Senior citizens champion and former MSP John Swinburne today declared his support for a Yes vote in September’s independence referendum.
He marked the 15th anniversary of the modern Scottish Parliament by throwing his weight behind the Yes campaign, saying: “Independence is the key to a better life and a better country for all our people – young and old.”
Mr Swinburne and other former and current MSPs who support Yes gathered to celebrate the historic reconvening of the Scottish Parliament on July 1, 1999, by gathering outside the Kirk’s General Assembly on The Mound in Edinburgh – the parliament’s first home before moving to Holyrood.
The diversity and broad reach of the Yes movement was underlined with the group representing six different parties in Parliament – Labour, Tory, Green, SNP, SSP and Scottish Senior Citizens Unity.
Mr Swinburne, who sat as an MSP from 2003 until 2007 as leader of the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, said: “I have no doubt that a Yes vote offers our older people the best prospect of a better and fairer pensions system.
“Scotland is a very wealthy country – certainly wealthier than the UK – and as a nation in charge of our own future and making decisions according to our own needs and priorities we can well afford to provide decent pensions for our senior citizens.
“Of course, it is up to the political parties to put forward their pension proposals at the first elections to an independent Scottish Parliament in 2016, but only a Yes vote in September allows us to change the value of our pension and the retirement age.
“We have seen time and time again that Westminster can’t be trusted to look after our pensioners. We have been badly let down by successive UK governments, including Gordon Brown’s pension funds tax raid and David Cameron’s cuts.”
Mr Swinburne said he also wanted a Yes vote for young people and to give Scotland the full range of powers it needed to tackle the scandal of growing child poverty.
“A Yes vote will be good for our senior citizens and for younger generations as well. An independent Scottish Parliament would never implement cuts like that of the UK government’s and unfortunately the current powers of the Scottish Parliament are not enough to protect many more children from being pushed into poverty.’
He spoke out as official Scottish Government research revealed that an extra 30,000 children in Scotland have been pushed into poverty over the last year thanks to Westminster austerity policies. Nearly one in five children were living in relative poverty in 2012/13.
This amounts to 180,000, rising to 220,000 after housing costs are taken into account. Across the population as whole, one million in Scotland are now living in relative poverty.
Mr Swinburne, who is still chair of the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party, added: “It is a scandal that in such a wealthy country as Scotland people, old and young, are suffering like this. We have to to something about this and giving the Scottish Parliament the powers that come with independence is the best way to go about it.”
Among those who joined Mr Swinburne to mark the 15th anniversary were former Labour MSP John McAllion, former Scottish Socialist Party Colin Fox and Shiona Baird, who served as a Scottish Greens MSP from 2003 to 2007, former Tory MSP Nick Johnston and sitting SNP MSP Christine Grahame.
Shiona Baird said:” When we started it was a new parliament and since then, term-on-term, we have been maturing. At this point we are in a good position to say we can go it alone and take our own decisions.
“Since devolution we have had a much stronger voice on green issues and we have made progress of achieving more fairness and greater equality and I look forward to more progress in an independent Scotland.”
Mr McAllion, who was a Scottish Labour MP for Dundee East from 1987 until 2001 and an MSP at Holyrood from 1999 until 2003, said: “When I was at Westminster, I quickly realised it wouldn’t deliver for Scotland so I went to the Scottish Parliament hoping it would be different. However, again here I soon discovered it didn’t have enough powers to deal with social injustice. I was very disillusioned with all the unionist parties, including Labour, at their lack of vision for Scotland and unwillingness to push back against Westminster.
“Devolution is not enough. It’s very clear that under this settlement poverty is getting worse. The Scottish Parliament doesn’t have enough powers. And, at the same time, we see Westminster spending tens of billions of pounds on Trident. Westminster will never chose child poverty over WMDs – with them, it will always be bombs before bairns.”
Mr Fox, co-convener of the SSP, said: “How time flies. With the Scottish Parliament now 15 years old, the Scottish Socialist Party today joins with all our partners in Yes Scotland in hoping to see it assume all the powers of an ‘adult’ Parliament before its 16th birthday.
“In the Parliament’s short 15 year existence, it has legislated to implement a smoking ban in public places, free bus travel for pensioners, free personal care for the elderly, abolished prescription charges, and introduced equal marriage. But we can do so much more with the full powers of independence.”
Former Tory MSP Nick Johnston, who served from 1999 until 2001, said: “It has become clear that as part of UK we are being asked to take part in a society that is becoming more divisive. Only with independence will we have a chance to create a fairer, more equal society.”
Dennis Canavan, Chair of the Yes Scotland Advisory Board who served in Holyrood as an independent MSP and before that at Westminster as a Labour MP, said: “Over the past 15 years, the Scottish Parliament has had a good track record in delivering higher standards of social justice for the people of Scotland.
“For example, Scottish university students pay no tuition fees, Scottish senior citizens get a fairer care deal and and we have a National Health Service in Scotland which is still freely available to all at the time of need.
“But the Scottish Parliament has limited powers. If the Scottish Parliament had all the powers of an independent parliament, it would be able to deliver so much more. For example, it would be able to stop wasting billions of pounds on nuclear weapons and also introduce a fairer welfare system, including the abolition of the bedroom tax, which would never have seen the light of day in an independent Scotland.”