Behold, the alternative. While David Cameron and the 23 millionaires in his cabinet take a cricket bat to the UK welfare state, the Scottish Government are showing us why we should be grateful for devolution.
John Swinney has been a cautious but sensible finance secretary, balancing Westminster-imposed cuts with some essential Keynesian stimulus to boost growth when it’s needed. In government at least, the right-wing sadomasochism of Westminster’s austerity fetishists appears to stop at the border. On welfare, Nicola Sturgeon has protected support for those that need it most, while condemning Westminster’s consensus that the jobless, disabled and single mums should be forced into unpaid labour with the threat of homelessness or deeper poverty hanging over their heads. Children’s minister Aileen Campbell’s recent announcement of proposed improvements to Scottish childcare in the Children and Young People Bill is a particularly welcome statement of intent from Scotland’s Government on the need for world-class support for the youngest members of our society.
At National Collective we’ve been among the most critical pro-independence voices when it comes to the SNP, but we believe in giving credit where it’s due. In government, they’ve demonstrated an understanding that Scotland’s deep-rooted social problems require a holistic approach; through welfare, childcare and education, there’s a clear and coherent effort to treat and nurture each individual as an equally valued member of Scottish society. Their support for universality is also essential: on free universities, free prescriptions, bus passes for the elderly and childcare, they are rejecting Westminster’s means-testing obsession that separates society into the haves and have-nots. The same can be said of moves to scrap Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy.
It’s very possible that the Tories understand that latter point, too. Universality is an essential way of building support for the welfare state. Give every contributing member of society a tangible payback for their investment, and they’ll be happier about paying taxes. Take that payback away from those that pay the most (the capping of child benefits, for instance), and people will quickly get frustrated that their taxes aren’t making it back to them. Bear that in mind the next time the tax-hating Conservatives dress up means-testing as ‘helping those most in need’. Scottish Labour’s occasional whinge about free university tuition suggests that they fail to grasp this.
The SNP’s approach to social issues – inequality, poverty, alienation – is coherent and clever. So why isn’t their case for independence? As Margo MacDonald said in her recent criticisms of the party’s ‘Yes’ campaign, it’s currently got “no shape, no boundaries, no premise”. What’s needed is a solid and consistent vision for an independent Scotland, one that implies the same holistic approach to social progress as the Scottish Government are showing in Holyrood.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, the renowned American academic Noam Chomsky offered an analysis of the Occupy movement, suggesting that its influence declined as it became increasingly atomised, splitting into small groups with different programmes. The independence campaign has to avoid this, but that doesn’t mean internal criticism is off-limits. A case for independence that panders to every political ideology under the sun (or, in our case, rain) will give us a post-independence Scotland that is as divided and atomised as the United Kingdom, where any attempt at unified social improvement is hamstrung by partisanship and bickering.
In short, people need to know what to expect. A ‘Yes’ vote must be seen as a chance to renew the implicit but oft-forgotten social contract that drives humans together into nations and states in the first place; a statement of collective commitment to a roadmap for social change. For that, we need a national story without plot holes – a vision for progress shorn of the inconsistencies that debase the current case for independence that’s fed to the mainstream media.
That’s why National Collective have launched a series of posters to show the real choice on offer. They portray the referendum as a fork in the road, where the potential alternatives available with independence are contrasted with the stagnant realities of the union. It’s time for the Yes campaign to talk about specifics. We want to make sure that a Yes vote is not just a demand for independence, but also a demand for the kind of society that comes after it – the society that we’ve been told we can be. The SNP’s actions in government show what they can do with devolution. It’s time for them to show what they could do with independence.