Prospects for Change

THIS IS THE ROUGH TEXT OF AN INTRODUCTION TO RADICAL INDEPENDENCE BY SARAH GLYNN AT THE CAMPAIGN LAUNCH OF RADICAL INDY DUNDEE.

We are here because we believe that a YES vote offers a real hope for a better future. Not a vague dream, but a hope based on solid understanding of the potential of Scottish resources, including most importantly, Scotland’s people.

The NO campaign has provided a model lesson in control through fear. Stay with the devil you know. And mainstream politicians have let us down so many times that most people have come to despair of any genuine political change. Whether the Tories or New Labour are in control in Westminster, inequalities will increase and the hard-won welfare state will be whittled away – it’s just a case of how quickly that happens. So it’s not just the economy that’s depressed. Very many people are depressed about the lack of prospect for change. And the elites who are doing very nicely out of the current system are happy for us to believe that there is nothing we can do about it.

But here in Scotland we have a unique opportunity to take control of our future and make it better and fairer. And if we succeed here we can provide a positive model for other places – including south of the border. I support Scottish Independence not as a nationalist, but as an internationalist.

Before looking at what an independent Scotland could do, I want to expose that main propaganda myth of the NO campaign fear mongers, that an Independent Scotland is not economically viable. I’m not going to go into lots of statistics, but a couple of examples might help. You have probably heard that we receive more than our share of government spending – 9.3% when we have 8.4% of the population – but what you hear less often is that we contribute 9.9% of UK taxation – so Scotland actually contributes more than it spends. And Scotland also has a much smaller budget deficit than the rest of the UK. You can look it up on the Yes Scotland website. We also have huge natural resources in oil reserves and potential for green energy. (No wonder the UK government are so keen to hold onto us.)

So that’s a pretty good start, and if Scotland was freed up from Westminster austerity politics and able to invest in developing things like council housing, sustainable energy and public transport, then our economy would be a lot healthier. The Westminster government tries to justify its austerity by comparing government spending to a family budget, but those same ministers would think it absurd if a manufacturer argued that you shouldn’t borrow money to invest in a business. Money that is properly invested brings returns. In the case of well-targeted government investment it should get the economy going again, creating more people with wages to spend in local shops and businesses and more tax revenue to repay the loan.

And, importantly, we will be free to divide the wealth we create more evenly. You have probably heard claims that the majority of people can be better off under independence – and probably dismissed them as pie in the sky. But when you have a society in which the majority of wealth is concentrated among a small number of people, and you distribute that wealth more evenly, then most people will be better off.

But it’s not just about individual prosperity. An independent Scotland would be free to generate a much more socially integrated and caring society. More equal societies have been shown to be much happier societies for almost everyone; and we would be free to maintain and develop welfare structures suited to a genuinely caring society.

So far I have not said anything that you might not hear in a YES Scotland meeting. So why Radical Independence – what do we mean by radical and what more are we demanding from independence?

As radicals, we are campaigning not just for a shift in rule from London to Edinburgh but for changes that go to the roots of our political and social structures. Recently the Tory right have taken to using the term radical to describe their plans to uproot the remains of the welfare state and take us back to Victorian times, but, historically, radical politics have looked for changes in a leftwards direction, and we see ourselves as part of that tradition – in which, historically, Dundee has played a strong part.

We see independence as providing an opportunity – and the most realistic opportunity – for stopping the attacks on welfare and the poor. Westminster has brought us the bedroom tax, caps that mean real cuts in all benefits, workfare and the persecution of the unemployed, the dreaded work capability assessments for the disabled, the massive public-sector cuts and pay freezes. That would be reason enough to vote yes, but we are not campaigning for merely a slightly more caring government on the lines of the SNP. We see independence as opening up the possibilities for real radical change in how our society is run. We intend to spend the next 541 days working with people all over Scotland (including people who have given up on the idea that things can get better) putting together an alternative agenda for a better fairer  Scotland – as well as campaigning for a YES vote that could allow that agenda to be put into practice.

This campaign is about much more than the political leaders wheeled out in turns by the BBC to argue with each other about the legal niceties of whether an independent Scotland could remain in the EU, keep the queen as head of state, continue to use the pound… We need to make the debate our own and turn the agenda onto real positive social change. (Which, for a start, would  lead us to question whether we actually want to stay in the EU and be bound by rules designed to benefit big business and finance, to question the desirability of giving over control of our economy to the Bank of England, and of course to question whether we want the Queen, or indeed anyone else, as head of state.)

We are at the beginning of a period of debate and discussion, so we don’t have a neatly worked out manifesto; but we can look at important areas where we see the need and opportunity for radical change, and we can begin to work out together how best to bring this about, when and if we get the chance. We need a vision of a different Scotland, and we need that vision to be firmly rooted in reality. This means lots of discussion out in our communities, and not getting trapped in the political bubble that separates our establishment politicians from the rest of us. And it means learning from different approaches that have already tried in other times and places.

Some things are relatively straightforward. An independent Scotland would be free not to follow the US and UK into neo-colonial wars, and would be free to say no to nuclear weapons (which, since there seems to be no other place for them could mean an end to nuclear weapons in the UK). We would also be free to vote out SNP policy and get out of NATO.

We could also develop our sustainable energy in a well-planned way that didn’t just respond to landowners in search of subsidies but looked at what systems and locations were most effective and took care to preserve our landscape as well our limit our carbon emissions.

We could bring transport and service companies into public ownership and run them, not as overpaid bureaucracies, like Scottish Water, but through partnerships of communities and the workers involved.

I could go on listing the possibilities that independence could open to us, but I want to emphasise that this is a practical vision, so I thought I would end with some examples that Scotland can learn from. These are just a selection and I’m sure we will discuss many more in the coming months.

I will start with Venezuela, which has famously nationalised its oil and used the revenue to improve the lot of the poorest members of society. That’s pretty inspirational in itself, but Venezuela has also been the originator of some really interesting experiments in different ways of running businesses so that they can benefit a whole community and not just their owners in competition with each other. The Venezuelan government has helped to establish a growing sector in Venezuela that is owned and run by local communities. These businesses can respond to local needs and the money they make is ploughed back into the community. This is a model that deserves a lot more interest.

Developments in Latin America clearly have a lot to teach us, and also provide an important beacon of hope in a world that is lacking in good news at the moment. Nearer to home, the Nordic countries provide another source of inspiration, although their governments seem desperate to unravel their social democratic structures and catch up with inequality levels in the rest of Europe – so many of their most important lessons are historical. However they do show that people are ready to pay higher taxes for a fairer and better-serviced society. I have to admit to being bowled over by Finnish social democracy when I visited Helsinki a year ago, but the particular example I want to give I learnt about from a talk given at Holyrood. The Finish school system is widely acknowledged to be one of the best in the world, but it only developed its current form in the 1990s, when it was a deliberate policy response to a financial crash and period of depression. The policy makers realised the importance of investing in good education. In contrast to our market inspired system, this meant giving more money to the worse schools so that they could improve. It also meant that special needs stopped being a euphemism for ‘problem’ and became a description given to a majority of children in recognition that each has their own way of learning that needs to be responded to.

We can also find inspiration from the most unlikely of places. North Dakota in the American mid-West has become famous for its strong economy and low unemployment rate, and the reason for this is that, uniquely, it has its own publicly-owned state bank. State revenues paid into the bank are invested in developing the state’s economy. That’s a bit different from state-owned RBS, which has been allowed to continue to work for the benefit of a moneyed elite.

My last example is much closer to home. Council housing has allowed millions of families to have a decent home at an affordable cost, but it has also been rightly criticised for distant bureaucratic management, and these criticisms have been used to attack the principle of public housing itself. However there have been successful examples, including here in Scotland, of local and tenant management that demonstrate possibilities for public ownership combined with community-based control.

These few examples give just a glimpse of what can be achieved, and why this referendum is much too important to be left to the politicians. Alasdair Gray, quoting the Canadian, Dennis Leigh, tells us to ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’. What better way to do this than to examine how to make our nation better.

 

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