Sunday, 18 May 2014

A Vision for Scotland

This month's guest writer for Sign for Scotland is Jean Urquhart MSP. We're delighted and very grateful to have such a well respected figure from the Scottish Parliament write a post of us.

When I was growing up in West Lothian, I remember writing “North Britain” on my school jotters. Scotland to me seemed parochial; the land of Brigadoon and the White Heather Club, and not a positive, progressive, place to be. It was a place I left twice- once for America, and once for London- before returning to live and work in Ullapool.

What changes I have seen in Scotland since then. We’re now far more comfortable in our own skin; we recognise our shortcomings at the same time as trumpeting our successes. We have a parliament that can make some- but not all- of the decisions about what type of country we want to be. We have become far more internationalist in our outlook and now have the opportunity to slough off the last remnants of age-old grievances by once more becoming an independent country.

If you think that Westminster feels distant in the central belt, it feels like another planet in Ullapool. The balance of power across Britain as a whole is so skewed towards the centre that people feel distant from decisions made about their own communities. As the Jimmy Reid Foundation stated in their report ‘The Silent Crisis’, “we elect fewer people to make our decisions than anyone else and fewer people turn out to vote in those elections than anyone else”. Out of 2,071 Scots- roughly the population of Aviemore-only one will stand for election in their community; in Norway, it’s 1 in every 81. In Sweden, 4.4 people contest each seat; in Scotland, it’s 2.1. Out of 4,270 Scots- the population of Lockerbie- only one is an elected community representative; in Austria, it’s 1 in 200. These figures are often misconstrued as an argument for more bureaucracy, more machine politicians and a bigger trough to feed from; they’re not. What it is an argument for is revitalising the links between ordinary Scots and their democratic structures, addressing the democratic deficit at the lowest level and involving a more diverse cross-section of society in their local community.

Independence would shake the snowglobe of British politics and give us a once only opportunity to reshape who makes those decisions and where they make them. The work of island local authorities in engaging with both Westminster and Holyrood to secure further devolution to the isles is particularly instructive and offers a glimpse of what is achievable with independence. The First Minister’s recent speech in the North of England- where he posited the idea of an independent Scotland working in tandem with the North to act as a counterweight to London’s overwhelming pull - shows that the impact of independence could create a healthier balance across the economy of the British Isles as a whole.

The most heartening aspect of the independence debate has been the rise of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and their Common Weal project. They have led the way in showing that another Scotland is possible; a Scotland that values its workers, revitalises local decision-making and local governance and recognises that there needs to be a better balance between work and leisure. Their policy proposals are all based on examples from other countries, demonstrating even further the extent to which the British model of an unequal, low-productivity, geographically skewed economy is the exception rather than the norm. They have given some thought as to how a 30-hour working week and a basic citizens’ income could be affordable, workable and desirable, working with renowned economists such as the late Ailsa McKay to also examine how we can adapt the workplace and childcare provision to close the gender gap in the Scottish economy. Given Scotland’s social democratic consensus at a party political level, and the work of the Foundation in speaking to both Labour and the SNP about their ideas, there is no reason that at least part of the Common Weal can be implemented following independence. 

A revitalised democracy and a rebalancing of the economy are obviously two of the domestic benefits of independence; however, an independent Scotland also has so much to offer the world itself. Despite the robust nature of the debate, we mustn’t lose sight of how orderly and peaceful our path to a referendum has been. Our experiences, both good and bad, could be of great use to others post-independence. Coupled with the removal of the abhorrently expensive and inhumane Trident nuclear weapons system from Scotland’s shores- one of my major reasons for supporting independence-Scotland would be uniquely placed to establish a Peace Centre that could draw on these experiences and offer support and guidance to others across the world. Combined with membership of the EU and historic ties to countries like Ireland, Poland and Canada, an independent Scotland would look outward as it reassumes its long-vacant seat at the table. Our education system continues to attract international students in their droves, and our renewables and food and drink sectors are known the world over. 

On September 18th, the door to a better Scotland will be unlocked for the first time in centuries. All we need is the confidence to cross that threshold and to be the change that we wish to see by voting Yes. 

Jean Urquhart is an independent list MSP for the Highlands and Islands region. She is the Deputy Convener of the Cross-Party Group on Crofting, and is involved to varying extents with the CPGs on Architecture & the Built Environment, Epilepsy, Human Trafficking, Palestine, Poland and Rural Policy. You can visit her website here where she writes about her ideas for an independent Scotland and the work that she does for the people of Highlands and Islands region.
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1 comment:

  1. Excellent, positive, piece from Jean. I particularly like the threshold imagery and having the confidence to cross it on 18th September!