In the run up to Sunday’s second anniversary of the first independence referendum in Scotland it is perhaps worth standing back and taking a moment to reflect.
Members of the movement for self-government in Scotland are often accused of blind belief in independence, 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 blood and soil. 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 also not about a suspicion of foreigners, and it is certainly not about seeing ourselves as better than anyone else.
To illustrate what it is actually about for many of us 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 (220,000) 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 706 drug related deaths in 2015, higher than any other previously recorded year. The previous year’s figure of 613 was also a record high at that time.
· 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 2015 the Trussell Trust recorded 133,726 referrals for three day emergency supplies in Scotland, around 44,000 of which involved children.
· In 2015-16, 34,662 homeless applications were made in Scotland.
· By 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 or corporations 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 the junior as a distant province to be milked at will for its resources, and otherwise quietly ignores it unless it needs to be sweet talked with false promises to keep it from leaving.
But Scotland has devolved powers. Why doesn’t it use them to solve its ills? Unfortunately, despite what the Daily Mail or Express say Scotland’s government does not hold the economic levers of power, and isn’t able to make the radical decisions necessary to sufficiently and satisfactorily attack poverty and address social deprivation. Westminster retains this control. It does what it can, but this is limited.
Why not stay in the Union? Why not try and change it from within? 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 incompatible 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 corporate multi-nationals, is 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. The latest decision to withdraw from the European Union and isolate the UK from a market of 500 million people has the potential to be economically disastrous. The UK government has gotten itself into a complete fankle that it can’t get itself out of. Scotland must remain in that market. Democratically it’s people have decided that it should.
What passes for opposition in the remaining UK has shifted so far to the right that they are in fact virtually no different to the Tories. The Labour Party is a husk of long-gone memories of bold social justice initiatives, having dissolved into a party of 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. The parliamentary group of the party treat Jeremy Corbyn, their ‘leader’, an actual socialist, as if he is a bad smell emanating from the sole of their shoes.
Austerity measures inflicted by the Tory government are deployed as a deliberate 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 all of this, to go another way. An opportunity which cannot be missed.
We are going to have to make it happen, by listening, addressing concerns and respectful patient persuasion. However on Sunday, as the crowds gather, take some comfort that it is indeed coming.