Wellbeing. Green New Deal. Just Transition. Circular Economy. Sustainable Growth.
In just five months the Scottish people will be served this apple-pie policy menu when we elect a new parliament in Holyrood. By early May 2021 the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be behind us after a year of loss and pain. Political parties will be offering us their “vision for the future.” We are more than likely to be under-whelmed.
For all the fine words the politicians will utter, the vision they offer will be characterised by its paucity. This site draws its inspiration from the Enlightenment, especially those Scottish scientists and thinkers who shaped the intellectual, political, economic and cultural landscape of Europe – and America. It’s hard to imagine such a wealth of ideas, discoveries and innovations being on offer this coming year. But we must aim high.
What Scotland and its electorate need is a political class that is honest about the prospects ahead. That levels with people about what the medium- to long-term impact of the pandemic will be on society and the economy. That eschews the blame game over hundreds, perhaps thousands, of needless deaths and learns lessons from policy errors. Freedom of information, under siege from an over-centralised, stealthy Scottish Government, must be rebooted. Ministers and public health officials must come clean in far greater detail about the rationale that lies behind their arbitrary decisions during the pandemic.
As readers know, we are neither for nor against Scottish independence. But what we favour is rigorous, ruthless analysis of what it entails in an increasingly ugly world that can appear bent on destruction. That means squaring with voters on issues such as future currency, borrowing/debt, borders, the role of private finance and public investment: all issues we have dealt with here and will continue to do so in 2021.
What is independence for?
The answer of the SNP, Greens and other proponents of it is delivering a ‘better Scotland,” being empowered to make a tangible difference in a way that has been and remains impossible under the 314-year-old Union. Then, voters do need concrete and costed policies for improving educational and health outcomes, expanding social housing and eradicating inequality and poverty, notably child poverty, that have been conspicuously absent. The kind of genuine transformation argued for so elegantly by Ben Wray in our current issue.
The augurs for delivering a transformational economy and society are poor. In just this last week Scotland, host country for COP-26 a year from now, lost a vital element of the promised Green Industrial Deal via renewables when the BiFab engineering business went into administration. As Robert Pollock pointed out here earlier this year, this is part of a sad pattern with the Scottish Government’s policy of encouraging overseas and local manufacturers to set up innovative plants to seize the benefits of the new green, disruptive technologies and create tens of thousands of jobs yielding precious little on the ground. Far too often, and not just after almost 14 years of SNP Government but over two decades of the Scottish Parliament, the gap between rhetoric and reality has been a chasm. Scotland welcomes immigrants but where are they inside our legislative assembly? Will SE2021 change that? More than a quarter of a million Europeans can be full citizens here so why doesn’t our Parliament talk their languagess?
Equally, what’s the Union for?
If it’s the turbo-charged deregulatory, libertarian, hedge-fund driven model propagated by the Conservatives then it’s an offer Scots will rightly reject as a recipe for deepening inequality and poverty. It is already clear that accounting for/making good the unprecedented (peacetime) borrowing presided over by Rishi Sunak will be visited upon the poor. If it leaves encrusted political structures like the Westminster Parliament intact without serious democratisation, not least greater control over an over-mighty executive, then Scots are just as ready to reject it. And, of course, if it sets itself against the closest links with Europe and the EU in favour of an anglospherical “Global Britain” devoid of meaning in a world dominated by Sino-American rivalry it will cut little ice here.
This site’s origins lay in profound dissatisfaction with the wholly binary nature of the debate leading up to the independence referendum of September 2014 – and enthusiasm for the innovative energy with which ideas and policies were discussed. It also owed its birth to scepticism about the offers made by both sides and clearly that enthusiasm has abated while the scepticism has intensified.
2021 and all that
What we would like to see in 2021, in the run-up to, first, the Scottish Parliament elections on May 6 and, second, throughout the year en route to the global climate conference in Glasgow in late November, is more of that energy and inventiveness that characterised much of #indyref1. And, yes, that does mean rethinking the constitution but also the economic model Scotland (and the rest of the world) should be pursuing if we are to arrest the climate emergency and prevent planetary extinction.
So, we make no apology for publishing pieces that explore the nature and role of independence, sovereignty, social solidarity – and take a hard, sceptical look at proposals for “devo-max” or federalism. Scotland is overdue an honest discussion of what all the options are and what they might bring informed by ideas and experiences from elsewhere. Above all, it needs a debate prepared to consider genuinely radical ideas about power-sharing, pooled sovereignty, self-government at all levels of society. At the same time, we will favour contributions that eschew empty phrase-mongering to examine ambitious policies for tackling endemic inequality, rebalancing the economy, creating green new jobs, sharing assets, redistributing income…
We end a year of sadness and sorrow with hope that 2021 will raise the overall level of ambition in Scotland, not just in terms of defeating the virus, but of paving the way for a society and economy that give the people a greater sense of belonging and sharing, that may act as a model beyond its borders, promote fairness and justice in international relations and help save the planet.
Image of Scottish Modern Art Gallery One by Fay Young and of Modern Two by David Gow
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