Scots urged to match achievements of welfare state

Kezia Dugdale takes to the floor at the Devil's Advocate debate. Picture: Jon Savage
Kezia Dugdale takes to the floor at the Devil's Advocate debate. Picture: Jon Savage
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SCOTS have been challenged to match the social achievements of those who created the welfare state once the referendum is over – whatever the result.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said the independence debate had sparked a new interest and engagement with politics among the public and argued it must not be lost after the vote.

At a referendum discussion intended to lift the debate above party point-scoring, he said the referendum had been “one of the most creative periods in Scottish politics”.

He said: “We’ve had a debate not just about whether Scotland should be an independent country, but what kind of country do we want it to be. People have been taking part in that debate at work, in pubs, at bus shelters, in churches and schools – it is a process which I think is repairing a broken political system in this country.

“Decision-making is supposed to be accountable, it’s supposed to be connected to people and it hasn’t been for a very long time.

“What comes after this debate, whichever result it is, is that our generation have got to take the challenge of building something as impressive, as amazing as the post-Second World War generation did when they laid the foundations of a welfare state.

“We can only do it if we maintain that connections.

“If we see 75 or 80 per cent of the electorate voting we can’t risk the idea that once the votes have been counted and result is in of saying ‘Thank you very much’ and pulling up the drawbridge and politics is for politicians again.”

The event was held at the Devil’s Advocate bar in Advocate’s Close, the Old Town area where Robert Louis Stevenson and his friends met 150 years ago to debate the fast-changing world around them. Mr Harvie said anger at today’s “broken political system” was being channelled south of the Border into something “mean-spirited” and “nasty”with the rise of Ukip and the far right. He said: “They seem to me like a Monty Python sketch that escaped into the real world.

“I think we have the opportunity in Scotland to channel the same anger into something positive, something constructive.” Labour Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale agreed with Mr Harvie’s comments and predicted that politics would change as a result of the referendum.

She said when she went out knocking on the doorstep she had found people angry with the political system.

But she said she was disappointed there was not more in the Scottish Government’s White Paper about political reform,

She said: “There will still be 129 MSPs, they won’t be any better at sharing that power, it won’t be any closer to the people and it will come off the back of seven years of government that has done a tremendous amount to centralise power.”

The conversation later turned to nationalism and identity. Dr Mairi McFadyen, a teaching research assistant in Scottish culture and heritage at Edinburgh University and a member of pro-independence National Collective, said she did not believe identity was important in the debate. “For me, it’s so simple – we just want to bring power closer to home and we have the structures in place, so why not do it? It’s not breaking anything apart.”

But Professor Alan Archibald, deputy director of the Roslin Institute and a No supporter, insisted identity had been part of the debate.

He said: “I find the whole thing divisive. I find nationalism a poisonous creed. Maybe it has been dressed up a bit an concealed a bit, but the foundations of the party that’s driving the campaign is nationalism, it’s about distinguishing ourselves from those in another place, saying we care more about social justice than they do and a raft of arguments of that sort.”

He said many of Scotland’s ills were blamed on Westminster or the Tories – “coded versions of ‘People in another place are doing for us’.”

He continued: “If things don’t go swimmingly well after a Yes vote, it’ll be because ‘they didn’t give us the deal we were entitled to’. That worries me because If you go down that track, those who are English who live among us will feel the pressure more.”

Blogger and university lecturer Frazer McGlinchey – acting as official “devil’s advocate” for the evening – said he was much more concerned about the “xenophobia and jingoism” of Ukip and the right-wing of the Conservative Party than what he saw in Scotland.

Marit Falt, who said she was Swedish and grew up in Norway, argued nationalism did not need to be a dirty word. She said: “Let’s just be proud of who we feel we are.”

Professsor Archibald said he was irritated that Roslin’s Dolly the Sheep was flagged up in Yes literature as a Scottish triumph. “It was two Englishmen who were the guys that drove it and they were funded by the UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food.”

Ms Dugdale argued Scots were not the only ones feeling alienated. “If you live in Newcastle or Manchester you can be just as frustrated at the lack of power you have as an individual as people in Glasgow and Edinburgh do. It is not about nationality.”

Ms Dugdale responded to a question about “fairness” by mentioning tax. “For me that’s the answer, it’s not Scotland versus England, it’s rich versus poor, it’s about the balance of tax and who pays it.” Dr McFadyen agreed, but said HM Revenue and Customs was beholden to large corporations down south and tax reform could only be brought about in an independent country.

Ms Dugdale said: “We’ve never gone to business and said ‘What are you doing about childcare? I think we need to be more creative about our solutions because I don’t think there is anything inevitable about an independent Scotland being different.”

Mr Harvie said: “If I thought Scottish independence was a selfish act, good for us but bad for others, I would probably be voting No because I’m not driven by national identity.”

And he suggested independence for Scotland could benefit the rest of the UK. “The 2016 final decision on whether to renew Trident could tip in the other direction if Scotland forces the hand of the UK government in terms of timescale for relocation. I don’t want just to drag it from one place to another, I want ti strengthen the hand of those arguing south of the border against weapons of mass destruction.

“I recognise that is reaching a decision about independence are balancing risks and opportunities - there are risks and opportunities on either sides.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com