Those taking to the streets tomorrow at the March and Rally for an Independent Scotland in the EU. will be doing so because they understand that independence is the first step we need on the road to creating a better, fairer, more prosperous country. The Union is no longer meeting Scotland’s needs. Scotland’s interests are far from being at the top of the UK’s agenda. As an independent country, Scotland will be able to do things differently - the way we decide. Here are three reasons why Scotland needs independence more than ever.
1. The UK is not prepared to reform the Union to accommodate real Home Rule for Scotland
Home Rule was once the great cry of many Scots – they thought a Scottish Parliament would allow Scotland to run its own affairs (except on shared areas like defence). But devolution is proving a faint shadow of true home rule. Scotland has far less autonomy than regions of countries like Canada, Spain, the USA or Switzerland.
And the UK government is now riding roughshod over what limited powers Scotland has. Since 2016, the UK Parliament has broken (or is in the process of breaking) the Sewel Convention which says that it won’t overrule Holyrood without consent or consultation 13 times.
- The Nationality and Borders Act, making it a criminal offence to arrive as a refugee;
- A trade deal with Australia that is bad for Scottish agriculture;
- Laws about genetically modified food;
- Removal of EU protections for workers’ rights;
- A forthcoming energy bill that overrides Holyrood in several areas.
Even Unionist commentators such as Gavin Esler and Gordon Brown say that it is vital to maintaining the Union between Scotland and England that the House of Lords is abolished and replaced with a Senate of the Nations and Regions. But no serious commentator thinks a Labour Government will do this – because the English establishment does not value the Union above the existence of the House of Lords.
Up until recently, it was taken for granted that the UK was a voluntary union of equals. That changed with the Supreme Court decision that a majority government at Holyrood, elected on a platform of independence, doesn't have the right to call a referendum. In the past, even Margaret Thatcher accepted Scotland’s rights. She said that Scotland has “an undoubted right to national self-determination; thus far they (Scots) have exercised that right by joining and remaining in the Union. Should they determine on independence, no English party or politician would stand in their way”.
But growing support for independence has ended that fiction and forced the UK to reveal itself as an occupying power which does not respect Scotland’s democratic voice.
As an independent country, Scotland can reclaim the great offices of state – the Treasury, the Home Office, Industry, Energy. We can make decisions that chime with the people’s wishes. We can build our own institutions – perhaps a small Upper House that reflects the different areas of Scotland, like Switzerland or Germany.
2. Scotland’s energy potential is being squandered – again
Scotland has the potential to become a renewables power house – but it is being let down by the UK. The privatised National Grid is “weak” and nowhere near where it should be to support the transition to green energy. It is holding back Scottish business.
Scottish consumers are left paying the highest bills in the world – which show little sign of coming down. Scottish renewable energy producers have to pay ten times what English ones do – and are being told it will take a decade or more to connect to the feeble grid. The situation is a “national scandal”.
For Aberdeen to become a global hub for renewable energy would take a £17 billion investment - and the money needs to start coming in now. The ‘Making the Switch’ report from Robert Gordon University’s Energy Transition Institute says that “urgent capital investment” is essential and urgent – without it the UK will miss its climate targets and Aberdeen will miss the boat. Yet the UK Government is investing only comparatively tiny sums for this important work.
Many Scots feel a sense of deja vu. Back in the 1970s, if an independent Scotland had replicated Norway’s policy of creating a sovereign wealth fund, it would now be, per capita, the wealthiest country in the world. A sovereign wealth fund would have been the likeliest option for an independent Scotland when oil was discovered – it was the normal practice to introduce these. Shetland started a small one, based on a stake in Sullom Voe which is now worth £460 million. It supports Orion, the council-run initiative to develop hydrogen and wind power on the archipelago.
Norway’s £1.1 trillion wealth fund is the biggest in the world. The fund provides billions to support former oil workers, build Norway’s green energy infrastructure and invest in renewable technology schemes in developing countries. In contrast, Scotland has to sit and watch as the potential is squandered by a UK which has other priorities and doesn’t put Scotland’s interests high on the agenda.
An independent Scotland could invest, not in overpriced nuclear power which we don’t need, but in a smart grid which has the capacity the country needs to take advantage of our huge renewable potential and put it at the service of Scotland’s families and businesses.
3. Brexit is decimating the Scottish economy
England forced Brexit on Scotland. The UK government refused to recognise that Scotland voted – as a whole country – differently. It refused a compromise. Now we see the damage Brexit has wrought on our prosperity and opportunity.
For example, the UK is now in a situation where exporters have to deal with piles of Brexit red tape. But importers don’t. The UK government has just postponed setting up import controls for goods coming in from the EU for the FIFTH time. That’s because doing this will put further pressure on food security and add to inflation. It will make it more expensive to bring in food from the EU – where we get more than a third of fruit and vegetables.
So it makes sense in one way – but the downside is that the pressure on exports through Brexit bureaucracy means the UK’s balance of payments is skewed. That puts pressure on sterling and adds to inflation.
As well as the damage to trade, the Scottish government has no say over the desperate trade deals the UK is signing with countries outside the EU. The Scottish NFU has spoken out about the danger and uncertainty Scotland’s farmers face – that is a threat to agriculture.
There is also the loss of a pool of seasonal staff. The tourism industry in the Highlands depended on that – there is no work or accommodation in the winter. Having hospitality workers come over and live on site in the season was vital for many operations.
As well as this, Scotland, and the Highlands in particular, has lost out on EU funding which was more generous to peripheral, rural areas. The UK government has reneged on its promise to match EU funds.
Brexit is a disaster for Scotland – and an illustration of being a junior partner in an unequal Union with no safeguards for Scotland’s rights.
An independent Scotland would soon be back in the European Union. It would have similar benefits to Ireland, now the EU’s fastest growing economy, which is in both the EU and the Common Travel Zone.
An independent Scotland will build the institutions and create the policies that the people vote for and support.
An independent Scotland will rejoin the EU and rebuild the trade and opportunity it needs to thrive. Like Ireland, the EU’s fastest growing economy, it would be in the Common Travel Zone and the EU.
An independent Scotland will build on the skills and experience it has acquired in the energy sector to become a renewables powerhouse.
This is why Believe in Scotland is hosting a march and rally with the campaign group Yes for EU for an Independent Scotland in the European Union tomorrow in Edinburgh. We are campaigning for Scotland’s independence, to undo the damage of Brexit and rejoin the European family of nations. If you want to find out more about the event, you can do so here.