Before I begin, this post is in some ways answering social media questions. I remain passionately committed to Scotland and to loving my neighbour, whichever way my neighbour votes. I’ve felt people’s disappointment in me in not voting how they think a moral person should vote. That is hard to bear, because I really do love my friends, and frankly I’m not terribly good at conflict. My spirits, like so many others’ have got low during the course of the referendum.
I can only vote according to my conscience, and what I think are in the best interests of the poor, and of my son and family. That’s my duty as a priest and a father and husband. I trust and know that those who vote in a different way from me are doing their duty to their conscience too. If we are to be one nation after this referendum, we must have the generosity to respect that.
I’ve swithered on Scottish Independence, really I have. For all that the arguments about how this is a constitutional change, there has been a tugging, itchy elation about the idea of being what Scotland could be, without the rest of the UK. I’ve lived here long enough to know that the majority of Scots think of themselves as socialists – I’m pretty sure most aren’t, but for the next ten years or so that’s going to be the prevailing thought.
So why not? What would make me vote Yes? I mentioned that the real “traction” is that Scottish Independence would mean being able to vote for the politicians you wanted to run our country, and the policies which would help our country – all the more so with PR rather than first past the post.
I can see it’s possible. I can see how it might be worth the risk. So here’s my fantasy white paper – the one I would vote Yes for. I really have thought about this over the months and years.
A Scotland where the politics is different. Holyrood is as bad as Westminster in its politics, and often worse. Policies which Labour or the SNP think of are immediately rejected by the other side, simply because they didn’t think of it first.
How could the politics be different?
- One flat salary for MSPs. Any other earnings go to the treasury. Speak at whatever dinners you like, engage in consultancy for whoever asks you, as long as you don’t get any extra cash for it.
- Ban the whip. The only sanction a party should have against someone is suspension or expulsion. Stopping people voting for what they think is right is corrupt.
- MSPs should have the same employment rights and responsibilities as anyone else, appraised yearly by their employees – ie their constituency.
- Every MSP, list or constituency MSP, should be assigned a unique area, rather than “floating” over a larger area if you are a “list” MSP, in the same way that area Bishops do down south.
- Local government to change radically. Could go a number of ways, but one would be being unable to take office in local government if you were a member of a political party. Local government should be community leadership, mobilising volunteers and community groups, and reflecting back to national government good practice and identifying local needs.
- MSPs can be sued for not delivering on their manifesto promises. It would stop empty promises being made.
- MSPs to have the ability to job share.
- Positive discrimination for every political party along gender, race, disability. There’s no excuse for this not to happen with list MSPs.
- Parliament to have to have space for bills from the minority parties – they should be aired and voted upon.
And many, many more, as they say. That’s “constitutional” change, which is what an independence referendum is about. But it has to be said, as it does in the white paper, if politics was different, then policies would be different too. With constitutional change along those lines, politics might just become more moral than oppositional. For instance,
- A fair trade tax, so it becomes unprofitable for businesses to import unfairly traded stuff.
- Environmental tariff, depending on carbon footprint.
- A law linking highest paid and lowest paid in any organisation or business, by a given multiple, including jobs which are outsourced such as cleaners etc.
- Tax concessions for businesses over a range of areas: exceeding environmental targets, raising number of long term employees, training for industries where there is need etc.
- Fuel tax for aviation. It’s shameful that they are not taxed.
- Unemployment benefit to be equivalent to the living wage. It should be horribly inconvenient for the state to have people rotting on the dole.
- A penal system based on prevention and treatment, not punishment.
- A mental health system which is worthy of the name.
- Free tuition fees dependent on voluntary community work.
- Either government sponsored internships, or an end to them. No-one should expect to work for free.
I could go on and on about my brave new world. I’d vote for that. I’d even vote for that if someone said that was their ambition, but knew it would take decades. I’d even consider it if any of that, any of that flavour and ambition would hinted at. Not much of that is what I would call over-ambitious.
And I was looking for a little bit, just a wee bit of that in the White paper. But there isn’t any acknowledgement that politics needs to change, and there’s very little actual policy. It’s threadbare in its ambition, weak and visionless. It’s often contradictory – reducing air-travel, and at the same time giving people money to be more energy efficient. Tax rates that we all want to see, alongside a promise to reduce corporation tax by 3%.
It’s a typical politicians manifesto – first thing get power, then we can do good. Only by that stage, you’re too worried about hanging on to power to do any good.
So they were my hopes. They still are. I still think we can have a politics in the whole of the UK which can be more democratic, more accountable, more honest. I think Scotland can lead the way in many of these crucial issues. I think with more devolution it will be possible to make better laws and more just systems. It will take a hell of a lot of hard work, and crucially (if you pardon the pun) it will take a lot more than simply putting a cross in Yes or No.
My fears – I’m not going to go on about them. My main fear is that all the momentum, all the passion and vigour will be dissipated by people thinking that once they have independence, that’s it, they’ve done their bit, and expect the politicians to somehow usher in a new dawn – which they won’t do, because they haven’t promised to. If Salmond gets his monetary union, we’ll be a bit more democratic in some ways, but dependent on the approval of Westminster, without the representation in that parliament. With Sterlingisation, it might be just about okay, it might be really horrible. Either way it’s going to be dependent on oil, and the idea of relying on climate-damaging primeval slime is not a brave new world I want to enter.