A Green Yes – article for Bella Caledonia

Ever since the Scottish Greens voted to campaign for a Yes, our messages have focused on how independence offers the opportunity for transforming Scotland’s political culture, affording us the chance to fulfil our huge potential.

As well as supporting Yes Scotland, we established the Green Yes campaign to ensure our distinctive messages had a platform. In doing so we have spoken to a wider audience than ever before about how Green policies seek to tackle poverty, build sustainable industry and end inequality.

Greens have taken part in events all across Scotland – some well-used to public debate, others finding their voice for the first time, inspired to share their own vision as each of us contemplates what kind of society we aspire to create.

Green Yes has also published a series of ‘briefing notes’ at www.GreenYes.info in which we set out ideas for some steps our society can take to transform lives for the better in practical terms, beyond vague promises of creating a more just and equal country.

Citizen’s Income

We recently outlined our proposals for a Citizen’s Income as a new way of providing social security in an independent Scotland. We advocate a universal payment, providing enough income to meet the basic needs of everyone, replacing almost all benefits and the state pension. This would be cheaper to run, remove the complexity of the current system and make the lowest-earning 70% of households better off.

The benefits retained would be all disability benefits and carer’s allowance for those needing additional support, and housing benefit and council tax reduction for people otherwise facing homelessness.

The UK Government labels people on benefits “scroungers” and “shirkers” – language designed to stoke tension and prejudice. People are pitted against one another by successive governments as they target social security for swingeing cuts. With a Citizen’s Income, everyone would have the opportunity to change jobs, raise children, care for loved ones, pursue education or start a new project – without ending up on the breadline.

The late feminist economist, Professor Ailsa McKay, made clear that a Citizen’s Income benefits women in particular by recognising the “diverse roles of women as wives, mothers, carers and workers”. Engender recently highlighted that “since 2010, 74% of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have been taken from women…This rises to 81% of the ‘savings’ realised by the Treasury in 2014-15”.

Employment Law

One reason that women are disproportionately affected by failings in our systems is the ‘traditional’ division of labour down unacceptable gender lines through inequality in employment. Men receiving higher pay than women for the same job reinforces the role of men as primary bread-winner, meaning much of the extra work within the domestic economy falls to women. Life as an unpaid carer for relatives, for example, leaves women in a particularly vulnerable position, even without the devastating effects of austerity and withdrawal of state services.

In the event that responsibility for employment law comes to Scotland, our polling shows over 75% support a requirement for private sector employers to ensure pay equality. On average, women earn 13% less than men in full-time jobs, almost 34% less in part-time, and a clear desire exists to close this shameful gap. With employment laws reserved to Westminster however, public opinion being reflected in political will in the Scottish Parliament cannot yet be enough to effect necessary changes.

The hostility in Westminster to the right of workers in general – to organise and have the means to secure improved terms and conditions – also exposes Scotland’s powerlessness to repeal anti-trade union laws. As well as promoting a legal requirement for employers to pay a living wage to all, Greens are committed to legislating for stronger trades unions and envisage a major role for them in promoting economic democracy.

Key to this must be the role of unions in helping to roll back privatisation of services and utilities. With independence, we would be in a position to oppose deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would prevent Scotland from reversing privatisation, but is currently reserved to the UK to negotiate as EU member state.

The opportunity we have now is to take responsibility for decisions like these in Scotland. Immediately following a Yes vote, the work would begin to determine how we wish to use our responsibility.

Greater empowerment

Independence shouldn’t simply mean devolution of responsibility from Westminster to Holyrood either. This debate is an opportunity to promote ideas of decentralising power further within Scotland, and we are encouraged to see wider calls for more local decisions, greater accountability and public participation.

With a Yes, we would like to embed the status of local decision-making in a written constitution. For example, Germany forbids national Government from interfering with tax rates set by local authorities for raising revenue. Further Green proposals include creating a greater number of smaller municipalities, and a Land Value Tax to give a fairer way of funding vital services than Council Tax.

The referendum debate has captured the imagination, and capitalising on that can mean increased participation and turnout at elections. We have an opportunity to address the democratic deficit and spark a revival in local democracy, bringing politics closer to people, instead of councils like Highland governing an area the size of Belgium.

Other opportunities we’ve highlighted include Green ideas for creating a jobs-rich economy, painfully-overdue banking reform, and ensuring digital rights are seen as civil rights.

Scotland has the skills and opportunity to create well-paid, secure jobs, in many areas such as shipbuilding, energy, digital technology, construction and engineering that can thrive across Scotland with investment and attention. We need to offer more than insecure jobs and low wages.

With a Yes, we can decentralise ownership of land and infrastructure that renewable energy depends upon, as well as developing a large, publicly-owned energy company and networks of local banks with communities’ interests at heart. The renewables industry has enormous potential to create the jobs required, but its prospects are damaged by Westminster’s determination to saddle us with astronomical costs and environmental damage from nuclear and fracking.

Decentralisation of responsibility must also be seen within the context of embracing a more responsible position internationally. The internet is moving towards a point when everyone on Earth should soon have access to the sum total of human knowledge. Governments and societies must collaborate to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead – including protecting against invasions of privacy.

Internet legislation remains with Westminster, and through Scotland taking responsibility, Greens see greater opportunity for a Digital Bill of Rights, democratic control of intelligence functions, a Scottish communications regulator, and a public forum for debate about the future of global society and technology.

Defence

As a Green, I see an opportunity to reframe narratives of “defence” in terms of what security threats people actually face. While a Yes vote should consign Trident to history, we must also challenge the notion that Scotland should seek the moral hypocrisy of joining the NATO nuclear club, or, as the SNP intend, devote twice as much to military spending as to international development.

Major global threats facing humanity involve scarcity of food, water and land, as well as digital crime, and while Greens want a smaller defence sector, there will continue to be significant need for infrastructure and hardware for humanitarian and development work. We also want to see skilled workers deployed in the rapidly growing renewables industry, and see this opportunity as part of a long-term economic diversification agenda.

Key factors needing addressed by a government serious about people’s security within its borders involve health and wellbeing, domestic and sexual violence, poverty and working conditions. Immediately post-independence, we should begin by looking at what measures the government must take, particularly in terms of spending decisions, to alleviate the real threats facing people every day.

While this debate offers the opportunity to consider measures to enhance security and wellbeing that we could implement with new powers, we must also seriously consider why we would spurn the opportunity to crack down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals, or end the inhuman sanctions regime forcing hundreds of thousands into foodbanks and crisis loans.

Another issue affecting powers already devolved is immigration. There is no one-size-fits-all policy for attracting new citizens – particularly in areas like healthcare and education, and those coming to Scotland face unacceptable hostility from Westminster, no matter how much those in Holyrood urgently want to change that.

I wasn’t always of the view that independence was vital, but the debate has made clear that the path Westminster continues along is failing us all, and the genuine will that exists to do things better is matched in Scotland by a once in a lifetime opportunity to make it happen.

2014 can mark the beginning of a radical transformation of our economy and communities. I will vote Yes because I believe we must accept further responsibility, then we can push ahead to create a society that works for all, now and in the generations to come.

This article was originally published in Bella Caledonia – Closer edition 3. You can read more here.

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