Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Say Yes to a more equal society

In two days' time, the Scottish Greens launch the 'Green Yes' campaign in Edinburgh and I will be there. Until recently, when asked my opinion on Scottish Independence I would reply that I am in favour but it's low on my list of priorities, with climate change way ahead at the top.

Although independence has always seemed to me a natural destination for Scotland, I couldn't see that it would be much different from what we already have - especially given Alex Salmond's 'reassurances' of retaining the monarchy, Sterling and membership of NATO. I was rather hoping for an elected head of state, a guarantee of ridding ourselves of nuclear weapons and using a currency over which we had at least some influence. Add to that the SNP's vision of an oil based economy with a race to the bottom on Corporation Tax, I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about.

However, although climate change is still way ahead in importance, something happened to move the need for independence rapidly up the charts - probably to the number two slot.

At the Scottish Green Party conference in Inverness last month, I listened to presentations from Professor Mike Danson and Robin McAlpine both of the Jimmy Reid Foundation on the Common Weal project. Between them they convinced me that if we really want a better society we need a less unequal one. Moreover, the statistics show that the Nordic countries (principally Scandinavia and Iceland), by reducing inequality and focussing on social cohesion, have come closer to achieving high marks in everything from welfare and education to economic well-being, productivity and competitiveness.

So what has this got to do with Scottish independence? Let's look at where we are and where we are heading as part of the Union - austerity cuts, tax reductions for the better off, and a general move towards centralisation; do these make for a more equal society? Laying the blame on others (whether it's the poor, unemployed, immigrants, Europe, take your pick); does this make for a more equal society?

We're continually told by the UK Government that we need to be more competitive and this means lower top rate tax bands. However, in the Nordic countries, personal taxes are relatively high (though business taxes relatively low), yet these countries score well in terms of productivity and competitiveness globally.

So which direction are we more likely to follow as part of the Union and which direction if we go independent? If we vote No next year, it is clear to me that inequality will increase - on past record even a Labour government will not address the fundamentals, but if we vote Yes, then at least we can decide for ourselves. In Scotland the culture already favours inclusivity (witness the introduction of proportional representation for local councils and the rejection of UKIP's message).

The referendum really does offer us the chance to create a better Scotland. On Friday the Greens will launch the Green Yes campaign with its vision of what that Scotland should become - one which I have no doubt will have equality at its heart.

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