I want to tell you about the reasons why I am going to vote ‘Yes’ on 18th September. I want to present a positive vision for the future of Scotland as a normal independent country. I want to remain friends with other nations in the UK, but increasingly I think Scotland needs to follow a different path and determine its own future. I firmly believe that only a Scottish parliament and Scottish government, elected by the people of Scotland, will act in Scotland’s best interests.
Firstly, independence would ensure that Scotland gets the government it votes for. For 35 of the 69 years since 1945, Scotland has been ruled by Westminster governments with no majority in Scotland. The current government is led by a party that has just one Scottish MP. Scotland overwhelmingly rejects the Conservative Party at every UK general election, but we still end up being ruled by Conservatives. That means that policies like the privatisation of Royal Mail and the bedroom tax are imposed on Scotland even when the majority of Scottish MPs have voted against them. With independence, the people of Scotland will be able to decide our own government.
Secondly, I think we can use the powers of independence to create a more prosperous Scotland. With the limited powers of devolution we have already had success in improving Scottish society and promoting economic growth. But the fundamental economic decisions that affect Scotland still lie with the Westminster government, and those decisions are not taken with Scottish interests in mind. The full powers of independence will allow us to harness our natural resources, our strong international brand and our world-class industries to help make Scotland a more prosperous country. Having full control over the fiscal levers means we make choices in Scotland’s interests. That might mean lowering corporation tax to attract new businesses to Scotland. It might mean choosing in the future to raise taxes (on the rich or on everyone) in order to pay for better public services. The central point is that Scotland will be in control: we can change our tax system to suit our businesses and our social needs.
Thirdly, an independent Scotland would be a fairer Scotland. The welfare state set up after 1945 is under threat. The NHS that we all cherish is gradually being privatized in England, threatening the money available to support our NHS in Scotland. The UK welfare reforms like the bedroom tax have brought real hardship to vulnerable Scots. Independence would mean having the power to build a better more equal society, where Scotland’s wealth was used to reduce poverty and provide support for those who need it. An independent Scotland could help people out of poverty instead of punishing them for being poor. And with control over the full tax system, we could see a transformation of child care so that women are free to take up work when they want to and all children have access to quality care and education even before they go to school.
Democracy, prosperity and social justice – these are the reasons I am voting ‘Yes’ in September.
I want to tell you why I will be voting ‘No’ on September 18th. For me, being in the United Kingdom with a Scottish Parliament means that Scotland gets the best of both worlds – the opportunity make decisions for ourselves in devolved public services while benefiting from the security, strength and influence we enjoy as part of one of the most successful and celebrated countries in the world.
Scotland benefits from the strength and international reach of the UK. This means we have access to a worldwide network of embassies and the full weight of the UK Government when it comes to promoting trade and standing up for our interests. The UK is one of the most powerful voices in international organizations like the European Union and NATO, and one of only five countries with permanent representation in the United Nations Security Council. As part of the UK, Scotland can be far more influential than we would be as a small independent country.
Second, the UK is a family of nations with a shared history and I believe a shared future. We benefit from being able to trade freely across the whole of the UK and benefit from our participation in UK-wide services. We pool and share our risks and rewards. When Scotland is in any financial or economic difficulty, the security of pooling our resources with the other countries in the UK means that any shocks are lessened. An independent Scotland would be far more exposed. For example, it could never have stepped in to save the banks in the face of the financial crisis. Sharing risks among a population of over 60 million people provides more security than sharing among 5 and a half million people. But it’s not just about costs and benefits. We also share common values and solidarity with citizens in the rest of the UK. I want a prosperous and fair country for people in Swansea and Southampton as much as in Scotland.
Finally, I believe passionately that we should be able to do things differently in Scotland. That is why we have a Scottish Parliament. We don’t need independence to protect what is distinctive about our education and health systems. Nor do we need independence to start to subsidize the cost of childcare for hardworking parents. All of these things are already under the control of the Scottish Parliament. We have the security of the UK for big issues where it makes sense to work together (foreign policy, defense, financial services, pensions) while having a parliament that can take different decisions for Scotland so that our public services are designed and delivered to suit our needs. The Scottish Parliament is very young and has room to grow. We can do that within the UK. All of the UK parties are committed to strengthening the powers of the Scottish parliament, especially to give it more power to raise more of its own budget from taxes paid in Scotland. This will provide ample scope for Scotland to take a different path in some areas if that is the wish of the people of Scotland.
I believe that we should have a fairer and more prosperous Scotland, but I don’t believe independence is the way to achieve it.
Response to No voters
I want to respond to some of the points made last week and tell you why I am still convinced that independence offers the best future for Scotland.
Our No supporter cites the international strength of the UK. It is of course true that Scotland will have a different relationship with the world, but I think this will be for the good. We will not, for instance, ever have to participate in wars in Iraq or be so close to the United States that we cannot criticize them. Scotland can instead concentrate on being a beacon for human rights and equality, much like the foreign policies of Sweden and Norway. I also expect that our international aid budget will remain as generous. There is more to international relations than having nuclear weapons, a large army and a UN Security Council seat.
I agree that we share common values with those across the rest of the UK. However, increasingly these are not the values reflected in the UK Government’s policies. Policies like the bedroom tax would never be imposed in an independent Scotland. We would have the powers to create a welfare system that meshed with the tax system in order to support people and encourage them back into work. The higher public spending required for this could be met from oil revenues and from economic policies that prioritise growth, rather than austerity. We know that GDP per head is higher in Scotland than the UK average. We are a rich country, but we are currently forced deploy our resources in a manner that ensures rising inequality and a low-wage economy. Independence offers us the opportunity to change that.
Under independence, we would have the final say over the shape and direction of our economic policies. Instead of trying to use devolution to compensate for the poor decisions taken in London, we could finally start to implement economic and social policies that are in tune with our values. The examples of the Nordic countries show that it is possible to combine high social spending with economic competitiveness. For me, this is a compelling vision and the referendum gives us the opportunity to start to implement it.
I am not seeking to break ties with the other nations of the UK completely. There are many areas where we will work together. Crucially, however, Scotland will choose to opt in to these arrangements. Sovereignty will lie in Scotland. We don’t need to wait to see what Westminster may or may not offer us in the future: we can start to build a better country now.
Response to Yes Voters
I want to respond to some of the points made last week and tell you why I am still convinced that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom.
The Yes voter stated that independence means that Scotland will always get the government that it votes for, so it will never again be ruled by Conservatives. This is a very short-sighted point. Governments may come and go, but independence is forever. Not everyone voted for the Scottish National Party, but they are still in power. Democracy does not mean that people always get what they want. In any case, when there is a Conservative government at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament has the powers to ensure that Scotland does things differently. More powers will follow after the referendum. We need to think about the next 50 years, not just the next five.
The Yes voter’s two points about a fairer and more prosperous Scotland have to be dealt with together. On the one hand, she promises a business-friendly environment with lower tax rates; on the other, she promises increased funding for public services and a reduction in inequality. We are to have the public services and inequality levels of Sweden alongside the business regulation and tax rates of the United States. It simply does not add up. Just this week, the World Economic Forum declared that the UK was ninth best country in the world in which to do business. Promises about ‘no cuts ever’ are difficult to believe. On the contrary, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies points out that Scotland would have to confront the same difficult decisions about its finances that the UK currently has to do. Again, I reiterate the point: the best way to secure a generous welfare state in the 21st century is to pool resources and risk at the UK level. This is the surest protection for our public services. You need to analyse very carefully the arguments of anyone who tells you that the public finances of an independent Scotland will be so instantly rosy that it can afford both to cut business taxes and raise public spending. It seems to me that the reality is at best much more risky and uncertain.
The idea that the NHS is at risk at this referendum is difficult to take seriously. Although some NHS services in England are delivered by private companies (much like GP practices or pharmacies in Scotland), they are still free at the point of use. Nobody is proposing charging and the greater use of the private sector in England has coincided with a substantial increase in NHS funding. There is, moreover, no evidence to support the proposition that an independent Scotland would suddenly be able to end austerity overnight and increase budgets for all public services. As it happens, I don’t support greater use of the private sector in the NHS either, but that’s why we have a Scottish Parliament, and it has been doing things differently for over a decade.
Enhanced devolution gives us the powers we need to tailor policies for Scotland without having to deal with the problems of trying to reinvent the wheel by creating new institutions for a Scottish state. Staying in the UK offers and extremely positive future of further autonomy within the framework of larger strength.