Young People and Political Participation


One of the most heartening things to come out of Scotland’s Referendum debate was the engagement and participation in the process of young people. Over the last decade (and more) the gradual shunning of conventional politics by young people had led to a belief (in some quarters) that the legitimacy of our democracy would be called into question should their disengagement continue. Since 2001 no General Election has seen more than 50% of young people turn out to vote. Young people are voting less, are less likely to register to vote and are uncommitted to political parties.

That young people were involved in this debate was a welcome step for many who have been arguing for their inclusion for many years. It has long been recognised that engaging young people in the political process during their school years holds the potential for young people to have a ‘participative footprint’ that can lead to greater involvement throughout their lives. Although schools have ran citizenship lessons, pupil councils and such like for a considerable period now these have been recognised as (in the main) tokenistic with little actual power being ceded to young people – leading them to become apathetic, and who can blame them? Citizenship lessons have tended to focus on the social responsibilities of young people rather than engaging with politics or the political process at all – a huge turn off for many youngsters.

If we want young people to truly engage in politics then we need to look beyond participatory measures for their inclusion. We need to look at the social status of young people – how they are treated by the institutions that they are asked to invest in. This requires us to look at the material circumstances young people find themselves in today. For sure, the referendum appears to have fired their interest – young people have been included in the debate, felt listened to and valued and they have responded in kind. But referendum’s don’t come round every five years (do they?!).

It is of absolute importance that we recognise one of the fundamental aspects of political participation is that people need to feel that they are involved and have a stake in their society. Exclusion from the economic sphere and the methods of production and consumption is undermining the level of commitment young people feel to participate. This has undoubtedly worsened in recent years as the withdrawal of social security and housing benefit to young people leaves the impression that they are less deserving of concern than their older contemporaries. What makes this all the worse is that it is young people who have been hardest hit by the economic turbulence of recent years with the unemployment rate for young people running at three times the rate of the rest of the populace. This is further compounded with recent studies showing that their real incomes have fallen faster in comparison to other age groups. Of course, these issues affect working-class young people more than their better off brethren but more privileged young people are also affected as they too can find steady employment increasingly difficult to obtain and their road to higher education barred by financial considerations (particularly in the rest of the UK). The fact that young people’s entitlement to social security and minimum wage is deemed less worthy than older age groups also serves to institutionalise the message that their requirements are seen as less important than ‘adults’. Academic James Côté concludes that due to these changes in their material circumstances young people now have the dubious honour of being considered a disadvantaged ‘class’ of their own due to the growing gulf in material circumstances between themselves and their older contemporaries:

As a result of several decades of this negative treatment, declining status, and targeting as legitimate targets of exploitative labour practices, the youth segment of the work force…now constitutes one of the most economically disadvantaged groups of the entire population and very few people object to this situation, seeing it as normal and justified.

Denied an adequate material standard of living and marginalised in the employment market young people will fail to find a stake in society, inhibiting their willingness to participate in the political domain. Unless this institutionalised marginalisation is addressed, I have grave doubts that young people will seek to engage in a political system which is dismissive of even their most basic needs.

This is compounded by the fact that the responsibility for young people’s disengagement from formal politics is blamed on them, rather than a system which ignores their views. Policy, media and political discourse continues to point the finger at the alleged apathy and selfishness of youth. Far from this being the case, much research has shown that young people are engaged politically. Indeed, young people are, much like the rest of the populace, utterly cynical about formal politics – disenchanted and disillusioned with the behaviour of our elected officials and turned off by a politics which absolutely does not engage with young people, their needs or their interests. And it must be borne in mind that cynicism requires a level of political engagement not required to be apathetic. As a result of all this young people are increasingly turning away from formal politics, feeling both disenfranchised and disconnected from a politics which is increasingly hostile toward them. Why bother paying attention to a world of grey men in grey suits which ignores their most basic of needs?

When young people have rallied to display their feelings on issues which they see as important, the reaction has bordered on the hysterical – witness the demonstrations against the illegal war on Iraq, the G8 and when the government trebled tuition fees down south. Media reaction framed young people as posturing, misguided and at worst, criminal. It seems that some forms of political participation are valued more than others. Allied to this the disproportionate response of the police (kettling school children!) hardly sends a message of valued political participation either, does it? What these do reveal, however, is that young people are engaging in politics, just out-with the formal sphere – their participation appears to be ‘issue-based’ reflecting a growing ‘consumerism’ with politics – dipping in and out, picking issues that are of importance to them. Much research has shown that young people are looking at issues such as militarism, Third World debt, animal rights, nuclear power, environmentalism and anti-capitalist policies amongst others – and have little confidence in their elected officials to either represent them or deal with what they see as globalised issues. Young people are engaging in new ways which the traditional formal structures are unable or unwilling to accommodate – such as petitioning, boycotts, demonstrations and online activity such as blogging and internet campaigning. Young people demand a new response and so far our old politics has not responded. Our institutions are failing to engage with the politics of youth – until they do, it will be of little surprise if young people remain outside the realm of formal politics. And if they continue to be labelled as ‘domestic extremists’ when they respond to kettling in kind, who can blame them when met with such appalling shows of state force.

Unsurprisingly, young people feel alienated and excluded from political decision-making processes, seeing politics as something that is done to them, and not with them. No doubt many people feel this way. It’s the supply-side of politics which is at fault here, not young people. As political parties become more marketised and target-driven, policy agendas are focused on where they can get the most ‘bang-for-their-buck’. And where does this lead? To the ‘grey vote’ – and young people’s agendas are seen as peripheral and of little concern. This has created a vicious circle where young people are not voting and now politicians can seemingly ignore their concerns with impunity. Whilst pensioners are courted by the political class young people lose with every passing year – their entitlement to the most basic of social security looking increasingly imperilled by the major parties at Westminster. Young people have become the victims of policy as they suffer for their ‘failure’ to participate in elections which do not speak to their lived reality. The misguided call by Russell Brand for young people to abstain from voting will not lead to change. Young people need to vote and to have their voices heard.

Given that young people have engaged in the referendum it will be of extreme interest to see if young people in Scotland do elect to participate in next year’s General Election. It’s hoped that there has been a ‘participative footprint’ from the referendum which will see a generation of politically engaged young people. If we want the following generations to become involved then it might be up to this generation to speak back to power to address the marginalisation of young people in society. And this means addressing their economic marginalisation and their political interests. This means taking a holistic view of their political exclusion, realising it goes beyond merely addressing their participative exclusion. Of course, the starting point means valuing the input of young people and asking them what they want, what would help and how we can address their exclusion. Only then will we be truly serious about addressing the political marginalisation of young people. If the situation continues as it is – and young people reject the General Election next year altogether – the continuing legitimacy of our democracy could be called into question if it is excluding such a large part of our populace. We should celebrate the fact that young people engaged in the Independence referendum, but we need to ensure that instead of this being a one-off it becomes the norm.

Alan Mackie
National Collective

Photograph by Peter McNally

Glasgow University And The Power Of Activism


They made European history. Wednesday’s announcement that the University of Glasgow would divest from fossil fuels was a significant decision for business and organisations across the continent.

Glasgow is the first university in Europe to shun oil and coal investments. This followed a prolonged campaign involving over one thousand students who asked the University Court to move its portfolio interests from BP, Shell and Chevron towards renewables alternatives.

The university acted. Their £18 million investments in fossil fuels companies will be reallocated, with the added opportunity of reinvestment in new tidal, wave and wind projects.

Student Union President Breffni O’Connor described the decision as a “testament to the strength of effective student activism”. The campus climate action society had launched the campaign which snowballed into wider student action, led by union officials. The case to the university’s senior body was clear: there is commercial, ethical and environmental sense in placing investment strategies on a sustainable footing.

There is now mounting evidence that Scotland has hit the natural lottery twice – first through oil and gas production and now with vast renewable energy potential. As a result Scotland remains on course to produce 100% of domestic electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Cities of industrial revolution can now embrace the renewables revolution.

It’s inspiring seeing student groups – often driven by ambition and idealism – making a practical difference. From the 1967 Paris protests to the recent campaign for Scottish independence, young people are at the forefront of demanding a transformation of society. Opponents of Charles de Gaulle stated “Be realistic. Demand the impossible.” Young Scots said “Another Scotland is possible” and campaigned for social, democratic and environmental change with independence as a starting point.

Idealists are rarely successful in overhauling a failing system – be it de Gaulle or Westminster. Instead vast ambitions feed into gradual progress as demonstrated through the women’s movement, gay rights movement or civil right movement over decades. It’s often in the longer term that significant change is realised.

For instance Glasgow University was the epicentre of Scottish protest in the winter of 2010. The tripling of tuition fees was a Westminster assault upon the young and it led to the biggest march in the university’s history, as well as a long running occupation of the Hetherington Research Centre.

It remains largely undocumented how those events led to an upsurge in activism for Scottish independence, especially through the Radical Independence Campaign. While that wider Yes Campaign fell short, the change in attitudes it created has now launched a longer, gradualist campaign – the long-term consequences of which are yet to be realised.

Scotland may now be tied to a disastrous Westminster energy policy of nuclear waste and fracking, yet students were not powerless. They proved that significant local changes are both necessary and possible. There is much more that we can achieve while building towards independence. In fact these changes are vital to prove how politics can make life better and keeping hope alive.

Jimmy Reid in his rectorial address on Gilmorehill told that same student institution to “Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.”

Those are words for a post-referendum Scotland. We remain a movement for citizenship and justice – defined by a journey and not a single event.

Michael Gray
National Collective

Image from Chor Ip

Event: Changin Scotland, November 28-30, The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool


Changin Scotland
A weekend of politics, culture and ideas …. And fun!
Friday November 28th-Sunday November 30th
The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool


Friday November 28th

Welcome: Gerry Hassan and Jean Urquhart

Scotland after the Vote
Neal Ascherson, author, writer and journalist; author of ‘Stone Voices’ and ‘Games with Shadows’ in conversation with Douglas Fraser, BBC Scotland

Saturday November 29th
The Indy Referendum in International Context

Matt Qvortrup, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Cranfield University and according to the ‘Financial Times’, ‘a world authority on referendums’

What Do We Do About Scotland, England and the UK?

Gerry Hassan, author, ‘Caledonian Dreaming’ and ‘Independence of the Scottish Mind’ and Adam Tomkins, Prof. of Public Law, Glasgow University

12.45-2.15pm Lunch

Ambiguity, Complexity and Hope

David Greig, playwright and writer and Kathy Galloway, activist and writer; currently works for Christian Aid and a member of the Iona Community

Gender, Power, Radicals and Leadership

Laura Eaton Lewis, activist, part of the New Leadership Assembly, Director of The Work Room, artist and writer and Kate Higgins, Women for Independence and author, ‘Generation Scot Y’

Changin Scotland Extra
5.30-6.15pm: Imagining Scotland’s Future as a Northern Nation
Lateral North’s Tom Smith presents an outline of their work on Scotland’s future in conversation with Andy Wightman, author, ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’

8.30-10.00pm: Land, Social Change and the Highlands
Jim Hunter, writer and historian on land reform, community regeneration and the Highlands in conversation with Andy Wightman

Sunday November 30th

10.30-11.15pm: After Changin Scotland
Gerry Hassan and Jean Urquhart discuss what comes next

11.30-1.00pm: Where Now for ‘Radical Scotland’?
Cat Boyd, Radical Independence Campaign and co-author, ‘Scottish Independence: A Feminist Response’
Ross Colquhoun, National Collective
Kate Higgins, Women for Independence and author, ‘Generation Scot Y’
Miriam Brett, Common Weal
Chaired by Kathy Galloway

For Bookings, Tickets and Accommodation:
Please Phone The Ceilidh Place Reception: 01854-612103
Cite ‘Changin Scotland’
Weekend Prices: £60 for all weekend events
Accommodation Booking available from The Ceilidh Place Reception

Mari-Claire Kay: We Owe It To Our Children The Most To Keep Fighting

When I was a child, life was lived fighting imaginary villains, playing Picasso with a paint brush, turning trees into castles, sofas into dens and countryside into the land of fairies. Wonder existed in every speck of dust that glistened in the sun light as I bounced on our tatty couch making dust clouds. Nothing was worthless, everything had meaning. I was lucky.

When I was a child I was fighting real villains, such as those of hunger, trauma or neglect. Nightmares turned into realities, sofas not dens but hiding places. Fear existed in every ash cloud that raced in the sun light as another stress was taken out on another cigarette, I shrunk, watching and wishing. Everything was worthless, nothing had meaning. I wasn’t lucky.

Two worlds, the same community. When you are like me, young and training to become a teacher you get to learn that your enthusiasm and love of learning and life is not what everyone else experienced growing up. Every child has their own unique needs, passions, differences and eccentricities. The one thing they all have in common is a need to be loved and cared for.

Scotland, a country of parallels is a prime exemplar of this, where for every four children who skip happily along in awe of everything and anything, one child is left cowering in a corner of hell. The politicians patronisingly gaze down the television screen reassuring adults they have their children’s needs at heart. So that must be why it’s estimated that 100,000 more children will enter poverty by 2020 then? Children who are introduced to this world only ever knowing instability and raw emotion can tell you a whole lot more about what they need than a politician can.

During the referendum, we rallied together with gusto to discuss independence, both sides of the coin, fervently opinionated on what kind of powers and opportunities hopes and dreams Scotland should have had, but did anyone in any position of power ever stop to ask the kid in the corner what they thought? The media didn’t, the large corporations didn’t, and the politicians didn’t. The hierarchies of society speaking on behalf of people, because that’s their job… Well you know what, they suck at their job and people aren’t putting up with it any longer. The dehumanising hamster wheel we’re all turning on is about to fall from its bearings and those who can’t see it have completely missed the point of the Scottish independence referendum. It isn’t over ’til the fat lady sings… we don’t have a fat lady, but we have a kid in the corner who deserves a voice and that trumps David Cameron any time.

So let’s put it into context. Media, corporate and political bias would have lead you to believe that the Yes campaign was about enabling more economic wealth, glorifying our status in the world, becoming introspective and selfish in deciding to look after ourselves before others. To back independence was to back a nationalistic, collective ideal to rid our bonny land of ‘evil’. Yet to me and lots of Yes voters, the hunger for independence was not an egocentric, insensitive ‘grab our powers and run’ manoeuvre, it was a cry out for what truly matters in humanity.

As the politicians and their campaigns churned out their polished, charmless arguments for staying or fleeing the union, there was a cup of tea brewing. Oh no, the UK machinery actually had a heart! It had a fire that was about to get rekindled, a soul and feelings too. People actually cared about things like community and spirit and hope. And that’s the significant difference. Whilst ‘No Thanks’ epitomised the snootiness of ‘no darling, I couldn’t possibly’, ‘if you love your kids vote no’ and while ‘if you don’t know, vote no’ got people feeling as passionate as a wet sponge, the Yes voters were having a party, and children were welcome.

At present UK society is functioning as a capitalistic, dog eat dog machine, churning out whatever it needs to get ahead of other capitalistic, dog eat dog machines the world over. Big business and politicians work the ‘common yins’ into the ground so they can go home and eat their steak and peppercorn sauce at night thinking they’ve done someone some good somewhere in this lovely interconnected world. And on and on it goes, satisfy the plebs and make some dough in the process. Everyone wins, hurrah! Crap imagery I know but really, it fits the whole mess we’re in. Crucially, nowhere in this whole establishment are children represented fairly.

For example, schools force a curriculum on pupils and looked after children have to attend panels where they have to sum their situation up eloquently in front of powerful, scary adults. Streets are no longer played on and ideas, games and dreams no longer created, because big companies have hooked little minds on video games, technology and social networking. What’s more the media have reinforced the ‘dangers’ of society, to the point that the outside world is scary, unsafe and not as comfortable as a couch and a chocolate bar. Not to mention that ‘skittles’ are low in fat with no unnatural colours or flavourings.

I’m training to be a PE teacher at university, and despite my naïve youthfulness, it isn’t rocket science. The teacher at the whiteboard; rows of desks; sit in chairs; don’t talk; we’ll fill you up with knowledge so you can pass exams regardless of whether you care about pythagoras theorem or whether you realise that sprinting 100 metres is going to increase your power output. Yes it’s changing, particularly in Scotland because they seem to realise that a child is more than what is taught. If you want to teach a subject then go to university, but try telling some people that.

Yet still the educational system, the hierarchies and rigid curriculum demands up and down the UK exist as a discreet form of social control. So instead of nurturing we are almost neglecting children who really cannot relate to the subjects and services we offer in many schools. Political policy, legislation and ideals dictate our educational practices, instead of the needs and voice of the kids who experience it. Sound familiar? Schools are microcosms of society, fancy that!?

However there is hope and it lies in the fact that the Yes campaign started to put more than ‘man’ and their dominant, masculine ideals at the core of society. It started to place values, spirituality, feelings, morals, and for some even the environment at its very, very passionate and optimistic core. So where extensive corporations and politicians rely on the masses to shut up and do their job for cheap so they can make money, selling us the empty idea that having and consuming cool ‘stuff’ and working hard to succeed at all costs is right, the Yes campaign chucked these conformist ideals in the bin and sought something better.

The Yes campaign embraced community as diversity. Short, tall, young, old, poor, wealthy, Scottish, Zambian, musician, teacher, pink, yellow, dandelion, sunflower… The vision was a fairer society for ALL. It wasn’t just a community of shared passion but a community with a joyously upbeat purpose and vision. It was a campaign created and driven by the people, those who have experienced poverty, experienced discrimination, cuts in welfare, bullying, neglect, or indeed, experienced the good things Scotland has to offer. It wasn’t run for the people, on the people, to the people. It was a campaign run for and then soon after entirely with and within the people. It was always in the people. They just had to find their voice. It sought to understand what human beings actually are, spiritually and socially. Tired of the big boys and girls treating us all as passive, disengaged, ignorant plain folks, the people of the Yes movement decided they’d had enough.

And it continues. Nearly three weeks on from the referendum and there is no sign of this hope dismantling. It’s here we return to the children outlined at the beginning of this article. I have only just started my teaching career but I’ve already got to know so many hopeful, talented kids who need listened to. We are responsible for building a country that they can all flourish in. They aren’t separate from the political decisions we make no matter how alien the politicians’ gaze may seem. Do you really think our under sixteen population would like us to go to war? Would like their houses drilled under, their water contaminated with methane? Their planet destroyed? Their friends and family hurting because of Westminster cuts?

So here’s to the neverendum, the never giving up, the never settling, the never pretending that every child has access to love and care because they don’t. We might be framed as the dreamers and idealists but we are dreamers and idealists who do, we take action for the common good and if anything the referendum is only the beginning. We owe it to our children, they need us to keep fighting the most.

Mari-Claire Kay
National Collective

10 Powers For A Better Scotland

I was as disappointed as any member of the Yes campaign about the referendum result a week last Friday. Many better people than I have written at length about the aftermath of the referendum and about where, as a movement for democratic and progressive change in Scotland, we go from here. I don’t feel I can add much right now to what has already been said – though I may return to the subject later.

One thing that is worth re-stating though is that grassroots groups such as Common Weal, National Collective, Women for Independence and, perhaps most significantly, Generation Yes – as well as websites like Better Nation, Newsnet Scotland, Scot Goes Pop! and Wings Over Scotland – all of which have indicated they have no intentions of disappearing into the night following the referendum, have together led to, and led, what has been nothing short of a revolution in political engagement in Scotland – what one person astutely called “Scotland’s democratic moment”.

The fact that these grassroots movements have been able to flourish despite a mainstream media which remains dominated by – indeed, often peculiarly obsessed by – Westminster, UK-level politics makes the achievement all the more remarkable. Scotland has finally developed into a genuinely separate polity with its own public sphere, to the extent that in terms of democratic participation we are arguably already almost independent. This is something we must cherish and build on – though I’m sure the more hardened parts of the unionist establishment are terrified at what they have seen unfolding.

Anyway, onwards.

I am more convinced than ever of the intellectual case for Scottish independence – and it is notable that polls conducted during the referendum campaign showed that, as undecided voters became more informed, they plumped for Yes twice as often as for No – but the people, who are rightly sovereign on these matters, have decided to remain in the United Kingdom for now, and the UK is therefore the framework in which we must anchor any movement for political change in Scotland for the foreseeable future.

While many of us believe in independence from a ‘first principles’ standpoint – that is, we believe that Scotland should have statehood, and thus the sovereign ability to make or delegate decisions on all matters that comes along with this – many of the big themes of the campaign tended more towards what we might call bread- and-butter issues: job creation, social justice and the NHS. That so many people in egalitarian Scotland care deeply about these issues is not surprising, but we must now transform the engagement and concern surrounding these issues into something more concrete. The Smith Commission is our immediate opportunity to do this.

As Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and other members of the government have pointed out, the Better Together parties, during the panicked final days of the referendum campaign, promised substantial new powers for Holyrood: “home rule… approaching federalism”. Polls suggest that at least a quarter of No voters – most of whom, I think we can reasonably assume, hadn’t studied in detail the three Better Together parties’ earlier, rather tepid proposals for further devolution – voted No due to the promise of significant extra powers, suggesting that there is a comfortable majority in Scotland for a materially more powerful Scottish parliament.

Keeping in mind the campaign themes above, and what seems to me to be the clear wish of the majority for Holyrood to be the place where policy on all main aspects of everyday life is debated and decided, Lord Smith et al – if their interest is in a constitutional settlement which will endure – would be well-advised to come up with a new plan for the governance of Scotland which includes our parliament in Edinburgh taking on responsibility for all of the following:

1. All of income tax and National Insurance

This means control over (i) rates and bands (including the personal allowance, which is simply a 0% band), (ii) control over income tax on both non-savings and savings/dividend income, and (iii) control over National Insurance contributions (which are simply a complex second income tax).

This is going further than previous proposals on enhanced income tax devolution from the main unionist parties, for one simple but very important reason – democratic accountability. If income tax, in all its parts and variants, is not fully devolved, Scottish people will not be able to express a clear choice at any election between competing, holistic visions of the income tax system.

To elaborate on this somewhat, a UK party might, for instance, propose during a UK general election campaign to increase the personal allowance, but also to increase the top rate of tax so that the plan is revenue-neutral and/or broadly maintains the progressiveness of income tax. Half of this plan would apply to Scotland and half wouldn’t. (Specifically, what would apply to Scotland under current Conservative proposals is the part about the personal allowance, plus the rate of tax on savings and dividend income, but not any of the rates on earned income. Simple deciding how to vote on that basis, right?)

Presumably the Scottish government would be compensated in cases where it lost out – due, for example, to a Westminster-mandated increase in the personal allowance – but that is a poor substitute for proper democratic control over the whole framework.

The most difficult part of income tax devolution, given the UK’s historically centralised tax system, is separating out Scottish taxpayers from rUK taxpayers. As part of the implementation of the income tax powers in the Scotland Act 2012, work on this separation is already substantially complete, and so adding control of the personal allowance, tax on savings income, and National Insurance contributions would by comparison be conceptually simple, and, while certainly non-trivial, would be nothing more than a series of technical challenges to be worked through and overcome.

We mustn’t be so timid as to let short-term, surmountable technical issues undermine the fundamental design of our democracy.

As an aside, some have expressed a wish to keep National Insurance (NI) reserved to the UK parliament for its symbolic link with the UK social security system. This is a link which is indeed only symbolic, as NI revenues – as distinct from the entitlements which they generate, which could instead simply be linked to income tax payments – are used to fund current expenditure in the same way as any other tax. It doesn’t make sense to reserve one of the taxes on earned income and not the other, particularly since UK politicians often like to tinker with both as a package. Furthermore, at least one of the unionist parties has recently floated the idea of merging income tax and National Insurance, which, given the overwhelming logic of doing so, will surely happen sooner rather than later.

Genuinely full devolution of income tax would be a little complicated – that is not in dispute. However, this should not be a good enough reason for the Smith Commission simply to dismiss the proposition. There are many sound, democratically healthy reasons in fact to embrace it.

2. Full assignment of VAT

As a matter of principle, the Scottish administration should be able to fund substantially all of its own expenditures from tax receipts (along with its own debt, should it choose to issue this). This is a foundational principle of accountable and responsible government anywhere. Control of income tax – in all its guises – is one aspect of this. Another significant tax source is needed however.

Given that EU law prevents Scotland, as an integral part of the UK, from having different VAT rates from the rest of the UK, the next best solution is to assign VAT revenues from economic activity in Scotland to Holyrood. This should be coupled with a requirement for the UK chancellor of the Exchequer to consult the first minister on any proposed changes to the rates or scope of VAT – effectively turning VAT into a tax that is jointly ‘owned’ by the UK and Scottish governments (and possibly also the governments of the other UK nations in the future).

This proposal would have the additional benefit of giving the Scottish government and parliament a revenue source with a very clear and immediate link to the health of the economy, and thus an incentive to act in ways which are conducive to economic growth.

3. New taxes

There currently exists a non-statutory agreement between the Scottish and UK governments regarding the introduction of new taxes by the Scottish parliament.

In future, the introduction of new taxes in Scotland – subject to complying with the UK‘s EU and other international obligations – should be entirely a matter for the Scottish people and their elected representatives.

This position should be given the force of law.

4. Universal Credit/Job search and support

Support for working-age people is a bread-and-butter issue which affects people‘s everyday lives and which, given its close links with matters such as education, apprenticeships, and economic development, is perhaps the non-tax reserved policy area that is most obviously ripe for devolution. One can in fact imagine that the main reason it is not already devolved is simply that it was not the responsibility of the Scottish Office at the time the original devolution settlement enshrined in the Scotland Act 1998 was being drawn up.

Common sense suggests that, within the broader macroeconomic framework of the UK, primary responsibility for all matters related to the educating and training of people living in Scotland, helping them to find jobs, and supporting them through their work life should be the responsibility of Holyrood – and this is borne out by much of the discourse of the referendum campaign.

I strongly believe that the people of Scotland want and expect Scotland‘s government to have responsibility in this area – and consequently for the Scottish government to be free to choose a different path from UK-level policy such as the bedroom tax, or plans Labour have recently floated to restrict working-age benefits for people under 22.

5. The minimum wage

Closely related to (4), but worth mentioning separately is the minimum wage.

Even if the Scottish parliament didn‘t exist, there would be a fairly convincing argument for having different minimum wage rates in different parts of the UK, responding to different local circumstances in the UK‘s far from equally balanced economy. But given the close link and interaction between the Scottish education system, Scotland’s economic development infrastructure (Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International and the like), and now also Scottish income tax and some, if not all, working-age benefits, it seems illogical for Scottish workers to be subject to a one-size-fits-all minimum wage set for the whole of the UK at Westminster.

From a democratic accountability perspective, the minimum wage is something that should form part of a coherent, overall policy platform on work. Such a platform would also include policies on education, training, income tax, and in- and out-of- work welfare benefits.

There are already several countries in the world which have different minimum wages in different parts of their territory – including the United States – and from a technical perspective, a separate Scottish minimum wage would be no more difficult to implement than a separate Scottish income tax (and quite possibly significantly easier).

6. Equality

Equality (or equal opportunities) legislation is closely intertwined with both the criminal law and family law. We saw a real-life example of this recently when the Scottish parliament was considering the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, where the Scottish government had to seek agreement with the UK government to make an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 at Westminster.

The criminal law and family law are already almost entirely devolved. This makes sense, since these are subjects which have a direct effect on people’s day-to-day living – both, at their most essential, could be said to be about the state supporting individuals reach their fullest potential in life.

That being the case, reserving only the equality part of this wider package of “the law that affects everyday life” to the UK parliament hardly makes sense. There are of course obligations in this area under ECHR and EU law, but subject to complying with those, the law on equality in Scotland should be devolved – as indeed it already is in Northern Ireland.

7. Drugs

Continuing on the legal theme, one of the notable exceptions to the Scottish parliament’s current powers over the criminal law is its power to regulate recreational drugs. Given the parliament’s complete control over alcohol licensing (to the extent that it could effectively make alcohol illegal), prisons, rehabilitation, and the NHS, this has always been an odd exclusion.

Now that we are considering the devolution settlement afresh, it would seem to make sense to arrange things so that the Scottish parliament and government can make holistic policy choices in this area, deciding both on the legal status of drugs, and on the consequences of their misuse.

Holyrood could decide in favour of a Portuguese approach to drugs, or a Swedish one. The point at this stage is not to decide on the policy itself, but rather the principle that the Scottish government should be able to adopt a coherent, end-to- end policy in this area – not have one hand tied behind its back unnecessarily. It’s not as if there is a single UK market in recreational drugs that we wish to protect.

On a side note, devolution of the law on drugs should also include the power to set drug-driving limits in Scotland – consistent with the power to set drink-driving limits that was already devolved in the Scotland Act 2012.

8. Broadcasting

Despite the reach of social media, many parts of western society still obtain the majority of their information about what is going on in their country (and the world) from traditional broadcast media. The importance to a vibrant democracy of high- quality, impartial broadcast media should therefore not be underestimated.

In Scotland, 15 years after the advent of the Scottish parliament, it is still the case that the average person can name more politicians in the UK cabinet than in the Scottish cabinet. It can be tempting to laugh this off as not very important, or to make some remark about the calibre of politicians at Holyrood, but it is not the hallmark of a healthy democracy and it is something which should concern us all.

That this lack of knowledge of Scotland’s national politicians exists and persists should not surprise us, given the continued dominance of UK (24-hour) media in Scottish homes, and the obsession of said media with Westminster politicians and their often England- or England & Wales-only policies. But it is a fundamental issue with Scottish democracy that we must finally step up to the plate and do something about.

In federal Germany, broadcasting is the responsibility of the states (Länder in German). There are nine regional public service broadcasters (PSBs) in Germany, and these work alongside nationwide broadcaster ARD (which is actually a creature of an inter-state agreement on broadcasting between the 16 Länder).

This gives people living in Germany what the unionist parties would presumably call the best of both worlds – strong state (or regional) broadcasters that keep people educated and informed about their part of the federation, as well as a larger public service broadcaster covering the whole of the Federal Republic.

As part of the new devolution settlement, and using the German model as a reference (a structure which the UK actually helped setup), the Scottish parliament should be given primary power over broadcasting in Scotland.

The parliament may choose to use this power to setup a separate Scottish Public Service Broadcaster (similar, for example, to Bayerischer Rundfunk in Bavaria), while also entering into an agreement with the BBC regarding a continued role for the BBC as the UK-wide PSB in Scotland. That would be for the parliament to decide, but the fundamental point is that it should have power to act in this area.

9. Arrangements for elections in Scotland (including political parties)

A local sports club can decide on the arrangements for electing members to the club committee, yet the Scottish parliament cannot currently decide on the arrangements for its own elections. If, for example, the parliament wanted to increase the number of MSPs from 129 to, say, 139, to share out the workload better, it wouldn’t be able to do so. Nor – to pick a more topical example – could it extend the franchise in its elections to 16- and 17-year olds.

The UK parliament can choose to make these kinds of changes for elections to the House of Commons. The German state legislatures can change the way they are elected without recourse to Berlin. It is to treat Holyrood, and the people of Scotland, like a constitutional child that cannot really be trusted, to require decisions about how the Scottish parliament is elected to be made in London.

On a related note, as has been highlighted by MSPs across the party divide in recent days, common UK rules on political parties prevent the Scottish parliament from introducing quotas on female members.

Common rules across the UK may be an administrative nicety, but given that in Scotland we have a distinct polity and demos, which often wishes to take a different path not just on the ‘bread-and-butter’ issues, but on matters relating to the conduct of our democracy itself, this administrative nicety is unhelpful and counter- productive. Impeding the UK single market in political parties seems like an acceptable price to pay for a more responsive democracy in Scotland.

10. Independence referendums

Finally, given that the political legitimacy of an independence referendum being called by a Scottish parliament containing a majority of referendum-supporting members is these days accepted by almost everyone, the power to hold a referendum on independence that was temporarily devolved to the Scottish parliament in the snappily named Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2013 should now be devolved permanently.

The Scottish people are not fools, and they are perfectly capable of regulating the frequency at which independence referendums are held. A party that proposed holding a referendum every parliamentary cycle would quickly be punished at the ballot box. Conversely though, if the people decide that they want a new referendum, and they clearly express this wish in a Scottish general election, it should be possible for the Scottish parliament to legislate to this effect without another arduous round of negotiations between Edinburgh and London.

In the absence of Scotland having its own written constitution, as a member of a federal United Kingdom, the power to hold an independence referendum at a time of its choosing would be the ultimate expression of the fact that Scotland and the Scottish people remain sovereign, and that Scotland is a part of the UK only because the people of Scotland have solemnly decided that they want that to be the case.

Would anyone disagree with that?

Kenneth MacArthur
National Collective

Image: clry2

Declan Welsh: The Fight Doesn’t End Here


The fight continues. My friends, comrades, brothers and sisters on either side of the referendum, we have decided to stay in the union. While that was never my preference, democracy has spoken, and we must respect it and carry on. Many of you are heartbroken, and so am I, but there is still a fight to be fought, one that is even more important than independence from the rest of the UK, and it needs us all to stand even a chance of succeeding.

The fight to build a peaceful, fair society. That is what this was about. It wasn’t ever really about a “free Scotland”. At least not for me and the vast majority of people I know who voted and campaigned for Yes. Nationalism, indeed, was a dirty word among these circles. This was a pragmatic choice, which weighed up the likelihood of either choice creating the possibility for fundamental changes to the political system – and came down on the side of Yes. Of course, Flower of Scotland and Caledonia were sung, but can you blame an individual for seeing the chance for a better deal for the workers and downtrodden in the place where they either were born or have decided to live, and feeling that they have to grasp it with both hands? I wouldn’t describe this type of Yes voting as nationalism, but as pragmatism. Whether you agree with it or not is entirely your prerogative, but I, and many others that campaigned, looked at Westminster and thought – I can’t change this from the inside. We looked at the Labour Party; our natural allies; and saw careerist politicians pandering to a political conversation set by UKIP. They were going to be tough on immigration, tough with austerity, support further wars. They were not the Labour Party anymore. The Lib Dems had lost all credibility, UKIP were lowest common denominator, scapegoat politics, and the Tories were, well, the Tories. It seemed an impossible fight. Independence was our chance to shake that system up. To do things our own way, and show our brothers and sisters in the rUK that it could be done another way. We would still stand with them. We would still march with them. And we still will.

The most important thing to do, whether you are a despondent Yes voter, or a No voter who wants social change just as much as this, is to put aside all previous differences. Yes voters: stop demanding a revote. Stop talking about “the 45″. Stop telling people they should be ashamed of voting a certain way. Stop being defeated. Because you are not defeated. The things that you want can be achieved. They can be achieved with the rest of the UK. It might take longer, it might be a harder fight, but it’s the same fight we fought before the referendum, and we have to ensure that political engagement and grassroots activism – the Yes movement’s biggest gifts to Scotland – do not go away. Get involved in politics all over again. Join the CND, Unity, The People’s Assembly, a trade union, a political party, anything you want but make sure you shout, and you shout loud, that the status quo is not acceptable. Stand with No voters, because a great, great number of them want the exact same things as you, they just didn’t see a Yes vote as the answer. That’s ok. If anything, now that it’s over, we can at the very least take comfort in the fact that there is no need for us to be divided.

No voters; don’t gloat. The majority of people I know who voted No do not see this as a victory. They see it as a potential pitfall avoided. Everyone should ignore those who see a No vote as some sort of petty victory over the SNP, or Salmond, or their Yes voting contemporaries. These people celebrate the status quo. The status quo is not good enough.

Labour voters who voted No, hold your party to account on the promises they made. I will never vote Labour as long as I live, because I feel they have betrayed working people too often and with too much indifference to ever deserve to be known as a genuine labour movement. But Labour voters are not Labour politicians. They are people who want social justice. Be more active in your party, because while I will never place my faith in the hands of Labour politicians again, I don’t think I am as apprehensive about the desires of Labour voters. Make your party great again, and we’ll all benefit.

I am certain that “the Vow”, despite being written on top of a serious looking bit of parchment on the front page of a daily tabloid newspaper, will be broken. We may see a federal Britain, and if we do I will be pleasantly surprised. Local democracy across the UK would be a great thing, and would go some way to offsetting the neoliberal consensus we see before us. But I don’t see it happening. Already there have been admissions that the timetable will not be met, and Tory backbenchers have made their own Vow to vote down any proposed legislation which appears to give the Scots everything and the rUK nothing. Which is fair enough, to be honest. The thing that angers me about “the Vow” is not that the rest of the UK think it’s unfair for Scotland to get disproportionately more powers that other regions of the UK; it’s that it was a lie. A lie made to convince people to vote a certain way. It was a skewing of democracy by a political institution who put aside what little differences they had left and promised something they could never deliver to a nation which very nearly decided to reject an entire political system in favour of independence.

But we must not be disheartened by this forthcoming defeat. Or the defeat which is so raw right now. Our movement is a movement against the establishment. It is one which wants to take the power from the powerful and give it back to the normal citizen. Thus, we face the might of the business, media, banking and political elite. We face headlines in the papers saying that banks will take our money to a different country, that businesses will be forced to make “difficult decisions”, that the poor and the ostracised are to blame. We will face many defeats. But we must keep fighting. The fight will never be won until every man, woman and child looks at these systems and sees them for what they are; instruments of oppression. When we, not as a country, not as a union, but as workers, wake up to the fact that the odds are stacked against us from the moment we are born; then we will start to be able to win this fight.

Trust not corporations, politicians, banks or newspapers; but trust in each other. Yes or No, Scottish, Welsh, English or Irish, we all, more than ever, must come together and stand against the oppressors. Together, we can still win this fight.

I voted Yes because I saw a greater chance of achieving social justice and peace in an independent Scotland. The No vote might shift the goalposts but the goal is still the same. And it is a goal too immense, too important, for any of us to even consider not dusting ourselves down, picking up a different banner, and getting on with it.

Declan Welsh
National Collective

Image from Alex Aitchison

Christopher Silver: It’s Time To Transform Scotland

Whatever had transpired on the 18th, Scotland was always destined to wake on the 19th of September as a land of massive contradictions. A land of stone built villas and crumbling social housing ghettos with generations of obscenely concentrated wealth and endemic poverty. A Trident submarine would still have been lurking somewhere beneath the North Atlantic, despite decades of protest. The long denied riches of this place would still have been obscured to the public eye: private owners would remain just as covetous. Untapped potential would still have been the glaring reality of this country.

To change any of these facts of modern day Scottish life an unprecedented effort would have been needed had a majority for independence been won. As it turned out, in the measuring of it, millions thought that transformation was needed, while still more thought that it could wait, or that this road was not for them. However, those simply keen to maintain a status quo that worked for them may be disappointed. After two weeks of reflection on the referendum result, it seems increasingly clear that those alive to the prospect of transforming Scotland are intent on doing so anyway.

The movement that grew around Yes has had to be resilient, it is mature, self-regulating and mutually inclusive. Last week, even as the results were coming in, a certain resolve could be discerned. For me, the following from Andy Wightman was an early signpost as to what would transpire.

Still, the awful finality of the result seemed like it had changed everything. Yet, in the context of the authentic experience that those engaged in the campaign shared, it changed nothing.

This is not to say that the experience of those long final hours was anything other than heartbreaking. As the results came through, I was in a room with terrible acoustics surrounded by inconsolable bright young things. The combined howls of incomprehension and STV’s blaring referendum jingle had the effect of slamming home every result with a horrible intensity. Revolts in the great workers’ cities of Dundee and Glasgow were not enough. A million small hopes were extinguished. This was not the country we thought it might be.

Something was silenced then. It was not the Tartan Army-like brigades that popped up in George Square or outside the Parliament in the final few days (they were still going long after the result was known) nor ever more wearied political soundbites. Rather, the result put to rest the quiet assumption, perhaps the fault of arrogance or sheer narrative potency that independence was simply an underdog waiting for its day.

The draw of any ethnic or cultural nationalism in these parts is severely limited. Our situation is clearly not comparable to demands for sovereignty in say, Quebec or Catalonia. In the 2011 Census 62% of people in Scotland identified themselves as ‘Scottish only’, only 18% opted for ‘Scottish and British’. If the referendum has done nothing else, it has exploded the myth that support for Scottish independence correlates with ethnicity. It never has and it never will.

For all that we may long for a simpler form of national identity, we remain a place of awkward complexities. Last Thursday’s result proved no exception. For all that the referendum seemed to light up public space and trigger mass dialogue, the silent majority won through in the end.

Indeed, for those more engaged with traditional media and passive political engagement, British nationalism briefly became the only game in town. Once that (possibly fatal) YouGov poll suggested that Yes might be in the lead, British identity was quickly taken down from the attic, dusted off and presented to the world as a functioning project once again. A splurge of ‘Rule Britannia’ from the press and politicians, promises of financial ruin, celebrity endorsement and well stoked fears provided No with that decisive boost it needed. Yet it managed to win without ever understanding what it was up against.

Independence was about the idea that power could be radically decentralised, from 60 million to five million and that a country could be transformed as a result. It was about a desire to take responsibility, a long overdue political response to a non-existent big society in which there remain no alternatives. This is why the networks the Yes movement created seem resilient. With independence off the table for the foreseeable future, a surplus of grassroots political energy is already being channelled into parties, campaigns and initiatives based on different models, transformation or the nurturing of a distinct polity in Scotland.

Clearly, several mistakes were made in the pursuit of that elusive Yes majority. At a strategic level continuity of process became confused with a vision premised on continuity. The SNP, by far the biggest players in the campaign, opted to present a future in which not much would change in an independent Scotland. The White Paper was an awkward mix of party manifesto and technocratic blueprint. That fudge, along with a relentless campaign of attrition on currency from the south, gave the high ground to the No camp. It also positioned media narratives and headlines to focus on independence as a policy to be refuted, rather than one of two competing propositions.

For as long as I can remember Scottish independence has been greeted by its opponents as something that would simply never happen. Either that or an act of economic harakiri, a petulant gesture to the globalised world (London) based on a crushing sense of inferiority. In the process of this referendum campaign we have established that the case for independence is neither and that will not be easily extinguished. As the polling station boards reminded us, we were literally asked to seize the opportunity and told it wasn’t worth the risk. To move forward, we have to accept that Yes failed to make that opportunity tangible, pervasive and compelling enough.

We now have two options: to work towards seizing every other opportunity that presents itself and transforming Scotland from below, or to retreat into accepting that no level of engagement can combat an army of mandarins, journalists, spin-doctors, celebrities and, improbably, Gordon Brown.

We all know that Scotland was subjected to an unprecedented campaign of threats, bribes and scares. How else did we expect power to react? The British state staged a rearguard action which, ironically, is one of the few things that it has excelled at over the years. It has a weak civic identity and is dysfunctional on many levels, but it is masterful at facing down existential threats: it has been doing so for three centuries.

But here is something worth considering. Thousands, perhaps millions, of Yes voters experienced an emotional journey that rarely takes place in the public realm. Having surrendered so much of ourselves in order that the idea of a new country might actually take shape, many experienced the referendum’s conclusion in profoundly personal terms. On polling day itself, Twitter was awash, not with nationalism, but with tributes to friends, family members, those who had helped, those who had inspired. This was a profound display of civic emotion. It felt like a national community long imagined, might actually be conceived in a moment of peaceful, joyous, participation.

In its handling of the Scottish question as a distinct and separate problem, the UK has given itself a bigger challenge than it reckons. The sanctity of devolution rests on very shaky ground: the Scottish Parliament receives limited media coverage, experiences significantly lower turnouts than Westminster elections and is widely resented throughout the rest of the UK. For all that people voted in droves last month, how do we ensure that the glaring 35% difference in turnout between the 2011 Scottish Parliament election and the referendum is not repeated in 2016?

The key challenge that the ’45%’ (I prefer the ‘1.6 million’) now faces, is in the first instance, not to encase itself in the virtuous armour of self-righteousness and chant, ‘we told you so’. There are far more important things to say to our two million No voting fellow citizens. Even as promises of more power evaporate, we must embed our new politics of transformation and maintain grassroots participation so that it becomes a definitive trait. We also have to build a truly civic national media or risk jeopardising the very existence of Scotland as distinct polity in the longer term.

Ours was not a nationalist movement. It was progressive, inclusive and premised on activism and participation. Such a movement does not stop or collapse in on itself because it failed to jump a hurdle. It continues until its vision of a better democracy is normalised and even then, it never really goes home. However, the entire exercise becomes pointless if we retreat into opposing, self-righteous minorities and echo chambers.

As it happens, something was different on the morning of the 19th. Millions had voted Yes. Most had been on a long and unique journey to that polling booth, while few imagined that they would see such a tangible glimpse of a new Scotland in their lifetimes. That decades of outrage at the UK state had transformed into a fragile hope was remarkable, to express it was a rare privilege. Those boxes cannot be un-crossed and to hold power collectively, even for a mere fifteen hours, is transformative. But those who are empowered, even fleetingly, have responsibilities. This is why we must now move beyond the referendum and change Scotland anyway.

Christopher Silver
National Collective

This article was originally published on Christopher’s website.

No Fracking Way!

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of extracting hydrocarbons by pumping a high pressure mixture of water and chemicals into rock, forcing seams to open and hydrocarbons to flow. While this isn’t a particularly new process, it is increasingly controversial as its rise brings it into proximity of larger urban populations and to the attention of environmental groups who argue that the risks far outweigh any economic benefit.

Films such as Gasland have helped to drive the movement opposing fracking by raising awareness of potential risks to community water supplies, while many countries, including France, have already banned fracking or in the case of Germany, introduced a moratorium on the use of fracking technology.

Fracking isn’t the only game in town when it comes to unconventional gas extraction. There’s already a number of sites in Scotland that have seen various methods of getting to hydrocarbons held in coal seams or shale rock. From the famous Shale Oil industry of the Lothians to current onshore oil sites or Coal Bed Methane Extraction, such as at Airth. We are already doing our bit to extract every last carbonised trickle of oil and gas out of Scotland’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves so that we may burn them greedily.

It also seems there is some confusion about different types of unconventional gas extraction, with fracking being used as a catch all term when really people mean something else. The most common method at the moment is Coal Bed Methane Gas Extraction (CBM) that utilises a process known as “dewatering”, which while not getting as much headlines as fracking, is certainly not without risk. The idea is to reduce the pressure in the coal seam by drilling wells into it, pumping out water (often full of toxins) to lower the pressure, which then releases gas from the coal into the pipeline up to the surface. In a recent environmental assessment, the Environment Agency in England and Wales identified eight different risk areas associated with CBM. Their assessment rated the overall magnitude of risk associated in operating CBM wells as High but they note that with appropriate regulation this can be reduced to Low. There are associated risks of reduced water availability, increased competition for water resources and potential pollution through chemicals used in the dewatering process.  Many CBM sites develop into fracking sites later in their lifecycles, with some evidence pointing to around 40% of CBM sites using fracking once the facilities have matured to squeeze more hydrocarbons out of the coal seams.

There are currently a number of CBM sites operating in Scotland, but no fracking sites as yet (though Dart Energy and Reach Coal Seam Gas Ltd have bought licences to explore fracking potential in central Scotland and INEOS are clamouring to get in on the action too). This incredibly handy interactive map produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change allows you to view every commissioned oil well in the UK and find out more about it. Friends of the Earth have recently proposed a ban on all unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland due to the risks involved for the environment and local communities. It should be noted though that there are many people who are confident that the risks to communities can be managed through appropriate regulation and engineering.

So, that’s the history lesson. Why is fracking being talked about just now? Well you may have seen in the news that the Coalition Government in Westminster want to make it easier for fracking and unconventional gas extraction to happen. They want a shale gas bonanza to kickstart the economy and ensure energy security for the UK, with David Cameron making a landmark speech in New York last week in which he bizarrely claimed that fracking was an important way to tackle climate change (burning fossil fuels is not an effective way of tackling climate change). They’re so excited about this that they want to remove a homeowners right to object to any drilling 300m underneath their own property. The SNP government in Scotland are naturally incensed by this and have spoken out, urging this power to be devolved back to Scotland. And going by social media, it seems they have the support of most of the country in opposing this change in the law.

The problem is that there is also a lot of talk about fracking or unconventional gas extraction only happening because we voted No in the referendum. I’m sorry to say, but that just isn’t true. As we’ve already established, there are numerous CBM sites operating in Scotland already. I’ve even seen well informed, educated SNP activists claiming their party is against fracking based on the recent opposition to the change in homeowner rights, but this isn’t true either. In his response to the proposed changes to homeowner rights, Scotland’s Energy Minister Fergus Ewing stated:

“Whatever your view on the issue of unconventional oil and gas [...] it is clear that there are both opportunities and concerns.”

He also listed five changes they have made to the planning framework which will enable fracking and other forms of oil and gas extraction to proceed under appropriate regulation – so the Scottish Government are very much in favour of onshore oil and gas developments, but with robust regulation. The question is, should they be?

Well, no… they shouldn’t. Leaving aside the risks to water sources, earthquakes and pollution in communities, we just have better things to be spending money on. Scotland has 25% of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind potential, 10% of its wave potential and already produces half of its energy from renewable sources. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to renewable energy and should be investing as much as possible in developing this industry, not pursuing further ways to ring hydrocarbons out of our soil. The argument against investment is usually that it’s too expensive just now, oil and gas technology is so advanced it makes it immeasurably cheaper to develop those projects. Well it might be cheaper in the short term but the cost of dealing with cataclysmic climate change is vast – it is simply the destruction of all we know. We can’t afford to continue down this path when we could be leading the world in renewable energy – it makes environmental sense, industrial sense and economic sense to place a moratorium on any new unconventional oil and gas projects and to encourage renewable energy investment instead.  A position echoed by the European Renewable Energy Council who found that developing shale gas would have little downward effect on gas prices and would divert investment from renewable energy.

The Scottish Government has the power to do this too. While it can’t control licensing, it can create the planning framework which guides local authorities (as has been shown by Fergus Ewing’s announcement of buffer zones etc), effectively banning any development of fracking sites regardless of the license they hold. This would put them at odds with Westminster and show that Scotland is truly able to take a different path and live like the better nation we know we can be. Earlier this week Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie urged the Scottish Government to take a tougher stance on fracking and to ban it using their planning powers.

So, if you’ve recently joined the SNP, put your new found empowerment to good use and speak up at branch meetings, go to your conference and urge a change in policy. If you’re outwith the party you can still make a difference by writing to Fergus Ewing MSP and your own elected representatives urging them to fight for a ban on unconventional oil and gas extraction in favour of renewable investment. Raise awareness, tell your friends that the Scottish Government can ban fracking in Scotland and get them to act.  Let’s fracking do this.

David Officer
National Collective

Image: Public Herald (the photo consists of a list of emissions found in the air after a well is fracked and ‘vented’)

David Aitchison: Forward


It’s now been over a week since Scotland chose one of two paths, and rejected the opportunity to become an independent country. If you ask anybody that knows me, it’s not been the best of weeks for me. Most things that could go wrong have done. Even the joy of seeing Hearts defeat Cowdenbeath 5-1 on Saturday afternoon was hit by the sad news that a fellow supporter at the game never returned home.

Despite this I’ve already refound a vigour and determination to go again in making this part of the world somewhere better for people to live. Articles by the excellent David Greig and Zara Kitson, blogs from friends across the world, speeches in Parliament and Facebook posts by friends have all contributed to lifting the mood of gloom that had pervaded for the past week.

We must remember what the referendum was about, which to my mind was providing a vehicle to make people’s lives more fulfilling across these islands. The majority spoke and have chosen to go down another path, hopefully with the same end goal of making this corner of the planet better.

The issues that we rallied around still exist (and this was put over more eloquently by David Greig than I ever could do), and despite not having the full powers to tackle these issues that I was hoping for, we must still do all we can to help alleviate them. Perhaps we have to do this with even more fervour than we would have after a Yes vote, given the limitations to finding solutions due to not having a fully sovereign Parliament that can be more easily held to account on matters from defence to child poverty. There is no time for moping, feeling sorry or waiting for something to happen for us.

The energy that existed within the Yes campaign, and from the people inside it, is still there. Yes, the people may be disheartened, but time does heal. Sure, for some quicker than others, but there is work to be done in improving this country. It’s been overwhelming to see the rising level in support towards all groups that were involved in the campaign – from the SNP, Greens and SSP dramatically increasing their membership, to RIC Edinburgh having to host a meeting outside because the room they’d booked was too small, and to the incredible wave of momentum behind National Collective, from new contributors to engagement on social media. The momentum and desire for change is still there.

As a society, we can’t stop our efforts now – politicians still need to be held to account on their promises (unsurprisingly thinking of one promise in particular). We may have voted against retaining power in Scotland, but we can never afford for our idealism to be crushed. Keep fighting for your ideals, whether that is in ensuring that every family can put food on the table, or to make sure that our society respects people equally no matter their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Institutionalised fear may have overcome hope on this occasion, but there’s a funny thing about hope – it never vanishes completely. It can’t be defeated so long as we keep going, keep thinking, innovating and imagining better. We all know that this is not as good as things can get – No voters as well as Yes voters don’t want progress to a more equal society to stop here – and once we dust ourselves down, the establishment will know that the thorn in their side hasn’t gone away.

This has been a horrible week, but it’s over. My advice to anyone who is reading this is to keep the faith that you’ve displayed in being able to build a better society. Victory only comes for the establishment when they stop you from believing in change.

But if the Yes campaign taught me anything, it is that that will not happen. The hope in our hearts and minds didn’t end at 5am on the 19th September. It’s time to use it once more, and to keep striving for better. It’s time to move forward once again, and bring about the changes that we yearn for.


David Aitchison
National Collective

Image from Robb Mcrae

Oh Scottish Labour, what have you done?


Despite 37% of their own supporters backing independence, Scottish Labour played a central role in a market driven, Tory funded campaign that instilled fear of economic decay into the hearts of the vulnerable to preserve an elitist Union. This week, as the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party’s membership surges and the SNP’s skyrockets beyond imagination, Scottish Labour called on their party to reach out to Yes voters. It is my firm belief that after two years of labelling Yes activists anti-English separatist Nationalist deluded fronts of the SNP, their plea will fall on deaf ears.

I was born into a family with Labour at its very heart. At six years old, I can just recall the 1997 general election. My Mum gave me ice cream for breakfast and hung her red dresses out the windows. I remember a triumphant hopeful energy, which in time faded and diminished, replaced instead with heartbreak, anger and loss. The very last Labour member of my family cancelled their membership recently. They no longer want to be associated with the people and politics of this party, and they are not alone. Scottish Labour has, without apologies, turned their back on their own history, and the most deplorable part is; they simply refuse to see it.

We must ask ourselves why this party is so intent on stagnating meaningful change when the Labour movement that their politics was founded upon – which they still speak of – was mobilized on vision and the reimagining of a society that works for all. Scottish Labour’s role in the independence debate left no space for imagination or inspiration.

It’s my belief that we do not currently have a Scottish Labour Party, but rather a Labour Party in Scotland. As somebody who has never been affiliated to a political party, I desperately wanted to see a Yes vote inspire Scottish Labour to disaffiliate from a Westminster rhetoric and advocate radical change. Instead, they will continue to pander to a London centric, austerity enthusiastic agenda. Ironically, a No vote was the worst possible outcome for the Scottish Labour Party.

The first decision they made on the referendum was to bypass a vote, instinctively supporting the union. The Scottish Green Party voted on it, and despite supporting Yes they maintained that members who supported No could speak freely on the matter. This unhealthy blatant denial of autonomy witnessed the start of the transparent, unashamed ostracizing of Scottish Labour supporters backing the Yes movement. As the Labour for Independence (LFI) movement grew, Scottish Labour denied their existence entirely, casting them aside as an SNP front. At their conference, fake LFI leaflets were handed out to smear their cause, and they were seen openly mocking LFI members.

Scottish Labour actively sought to demonize the Yes movement by labeling everyone involved inward-looking ‘Nationalists’. It was as though they couldn’t possibly conceive that movement was about people, let alone working class people. During panel debates, they would frequently struggle to come to terms with my lack of SNP affiliation. Bill Butler, who described me as “well intentioned but misguided”, told a school audience that if they voted Yes, they would then have to define themselves as ‘Nationalists’. On one memorable occasion, Midlothian MSP David Hamilton repeatedly spoke about sinister Nationalism, whilst waving his hand in my direction. When I pointed out that this would make 37% of his own party ‘Nationalists’ and that Labour’s asylum policy is an example of actual inward looking nationalism, he bellowed, “I bet you’re lined up to join the SNP on September 18th, you’re just another Nat!” They were manic. It was like sitting on panels with irrational children who would have tantrum-like outbursts every time their more popular playground rival was mentioned.

There is no denying it; their behaviour throughout the campaign demonstrated nothing short of tribal-driven bullying. Scottish Labour views the 2011 SNP victory as a temporary bump in the road, and the power of the Yes movement as a result of people being lured in by Salmond’s Nationalist agenda. There remains a blanket denial that the diminishing support for Scottish Labour is in part a result of its passive acceptance of New Labour’s ideology, and its lack of desire to provide an alternative to the dominant orthodoxy that dictates politics in London.

Never was this more glaringly obvious than in the run up to the referendum. Scottish Labour’s role was almost entirely focused around a market liberal agenda for the preservation of a normative framework, unfettered Neoliberalism. The voices that dominated this were not ordinary people but were banks, supermarkets and other massively unethical and morally questionable corporate giants. I even saw a picture of Johann Lamont proudly standing next to an Asda who said that prices would increase post Yes vote. A corporate decision that would hit the vulnerable the hardest was regarded as a cause for celebration. Scottish Labour has forgotten that the economy works for the people, not vice versa.

Yet the more sinister presence in this campaign was that of fear. Backed by a largely compliant media, fear played a central role in the bid to preserve the union. This is far from my bias take on the matter; they referred to themselves as ‘Project Fear’. What I found most unbearable about this was that it did not focus on the affluent sectors of society. No, from pensions to the NHS, this was a campaign strategy that actually targeted the poor and the vulnerable, instead of standing up for them.

Unfortunately for Scottish Labour, the uncomfortable truth of the matter remains, the areas that voted Yes were also those with high levels of depravation and low life expectancy. I was at the Stirling referendum count. Watching areas like the Raploch voting Yes, only to see the likes of Dunblane and Bridge of Allan overwhelmingly say No was like watching the wealthy ignoring the poor’s cries for change. Not only have Scottish Labour played a central role in a campaign against the will of 37% of their own support based, they have also voted against the will of some of the poorest members of our society.

I watched the Labour Party conference. I watched Red Ed advocate a continuation of austerity measures targeting the safety net protecting the very poorest in our society. I was reminded of Scottish Labour’s ‘vote No to protect our NHS’, and was filled with a fresh wave of resentment.

Scottish Labour appears to think that the vote marked the end of discussion, but we are living in a changed Scotland. The traditional, tribal way in which we once perceived politics has been entirely deconstructed and it could not be more refreshing. The Yes movement was just the beginning of something beautiful. The grassroots groups in the Yes movement, from National Collective and Generation Yes to Radical Independence, the Common Weal and Women for Indy, will continue to thrive and act as vehicles for change. There is a very real appetite for an alternative to status quo, one that challenges the dominant economic and political framework of Westminster.

At a time when their popularity was already dwindling, this party played a central role in a market-based campaign that ostracized and encouraged fear without vision against the will of 37% of their own supporters and much of the working class. Realistically, Scottish Labour is in serious danger of a further fall from grace.

Miriam Brett