By Angela Haggerty
Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to scrap universal credit changes in an independent Scotland and undo worst of Tory welfare cuts.
The Deputy First minister said that an SNP government in an independent Scotland would implement benefit reforms in a bid to ‘undo the worst impacts of the Tory welfare cuts’ during a speech delivered in Glasgow on Monday.
Setting out the next stages of the campaign for a yes vote in the Scottish referendum to be held in Autumn 2014, Ms Sturgeon said an SNP government would honour its claim to abolish the bedroom tax and would tackle Westminster’s plans for a new universal credit system, which she said discriminated against women by taking away payments to individual claimants and replacing them with single household payments.
“We know the welfare state is under attack by Westminster like never before,” said Ms Sturgeon. “And we know that welfare is more affordable in Scotland than in the UK, not less. I can confirm today that we would move away from single household payments and give women back the ability to receive support in their own right. And we would equalise the earnings disregard between first and second earners, making work more attractive for women, more rewarding for women and more likely to lift children out of poverty.
“It is just one, very specific change, but the start of a series of policy announcements that, over the months to come, will illustrate clearly and vividly the benefits and possibilities of independence.”
Speaking in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon told an audience of Yes activists that a detailed balance sheet showed Scotland’s finances were stronger than the UK’s and that pension and welfare costs were more affordable with independence. A poll published last week indicated that 47 per cent of people were already planning to vote yes to independence, or would be more likely to vote yes if they could be persuaded that Scotland would be a wealthier and fairer country on its own.
With 16 months to go until the independence referendum on 18 September next year, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish and UK governments must “behave responsibly” and begin discussions on how negotiations would proceed following a yes vote.
The Deputy First Minister went on to claim the coalition government’s arguments against independence were designed to frighten voters and blasted the No campaign for their “willingness to paint Scotland as the poor relation that would have nothing to bring to the table as an independent nation”.
She added: “The No campaign won’t match us – because their campaign depends on fostering a climate of fear and uncertainty, on ignoring the inevitable consequences for Scotland of continued Westminster government and on talking down what Scotland has to offer,”
The Deputy First Minister warned that a vote to remain within the United Kingdom was a “real gamble” with Scotland’s future and claimed there was no real prospect of any more powers for the Scottish parliament.
The SNP published a report from the Fiscal Commission Working Group in February detailing a potential timescale for any transition to independence and proposing an independent Scotland would retain sterling as the country’s currency, a policy Ms Sturgeon said in the speech was supported by two-thirds of Scots.
Ms Sturgeon also touched on EU policy, claiming that most people in Scotland would not approve of the social and economic path of a coalition government which would deliver austerity and social protection cuts, privatisation of public services and possible EU withdrawal.
Turning her attention to 500 questions posed by the Better Together campaign, the SNP’s referendum campaign leader highlighted areas she insisted the No campaign themselves had yet to clarify.
“I’m told they have asked us 500 questions about independence. I welcome that. The more the focus is on the opportunities of independence, the better.
“But the fact is No has its own questions to answer. For people to make an informed choice about whether Scotland will be better off as an independent country, they need to know what the alternative is – what the future holds for Scotland in the UK.”
Under the label of ‘UK 2020’ the Deputy First Minister listed questions covering several key areas:
- Will the UK still be a member of the European Union in 2020?
- How much more means testing will have been introduced into the UK benefits system by 2020.
- What will the UK retirement age be in 2020?
- How many more children in Scotland will be living in poverty by 2020 as a result of Westminster welfare cuts?
- What will have happened by 2020 to funding for Scotland’s NHS, via the Barnett formula, as England’s NHS is increasingly privatised?
- Will there still be a bedroom tax in 2020?
- How many more billions of pounds will have been spent by Scottish taxpayers on keeping UK Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde?
- Will the UK still have a Human Rights Act in 2020 and, if not, what will the implications be for Scotland’s distinctive legal system?
- Will the UK still be the 4th most unequal country in the developed world in 2020 or will it have moved closer to the top spot, with the gap between the richest and poorest even wider?
- Will Scotland’s long term economic growth rate still lag behind our competitors in 2020?
- Is there any guarantee that Scotland will have voted for the Westminster government that is in office in 2020 – or will it be yet another government elected against the wishes of the Scottish people?And will the Scottish Parliament have any additional powers, beyond those in the Scotland Act, by 2020 – and, if so, what will they be?
Ms Sturgeon blasted the negativity of the Better Together campaign by quoting Robert Burns, saying:
“In relation to a No vote, this quote from our national bard Robert Burns sums it up best: “An’ forward, tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!”
She ended the speech by pledging to elevate the referendum debate:
“So, our task from this day forward is to lift the campaign out of the foothills of fear that others want it to languish in. To lift it to a new height where we can see clearly the choice that is before us and the possibilities that independence opens up.
“The Yes campaign will be one of optimism and aspiration. It will represent the best of Scotland. That is why I believe it can win and will win – and when it does, Scotland will never look back.”