By Labour for Independence co-founder Allan Grogan.
Maybe it was the first leadership debate of the Scottish Elections, or maybe it was re-watching Borgen, as lockdown continues to allow me to tick off every box set on Netflix. Whatever it was, something compelled me to write about politics in this country for the first time in 2 years.
As the 5 leaders of the major parties in Scotland lined up, several things became clear as the night went on. Yes, the BBC will never change and seem intent on being the strong arm of Unionism in Scotland, yes The Tories are still talking about referendums and independence more than any other party. (Note: Coming soon to a letter box near you, the latest tory leaflet with 12 mentions of independence, 10 mentions of SNP and in Times New Roman font size 2, their party and leaders name). The usual drudge of expertly chosen panellists, who would have you believe that the polls for the past year are a fallacy and in fact, Scotland is made up of 95% unionists save for the occasional ranting nationalist who would rather talk about branch offices than make any real point of substance.
Yet what was more noticeable was the subtle changes in Scottish Politics underneath the bile and bloated aggrandising of the BBC and Douglas Ross were subtle yet potentially seismic changes in what Scotland can become. This was not just the fantastic appearance by Green Co-Convener Lorna Slater, who was a breath of fresh air. But rather the acceptance by four of the five parties that in so many ways politics needs to be done in a different manner.
But first let us let the elephant out of the room and talk about independence, again there was to me a marked change in how unionist parties now address this issue. No longer is the UK a strong argument, rather it is timing and whether Scotland should be involved in this rather than whether it wants or needs change. On the face of it this may seem a small point but rather it is fast becoming their only card to play.
No longer will we have the fated notion of Better Together, or If you want to Stay in the EU vote No. Instead, what has unionism become? A branding exercise. Flag waving, Union Jack is on all your household goods and talk of once again pushing forward towards empire, victory and Rule Britannia. When the stark reality is that trade is crumbling since Brexit, and even our Special Friend across the pond would rather do a deal with the EU and seemingly looked up the words… Bargepole, touch, wouldn’t… when describing his view of the current UK Government. No better is the opposition leader, who despite plummeting poll numbers, would rather sack his own party members than demand resignations for corrupt, bullying ministers. It’s hardly a surprise that Douglas Ross finds it so difficult to stop talking about the SNP as anything else would only lead to further embarrassment.
Can Scotland become any different? Well one of the most striking sections of the debate was the acknowledgement from all but Ross, that Universal Basic Income is something they all agreed should be at least trialled. Indeed, both Willie Rennie and Anas Sarwar, made Nicola Sturgeon seem the most hesitant in this in the fact it was not trialled during the pandemic.
While this is not the article to debate the merits of UDI, the normalisation of what had been until recently viewed as quite a radical policy in this country is a testament to the possibilities of what kind of Scotland we could potentially have as an independent nation.
Supported by a strong economy, within the EU trading bloc, Scotland would be one of few countries with a trading surplus (In 2016 Scotland’s trade surplus was £2bn while in the EU). Scotland has the potential to be able to invest to ensure we as a nation become economically stable, carbon neutral and a leading nation in numerous sectors.
Scotland’s unique environmental potential allows us not only to profit from oil and gas, but with 25% of Europe’s offshore wind potential, we can transition into a greener economy through hydro, wind and solar energy providing increased employment, further economic revenues to replace our income from fossil fuels. Our food and drink industry can be fully launched with our own brand and identity, with consumption and costs of locally sourced produce being available to citizens at reasonable rates.
With time running out to solve the climate crisis, we must begin to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint. This is an ominous yet exciting time for politicians to set out exactly what type of country we can be. From building new homes and finding new ways to heat them, ending child poverty and supporting employment as the 4th industrial revolution continues unabated, public transport, social security, federalising power to local communities and ensuring our Health Service and Education continue to be funded and improved. We need to solve the national crisis of mental health issues, defeat alcohol and drug abuse, sectarianism and combat the continual under representation of women, BAME and disabled within not only our politics, but all high powered positions.
At the moment as a voter, I agree with policies from 4 political parties but I am still waiting for one party to seize the moment and put forward a vision for what we can become. The prospect of Covid recovery is daunting and I do not blame some for perhaps thinking that the last thing we need is another referendum on top of it. But perhaps rather optimistically, I see the covid recovery as an opportunity, an opportunity to reshape the type of country we want to be. To develop a progressive, inclusive Scotland that we know we have the potential to be. The biggest mistake we could make is to return to the status quo. 4 out of 5 political parties seemed to grasp this at the debate on Tuesday night. 4 out for 5 accepted that they can and should work together where they have agreements. Independence or not, Scotland can and must do better, what an exciting time to begin to have those conversations.