1. Poverty. Child poverty in particular, is a stain on our society: it cannot be right that 1 in 5 children grow up with poverty pervading their childhoods, following them into adulthood and old age. And that we live with an economic and social framework which not only reinforces conditions for poverty but enables them. With independence, we can prioritise the need to tackle poverty and put our wealth as a nation to its best use.
2. Inequality. Despite being 50% of the population (slightly more actually), women are still under-represented in all spheres, especially at the top of those spheres. Worst of all, women in Scotland still earn nearly 12% less than men. Yes, things are changing but the pace is too slow. We could address some of the inherent inequalities in our society through a written constitution and create the conditions in which equality for all might be achievable.
3. Economy. We are failing to harness all of our natural resources and skills to our best advantage. We are over-reliant on several key industries and while the re-industrialisation of Scotland by investing in renewables is welcome, we can do much more by thinking radically differently about how to power our economy. We are still not investing in future-proofing our economy; we don’t spend enough on children’s earliest years and consequently, are spending too much on young people’s tertiary education; we don’t spend nearly enough of our GDP on research and development. Independence can offer a climate and culture in which we turn prevailing economic and investment wisdoms upside down. Finland managed it – so can we.
4. Fuel poverty. More than 1 in 3 households in Scotland are considered to be in fuel poverty, yet we are an energy rich nation with the resources available to make us much more energy-efficient than we are. People in this country die every winter from living in damp, cold homes. We could change this by a better-regulated energy market, raising the standards of new-build projects and focusing on improving energy-efficiency.
5. Housing. There are over 50,000 households who are homeless, containing 22,000 children; 3% of households live in overcrowded conditions; there are 298,000 houses affected by dampness or condensation and 62% of houses do not meet the current quality standard. Having somewhere adequate to live is a right, not a privilege: what kind of a society are we when we cannot adequately house our population? And how hard can it be to provide people with decent homes to live in?
6. Tax. Despite efforts to simplify income tax in the UK, it is still cumbersome and complex. And that complexity creates loopholes enabling avoidance. The core characteristic of the UK approach to tax is unfairness – the greater your wealth from a greater number of sources, the less you pay. With independence, we can create a fair and progressive tax system which ensures that as a country we gather what we need to pay for services we want to receive, from all our and our people’s resources and wealth.
7. Mortality. In Scotland today, thousands of men and women die before they reach pensionable age. They do not get the chance to grow old, either gracefully or disgracefully. Each year, we spend billions on our health service and on care provision, yet the gains made in improved health and lower incidence of killer diseases and conditions are incremental. Privatisation and marketisation are not the answer but surely there is a better way, which allows more people to enjoy better health and live longer. We can take a long, hard look at all that we spend currently and determine to do things differently from now.
8. Infrastructure. We do not have the infrastructure to support the needs of our nation nor its aspirations. Our transport network regularly grinds to a halt, no matter which form you use and the roll-out of fast broadband has been painfully slow – whether you are doing it virtually or for real, getting from A to B can be gruelling. Yet, efficient and effective infrastructure is vital to our wealth and well-being as a nation and individuals. A different mindset which embraces our rurality and sparsity, rather than trying to pretend they do not exist, would revolutionise our approach to investing in our infrastructure.
9. Resources. Our culture, heritage and environment make us uniquely admired and envied all over the world. Yet, we are careless with it all. Many leave, never to return; much is razed and lost, never to be replaced; most is taken for granted and treated disrespectfully. Valuing resources like these through proper tax, policy and investment approaches would maximise the benefit and enjoyment for everyone in Scotland and elsewhere.
10. Welfare state. The UK Government is in the process of dismantling the welfare state as we know it, demonstrating that this is indeed an administration – which enjoys considerable support in other parts of the UK but not here – which knows the cost of everything and the value for nothing. Yet, there is no doubt that the welfare system was creaking under its own weight of bureaucracy and broken in many places. The system we would inherit on independence will be a mess but independence will give us the opportunity to start again and create the kind of welfare state we want and which meets our population;s needs.
The astute among you will have noticed that much of what I reckon are good reasons for independence are largely things and areas we could influence now. We have at least some of the powers over some of these matters. And yes, we could make some of this happen.
But we don’t. We haven’t. Not in 300 years of Union, not in sixty plus post-war years, not in thirteen years of devolution.
And poverty, inequality and social injustice are growing. Because we lack the will, determination and resolve to change things.
With independence, we could change Scotland, change how we are, how we think, what we do and prioritise, the ways we act, respond and engage. As a nation and as families and individuals. Or, of course, we could choose not to and largely continue with what we have now. But why would we want to? The liberation of standing on our two feet, of having to make all the choices and decisions for ourselves, will encourage us to be brave enough to change.
For, independence is about the art of the possible, about deconstructing the obstacles and barriers that hold us back, that prevent better and it’s about taking responsibility for who we are, what we do and how we might be.
I do not want my children to reach my age and be living in Scotland as it is now. I want them to live in a different Scotland.
A Scotland which isn’t Norway, Finland, Denmark, Ireland nor Iceland. Nor wants to be exactly the same as these other small nations. While we can learn from what other countries do well and adapt their successes to suit our own needs, independence will afford us the opportunity to determine for ourselves what we want Scotland to be like. Independence offers challenge, but above all, it offers opportunity.
With independence, we can be a nation which chooses to be better, which puts need before want, which works for the benefit of all rather than the gain of the few. And which determines to become equitable, fair and socially just.