We must follow the lead of countries who do it all so much better - Tommy Sheppard

And we’re off. There will be a referendum on the future of Scotland, and you will get the chance to decide whether we should become an independent country.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The First Minister made it clear that once the Covid emergency was under control, the SNP would deliver on the central promise we made to the electorate last year – to allow people the right to choose a different future.

Many people remain undecided about whether Scotland should be independent or unconvinced about benefits that might bring. We must convince them, not by hectoring or shouting, but by clear hard evidence and thoughtful discussion.

That started this week.

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Scotland can see what independence means just by looking at comparable neighbouring countries in Europe. How do they shape up in comparison to the UK? The paper just published, Independence in the Modern World, looks at ten of them. Most are around the same size as Scotland – some smaller. On pretty much every measure they outperform the UK. They are wealthier, less unequal, more productive, and invest more in public services

and infrastructure. In short, they are happier, better places to live than the UK.

Meanwhile, the UK economy is falling further behind. It has deep-rooted economic problems that Westminster governments have never been able or willing to change. And they’re getting worse. There are huge structural weaknesses. Under-investment in infrastructure. Deregulation of the largest businesses with blind eyes turned to employment standards and corporate tax avoidance. The dominance of the city of London. A habit of always trying to sell off the public sector rather than trying to improve it. This has all been going on for decades. Now, as Brexit bites, the problems are hurting all the more.

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The future is always uncertain, but with independence at least it will be in our hands, writes Tommy Sheppard. Picture from March for Independence, Glasgow, 2021.

We must follow the lead of these countries who do it all so much better. So, what do they have that we don’t? They are independent. That means they have more autonomy. They have control over economic and social policy. And they have used that over decades to marry increasing social solidarity with a better functioning economy.

One simple example: while the UK has deliberately sought to weaken workers’ rights, the others have not, leading to higher average wages and a lower proportion of income accruing to the top 1%. Iceland, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Austria and Sweden are all among the ten most equal nations in the world.

Independence is the only way we’ll gain the amount of control over our own affairs already enjoyed by our more successful European neighbours. And that provides the big levers Scotland needs if we are to turn away from the disastrous courses charted by a series of awful UK prime ministers, of which Boris Johnson is just the latest.

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Of course, independence enables success rather than guaranteeing it. We will still need to make the right choices. But, without these powers, Scotland will continue to be held back by the UK and be unable to fully benefit from our very considerable resources.

So, as we begin to look to the future, consider this simple question: if our neighbours can use the powers of independence successfully to become wealthier, more equal countries – why not Scotland? The future is always uncertain, but with independence at least it will be in our hands.

- Tommy Sheppard is the SNP MP for Edinburgh East