The parties contesting the Scottish elections have started to delineate their pitch to the voters for the Holyrood elections which are now just a few weeks away. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon gave her first big speech of the election campaign in which she set out some of the key promises and commitments of the SNP should her party be re-elected with sufficient support to form the next Scottish government. Among the most notable promises was a commitment to doubling the Scottish child payment from £10 a week to £20 a week for each eligible child. In another move designed to help tackle the issue of food poverty, the SNP leader announced that her Scottish Government would extend free school meals – both breakfasts and lunches – to all primary school pupils, in all classes, all year round.
This will make a significant difference to the lives of children living in families struggling with poverty as a result of the Conservative assault on the social security system and the way in which Conservative policies have encouraged a proliferation of low paid and insecure employment. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one of the UK’s leading charities working to solve the issue of poverty, over two thirds of children who live in poverty live in a household where at least one parent is in work. Since the Conservatives introduced its Universal Credit scheme, the number of families who must resort to foodbanks in order to put food on the table has soared. A recent report from the UK’s biggest food bank network said half of all households visiting food banks struggled to afford essential goods such as food and clothes because they were repaying universal credit debts.
Foodbank use in Scotland has soared in recent years, figures from the independent food aid network show that foodbanks distributed more than twice as many emergency food parcels in June and July 2020 as they did during the same months the previous year. The report finds that a large and increasing number of people are falling through the widening cracks in a social security safety net that has been weakened and undermined by successive Conservative governments. Despite the Labour party’s attempts to pin the blame for the epidemic of child poverty that Scotland is faced with, the truth is that it is a direct result of the financial and economic policies of a Westminster government which jealously guards its control over the macroeconomic levers which exert the real influence over the shape and direction of the economy.
As welcome as a doubling of the Scottish child payment is, all that any devolved Scottish government is able to do is to ameliorate the worst problems created by the impact of social security, employment and economic decisions made by governments in Westminster, it can’t actually prevent those problems from arising in the first place. These problems have been greatly magnified by the Johnson administration’s woeful mishandling of the pandemic.
Over the coming months and years it’s going to be absolutely vital that Scotland charts a path out of the pandemic that leads to a rebuilding and developing of the Scottish economy in a way which tackles poverty and inequality in a secure and environmentally sustainable way. The only way that this can be achieved is by ensuring that Scotland’s parliament possesses the full range of powers that will enable it to do so. That in turn means independence.
The anti-independence parties will be fighting this election on the basis of their claim that the independence issue and the demand for another referendum are distractions from the vital task of rebuilding Scotland after the devastating personal, social and economic effects of the pandemic. They could not be more wrong and in her keynote speech yesterday, delivered online to party activists, Nicola Sturgeon tackled this claim head on, saying that “independence was not a distraction from the country’s recovery after the pandemic but was “essential to secure a recovery that is made here in Scotland and based on the values the majority of us subscribe to.”
It’s only with independence that Scotland can unlock this country’s full potential, and it’s only with independence that Scotland can free itself from the need to have to ameliorate Conservative economic policies that lead to an increase in poverty, deprivation and inequality. Another independence referendum is far from being the distraction that the Conservatives and their British nationalist allies claim it to be, it is absolutely vital to securing a recovery from the pandemic that benefits everyone in Scotland and which is designed to produce the best outcome for Scotland.
As the First minister said yesterday in her speech to party activists, this election will ensure that voters “have the right to decide our own future in an independent referendum when this current crisis has passed, so that Scotland’s recovery will be in Scotland’s hands, so we can build the Scotland that we know we can be, a country of compassion, equality and love”.
For their part the Scottish Greens can agree that independence is absolutely vital to realising their vision of a sustainable Scottish economy which can provide an environmental model for the rest of the world to follow. Independence and the referendum which is required to bring it about is not a peripheral issue or a distraction, it is absolutely essential if we want to realise that better Scotland to which we all aspire.
Although the new Alba party has yet to announce its policy programme, it will certainly do so over the days and weeks ahead. Whatever the details of that announcement there can be absolutely no doubt that the Alba party also shares the view of the other pro-independence parties that Scotland’s democratic right to another referendum is very far from being a distraction from the challenges that Scotland faces, but rather it is absolutely key to unlocking the incredible potential that this country possesses and to putting it to work in the best interests of the people of Scotland. Whatever our disagreements about strategy or tactics, or about the wisdom or otherwise of the launch of this new party, that at least is something about which all supporters of independence can agree.
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