This is the day I’d hoped to stand in Princes Street, with many thousands more, awaiting that moment, just after nightfall, when fireworks would have lit up the sky to herald in a new Scotland. Sadly it was not to be.
Today, in the spirit of defiance we could harp on about some of the landmarks on the path that are being passed as Scotland unfalteringly continues along on its inevitable journey to independence.
We could talk about the limited increase in powers that the Palace of Westminster has deemed to grant Holyrood (London still holds the major purse strings but at least the ability to vary tax is something added to Scotland’s control), or the hard-won financial settlement attached to these powers which saw Scotland’s leaders commendably wrench around 7billion pounds of future Scottish tax payer revenue, which would have ended up in the southern treasury, away from the Tory government, or even perhaps we could highlight the plan to enshrine the permanency of the Scottish Parliament into law under the Scotland Act, and the incredible scale of the magnitude of democratic success of the party of Scotland in last year’s General Election, soon to be replicated in the Scottish Parliament Elections.
We could all expound forth on all of that positive progress and more, but on this occasion I choose not to.
Instead I’d like to reflect on the reasons why I feel passionately that our country should be governed by the people who live there, the people of Scotland.
Members of the movement for change in Scotland are often accused of blind belief in independence, and seen as following our “hearts rather than our heads”. The reality is far from this image. Hoping that Scotland becomes an independent nation is not at all about flags, the hills and the glens, kilts, bagpipes and “See you Jimmy” hats, or even about movies where diminutive American Australian actors in dodgy wigs with blue painted faces get to pronounce the name of our country as “Skawlin” without the audience bursting into laughter. It’s not about disliking English people, I’ll repeat that for the hard of thinking, It’s not about disliking English people, it’s not about a suspicion of foreigners, it’s not about seeing ourselves as better than anyone else.
What it is about is the following, and to illustrate my viewpoint let me throw out a few facts to you about life in the early 21st century Scotland.
· In 2016, in one of the top 20 richest countries in the world, 1 in 5 Scots live in poverty of some kind.
· The number of Scots in severe or extreme poverty has increased over the last decade to a figure of around 710,000 after housing costs. (Severe poverty represents household incomes below 50 per cent of the UK median annual household income, extreme poverty represents household incomes below 40 per cent of the UK median annual household income).
· More than 1 in 5 (210,000) Scottish children still live in severe poverty, a figure significantly higher than most other European countries.
· 43% of people in Scotland of working age who are in severe poverty live in households where at least one person is in employment (in low pay).
· Scotland had 613 drug related deaths in 2014, higher than any other previously recorded year.
· The average life expectancy of Scots in comparison to those in the South East of England is still 3.3 years less. Drilling further into published statistics reveals that men born in Scotland’s most affluent areas can expect to live around 12.5 years longer than those in the poorest parts of Scotland.
· The number of Scots who utilised the services of food banks increased by 398% in the period 2012 to 2014. For a six month period in 2015 the Trussell Trust recorded 60,000 referrals for three day emergency supplies in Scotland.
· In 2014-15, 35,764 homeless applications were made in Scotland.
· In contrast the 4 richest families in Scotland are wealthier than the most deprived 20% of Scotland’s population put together and the 14 most affluent families are wealthier than the poorest 30% of the population. 432 families own 50% of the private land of Scotland. This is very different to most other European nations.
These statistics come directly from organisations like Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, Shelter Scotland, Oxfam and the Scottish Government’s own figures. There are many more such shocking examples of the benefits of being a very junior partner in an unhealthy Union where the senior partner treats you as a distant province to be milked at will for your resources and otherwise quietly ignores you unless he needs to sweet talk you with lies to stop you leaving.
Why not stay in the Union? Why not try and change it from within? Here’s a simple answer. The politics of the remaining United Kingdom as they stand right now, and as they will continue to be for many years to come, are not compatible with a progressive social democracy which places it’s citizens (all of them) at the centre of its policies and aims as a nation. More and more the Neo-Liberal influence of the city state of London and large multi-national corporations are pulling the UK towards the model which prevails in the United States. The rich are getting infinitely richer and the rest, well, they are there simply to be exploited and discarded.
What passes for opposition to this in the remaining UK have shifted so far to the right that they are in fact virtually no different to the Tories, and the xenophobes of UKIP. The Labour Party is a husk of long-gone memories of bold social justice initiatives and plastic professional politicians dusting down the benches of the Palace of Westminster with the arses of their trousers and skirts whilst they mark time until the ermine cloak appears. You can appoint as many real socialist leaders as you like but if the rest of your crew of careerist self-servers ignore him he’s just an empty promise, soon to be discarded.
As we’ve seen over the last number of years austerity measures as inflicted by the current Neo-Liberal cabal of the Tory government (it would have been very much the same under New Labour) are deployed as a political decision by a governing political party, not based on any real economic necessity. Contracting the British economy, shrinking the public sector, and increasingly putting services in the hands of low bid, high profit private corporations only serves to act as an effective conduit to further transfer the wealth of the many into the pockets of the few, crushing the lives of human beings in its wake. Scotland has an opportunity over the next few years to escape from this, an opportunity which cannot be missed.
This week the First Minister of Scotland announced as her first move under the new powers to vary tax rates that the top earners in Scotland would not benefit from the tax cut announced in George Osborne’ recent farcical UK budget. Opponents and media observers have since variously stated that this decision shows weakness, lacks inspiration and is not bold enough. I disagree. This decision is highly significant. It is highly significant because it now means Scotland’s tax rates are different to the rest of the UK, and will over time be clearly focused on different priorities to the UK, the beginnings of another reason to be independent.
On this day, on the day when Scotland would have been re-admitted to the family of world nations as a sovereign state, take some comfort that it is indeed coming.