At least, now we know.
If Scotland votes no in 2014, we face years, if not decades of austerity, of scrimping and scraping, of unemployment and under-employment and of cuts to public services. No matter who wins the UK election in 2015, Conservative or Labour, we’re going to keep the current spending limits and aim to pay down the debt. Westminster fiddles while we all burn.
For months, people have been clamouring for information in our constitutional debate and for certainty about what the future holds. And if this kind of certainty isn’t a potential game-changer in the independence referendum campaign, I’m not sure what is.
For this isn’t exactly what folk had in mind. The question being put by the undecideds and doubters has invariably been directed at the yes campaign; tell us what independence feels, smells and tastes like to help us make up our minds. The challenge for Yes Scotland and the Scottish Government is to turn this around, to mess with everyone’s minds if you like and to make the certainty of our economic future a reason to embrace change. It’s not the uncertainty of a future going it alone that should be vexing you, but the certain path being laid out which offers nothing but sackcloth and ashes.
And it’s time to make a mockery of the premise at the heart of the no campaign – that we are Better Together, because patently we are not going to be.
The Chancellor, ahead of the Spending Round statement for 2015-16 he will deliver this coming Wednesday, launched a natty wee video, to explain in simple terms what our current financial predicament means. At least £13 billion of cuts, on top of the £11 billion or so already announced for next year.
It’s not clear what this means for Scotland until the actual budget allocations are announced, but given that we are not one of the Treasury’s ring-fenced budgets, we can hazard a guess that it means less money being handed to us to spend. John Swinney has an article today in Scotland on Sunday which outlines how Westminster is eroding our economic powers:
“Since 1999 Scotland’s freedom to allocate spending on Scotland’s priorities has been curbed, constrained and curtailed by creeping Treasury controls. Scotland’s money has been progressively divided into different pots with restricted uses, without any consultation.”
The argument has validity and should – rightly – spark indignation, particularly when UK budget statements start to interfere with democratic spending decisions already made here in Scotland. As they did, this year.
Moreover, the grievance card has its place in the suit of options available to the Scottish Government in this debate: it’s not been deployed nearly as much as it was in the first SNP Holyrood administration and we can expect it to appear more frequently as we grind towards the vote in September 2014. Good.
But we need to start conducting this debate in a language that people can understand, which makes sense to their sense of everyday and which makes it patently clear what certainty means. The Scottish Government needs to start showing us the money.
Thus, the response needs to be both political and micro-economic. The Scottish Government needs to spell out what this democratic deficit means, that every year that the Tories ring fence spending for schools south of the border makes it harder for us to do the same up here. And to start setting out starkly what it means when the Chancellor puts austerity before growth in his economic strategy. We might all nod blithely along when our Cabinet Secretary for Finance rails against this, but in truth we haven’t a clue what it means.
So tell us. Get us a natty wee cartoon which shows what the cuts to the Scottish budget actually look like. In terms of leaky roofs in schools, closed libraries, disappearing jobs, broken swings, potholes in pavements and roads. And spell it out in terms of household finances. Because cuts in spending mean increased bus fares to get to work or to go to the shops.
It means parents being expected to dig deeper for fundraising activity by schools. It means your granny having to dig into her meagre pension to pay more for her emergency call service and meals on wheels. It means your child losing their free swimming session on a Saturday. And it means your wee cousin leaving university with a decent degree and having no job to go to.
Sure, Scotland already controls most of these policy areas but it really doesn’t matter what we want to provide for our people if we don’t have any money to pay for it. And that’s what voting no in 2014 will deliver. You might want to live in a country that does all of this and more, but you can only have a chance of doing so in your lifetime by voting yes.
Vote no in 2014 and you get Tory or Labour cuts in 2015. Vote no in 2014 and you and your family can look forward to years of doing without. Vote no in 2014 for a dismal future and for our children – your children – to have little to look forward to.
And while we can’t say definitely what voting yes will result in – that will be for us to decide in the first elections after independence – we can assure you of one thing, with absolute certainty and clarity.
That Scotland’s future can be different. And if you want even the possibility of a different future, that doesn’t involve your family being force fed a diet of austerity by either the Tories or Labour, then vote yes.