by Colin Fox, SSP national co-spokesperson
Now that the dust has settled on the Scottish Government’s White Paper on Independence, it is time to assess its likely impact on the 2014 referendum campaign. Whilst Joan McAlpine, MSP, compared it to ‘the Gettysburg address’ and George Kerevan described it as ‘a game changer’ other pro-independence commentators were more measured in welcoming the White Paper. If less effusive than card-carrying members of the SNP, Ian Bell writing in The Herald believed it marked the point “where the independence argument properly began”
And Ian McWhirter felt it was “simultaneously a bid for independence and a platform for re-electing Alex Salmond”. He aptly described the SNP’s vision of Independence as “a rather Unionist one” pointing out that the White Paper seemed above all to “celebrate the BBC, the monarchy, NATO, the pound, the Bank of England and the British passport”. He left us wondering whether the First Minister had overplayed his ‘canny’ hand in seeking to woo conservative opinion in Scotland to the Yes case. If, as they say, ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ the Unionists were predictably not so welcoming of his ‘flattery’.
The response on the left has been more muted. Yes Scotland Chairman Dennis Canavan urged the entire Yes Scotland coalition to welcome the White Paper and its progressive proposals but referred to it a little more obliquely saying:
“I am confident, as more and more people become engaged in the debate and learn about the unique opportunities a Yes vote promises, the more they will see that independence makes sense for them, their families and our country.”
There is much in the White Paper to welcome such as introducing a written constitution, removing Trident nuclear weapons, growing Scotland’s economy and population by welcoming those who wish to come and live here, returning the Royal Mail to public ownership, scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax, providing universal free childcare for pre-school children, providing seats for workers on company boards, supporting far greater environmental protection, promoting greater energy efficiency and extending much needed social protection to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.
But we were also entitled to ask for more. I publicly welcomed the commitment to reduce gas and electricity bills by 10 per cent per annum with independence but said I would like to have seen the Scottish Government go further and re-iterate the pledge it made in its 2007 manifesto to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland completely.
I would also liked to have seen a commitment to take the renewable energy industry into public ownership – just as the Scottish Government did recently with Prestwick Airport – and return our gas and electricity supply industry to public hands.
Both measures are concomitant with pledges to achieve greater economic prosperity, social democracy and fairness. And I believe there should have been a promise to return our railways to public hands, another progressive policy popular with voters.
And, as I have said many times, the SSP prefers the very successful Norwegian approach to its oil and gas resources where it took them both into public ownership rather than privatising them as Britain did. As a result of this decision Norway has now accrued £840billion in a state ‘Oil Fund’ with which to benefit its citizens and future generations. So for me the White Paper should also have had a commitment to repeal the worst anti-union laws in Europe a move which would undoubtedly be welcomed by the country’s 630,000 trade unionists and their families. And where is the progressive tax system which sees the rich pay more and the poor pay less? Or the guarantee of much needed affordable social housing?
And what about policies rewarding local communities where our renewable energy schemes are situated with the cheap electricity it produces? Each of these would have complemented the strong social democratic tradition the independence case promotes.
I accept that much of this will form the basis of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections but I am bound to say it is commitments such as these that will help persuade working class people across Scotland to vote Yes next year.
And in this regard last week’s Panelbase opinion poll showing a 9 per cent lead for the No side revealed that support for them was highest among the better off social classes whereas support for Yes was higher among the poorest. And this latter category also registered the highest proportion of ‘don’t knows’.
So, if we are to win the working class majority to independence, we need to provide them with better reasons to vote Yes than we have done so far.
And that is why the SSP has a crucial role to play in this debate in pointing out that ‘other visions of independence are also available’.
Colin Fox will be one of the key speakers at the Scottish Socialist Voice Forum tomorrow in Edinburgh