I’ve campaigned for independence all of my adult life. Over the years there have been some dark times as we battled to build support against the full might of the British establishment, its political parties and media. There were days when I’ve trudged through snow to deliver leaflets and stood at street stalls in torrential rain. All of it will have been worth it to see Scotland retake the status of a normal independent nation, giving us the powers we need to build a better, fairer country.
I have to admit to feeling a wee bit excited this week when the postman delivered my polling card - just seeing in black-and-white that, after all of these years, I will get the chance to vote for independence. Not once in over 300 years have the people of Scotland had the chance to have their say on whether or not we wanted to be part of the British Union. We are the first people in three centuries to have our say. Even to an old political hack like me, that is an exciting opportunity – to be able to play a positive and active part in shaping Scotland’s history.
There are now less than five-weeks until the historic referendum, at which we decide whether to take control of our country or allow power to remain in the hands of London-based politicians for whom we did not vote. The referendum is not an election, we are not voting for the SNP or Labour: we will make one simple decision on September 18th – we will decide who is best-placed to run Scotland.
There are only two options: we vote YES for independence and government in Edinburgh formed by politicians we in Scotland elect – or we vote No, which is for continuing in the British Union and government in London formed by politicians we in Scotland continually reject at the ballot box.
I have faith in the people of Scotland: I know we are more than capable of successfully running our own country. Already, when asked, Scots say they believe the current devolved Scottish Parliament is more likely to act in Scotland’s interests than the UK Parliament in London. The current SNP Scottish Government has shown Scotland can take a different and better approach to areas that fall within its limited responsibilities. We no longer pay a tax on ill health because the Scottish Government chose to abolish charges for prescription medicines. Scottish students do not pay the £9,000 annual tuition fees their English counter-parts have to cough-up – again, that is because Education is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and our government – elected by the people of Scotland – chose not to impose further financial burdens on young adults seeking to secure academic qualifications. Both of these examples are fully-funded from Scottish spending: contrary to claims made by the British media and some Unionist politicians, English taxpayers have not contributed to financing Scottish Government policies.
Since 1999 and the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament – albeit one with limited powers – Scottish Governments have run our health service, the justice and court system, much of our transport, local government, planning and environment policy. Unfortunately, crucial areas of government affecting Scotland are still administered by London-based politicians, such as David Cameron and George Osborne – taxation, the economy, the financial sector, foreign policy (including sending young Scots to kill or be killed in wars). Independence is simply completing the powers of the Scottish Parliament, transferring to Edinburgh all of the powers we need to transform our country from the low-wage, high-unemployment, austerity-driven economy of the UK to the Scotland most of us want to see – delivering hope and opportunity for all of our citizens, with sustainable, well-paid jobs and a progressive system of taxation where the wealthy pay their fair share.
Probably the most dishonest aspect of the British Unionist ‘Better Together’ campaign – and there are many such aspects from which to pick – is the demand that the SNP in general, and Alex Salmond in particular, spell-out exactly what every policy will be in an independent Scotland. The reality is that, after we vote for independence in September, Scotland will remain in the British Union until March 2016 while negotiations with Westminster and the EU are completed. Two months later, in May 2016, we will elect MSPs to the first independent Scottish Parliament. From those MSPs the first government of an independent Scotland will be formed...and it might not be the SNP. It will be for us, the people of Scotland, to decide who we vote for in May 2016. How can the current SNP Government give ‘guarantees’ about what policies will be implemented in an independent Scotland when we might elect a completely different party to form the government?
That is the whole point of independence – it returns to us, the people of Scotland, the power to decide who runs our government and what policies we want implemented.
Independence is simply being a normal country – governing ourselves at home and representing ourselves on the world stage. Let’s grab the opportunity of independence and build a better future for our children, their children and generations still to be born.