve described.

That surely must be what we aspire to.

The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the world.

The top fifth of people in the UK earn around 14 times that of the bottom fifth.

Where the five richest families are now wealthier than the bottom 20% combined.

London is the most unequal city in the developed world.

So I ask myself, is a more equal society more likely in an independent Scotland or is it more likely to come from Westminster?

In the UK, inequality has steadily risen over the last few decades - even under Labour governments.

Witness the rise of the food bank.

Westminster MPs voted last month to cap the total Welfare bill in a race to prove to likely Tory or UKIP voters that their party will continue to bring down the deficit by austerity.

At Westminster, the debate on taxation revolves around whether the richest pay 45 or 50 pence in the pound on their income. Commitments on the Minimum Wage revolve around whether or not it should be increased in line with inflation.

 The Bedroom Tax, like the Poll Tax before it, was imposed by a Westminster government against the will of the vast majority of Scots.

Surely we can do better than this.

In Scotland, the emphasis is different.

Here, we were the first to oppose the Poll Tax. We seek to extend the Living Wage and abolish the Bedroom Tax.

We introduced the Right to Roam, we’re giving more rights to communities in land reform and we embraced proportional representation for both our parliament and local councils.

Yes, the emphasis is different here.

Voters and politicians in many political parties in Scotland share my desire to reduce inequality.

Independence would give us the chance to work together to do that.

The most exciting change politically is that the Labour Party would be re-invigorated and could once again become the force for change it once was.

No longer shackled to following the opinion polls of Middle England, it would be freed to work with all of us in this country who want to see the benefits of a more equal society.

 But it’s more than a more equal society that we could work together for.

We’ve heard of Devo Max, Devo Plus, Devo Nano. Whatever powers are promised, they will not enable us to do other things that I, and I believe, the majority of Scots want to see.

It would not remove the obscenity of nuclear weapons from our shores.

 While we can regulate for home insulation but we cannot regulate our energy companies.

We would have greater control over the levers of our economy.

But we are told that if we use Sterling, we might not have any control over monetary policy.

Ten years ago, the debate in Scotland was that interest rates were too high and were hurting the Scottish economy. The Bank of England told us they had to be high to dampen the housing boom in the south east of England.

And we are told that Scotland is too small to bail out failing banks.

Is Scotland too small, or the banks too big?

If we fix the bank problem, then the country problem goes away.

We can regulate rail fares, but cannot bring the railways back into public ownership where they belong.

Our cherished postal service has just been sold off cheaply to the delight of City of London investors.

I, and I believe most of Scotland, want it back.

We have no written constitution and an unelected House of Lords

I would like a head of state not chosen by God, but elected by the people.

Of the four elections we vote in, only one is not by a fairer proportional system - yes, the one to Westminster.

Then we’re told that an independent Scotland’s status would be diminished on the world stage.

Conservative minister Kenneth Clark recently told the Scottish Tory conference that an independent Scotland would have the same influence as Malta.

Malta, with a population less than Edinburgh, has five Members of the European Parliament.

As part of the UK, Scotland currently has six.

Finland, Denmark and Slovakia, on the other hand, with populations roughly the same as Scotland, each have thirteen.

Six months ago I was lukewarm about Scottish independence because I didn’t see it as a priority. Now I am passionate about Scottish independence because all my priorities depend on it.