New statistics have shown that Glasgow continues to sit at the top of British league tables, the city’s residents have the shortest life expectancy in the UK. It’s about the only competition Scotland gets to win under the Union, although the Great British Mortality Race – the team who can cough up enough Great British phlegm win a union flag bedecked coffin – isn’t a programme you can expect to see on the BBC any time soon.
Scotland’s health indicators are an indictment of the Greatest Partnership of Nations Ever TM. We’re unhealthy. We die young – and not in a glamorous Jim Morrison sort of way. 307 years of Better Together and we’re not getting any better. We die of diseases of poverty and the stress it causes. We die from self medicating on alcohol or drugs.
In Glasgow, average life expectancy for males is 72 years, the lowest anywhere in the UK. A quarter of men in the city will not survive to the age of 65. Women typically live longer than men, women in Glasgow can expect to live 78 years, the lowest life expectancy for females in the UK.
Scottish health statistics are on a par with those of some of the poorest communities in the developed world. In the USA, Native American people confront appalling problems of social exclusion, racist abuse, the trivialisation of their cultures, an epidemic of alcoholism and drug abuse, unemployment, and poor housing – on top of issues of loss of sovereignty, broken treaties, land rights, mineral wealth which does not benefit local communities, the destruction of traditional ways of life and the loss of their languages. All of which sounds unsettlingly familiar in Scotland.
Native American people typically have lower life expectancy than other Americans. And in another familiar Scottish echo, the average life expectancy of Native American men in the USA is 72 years, and that of Native American women is 78.
In 2012, the UN published a report severely criticising US policies towards its Native American population. The report, writen by Professor James Anaya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, noted : “Along with poverty, Native Americans suffer poor health conditions, with low life expectancy and high rates of disease, illness, alcoholism and suicide.” Which could just as easily be a description of the situation in some of Scotland’s housing schemes.
Calling on the US to address the problems faced by Native American communities, Prof Anaya and the UN urged the USA to take “determined action to secure their rights, within a model of respect for their self-determination and distinctive cultural identities”. So devo max then, although Native American reservations do have more tax raising powers than Holyrood already.
The report also cited US government statistics showing that Native American life expectancy is 5.2 years lower than the national average, a smaller gap than the 7 years between average male life expectancy in Glasgow and the UK average of 79. Despite 307 years of what is supposedly the greatest and most successful union in the history of unions, relatively speaking the people of Glasgow have poorer life expectancy than Native Americans.
That is the product of the choices and priorities of successive Westminster governments which have treated Scotland and her people as resources to exploit. The outcome is systemic ill health, disease, disability, and shortened lives. Our hearts are being buried in the wounds of a knee to the groin.
But it’s an even sicker joke. In some parts of the city, life expectancy is lower than in India, and lower than that recorded for some of the poorest and most marginalised Native American communities. By quite some margin. Calton in the East End, just up the road from the Commonwealth Games jamboree, was reported to have a male life expectancy of just 54.
Devolution has helped. Scottish health statistics are showing signs of improvement. But as long as Westminster retains control of the fiscal and economic powers which can bring about the structural and systemic changes necessary to remedy the deep rooted reasons for Scottish ill health and shortened lifespans, all devolution can do is cover the wounds with a slightly bigger plaster. It can’t protect us from the cuts of an axe wielding Tory Government or a Labour party that’s equally hell bent on austerity. It’s like saying that the answer to air pollution is a better gas mask instead of taking action to prevent the pollution.
Of course Scots are not descended from genocide survivors, like modern Native Americans. We are not an oppressed people who are greatly outnumbered by colonists in our traditional land. Scotland’s problems are largely the product of a minority of other Scots. But that’s no argument against independence. The Scots who have dispossessed and exploited other Scots have been operating under the rules of the Union and with its protection and blessing. If we were independent that minority would not have a remote and unrepresentative parliament to fix the game for them, and the rest of us would have the voting strength to ensure that they could not continue to abuse and exploit us in the same ways. We could parcel up the rogues in our nation once and for all.
Scots are dying to be part of the Union, but we don’t have to. Scotland can make its sovereignty real and meaningful. We can take the future into our own hands, and seek solutions to the long standing problems of Union which are killing us. Because if these problems have not been addressed in 307 years of the Union which created them, they never will be. We’ll continue to die young, we’ll continue to suffer ill health. And we will never get better together with Westminster.
Vote yes, it’s good for your health.