I am not Scottish—I was born in London, and now spend my time between Durham and Gloucestershire—but that doesn’t mean I can’t take an interest in the debate over Scottish independence. Nor does it mean I can’t take a small part in this discussion, as when I travelled to Edinburgh and Glasgow last month to canvass door-to-door, talking to ordinary people about their concerns and hopes for the future. Whichever way Scotland votes a month from today will have a profound impact on all the people living on these islands, shaping our future in so many ways. But that is not what I am writing about today. Today I’d like to share some of my thoughts on what independence would mean for you, the young people of Scotland, and why—were I living in Scotland and had the chance to vote—I would vote yes to independence.
As a student (studying history at Durham university) and a young person (still a teenager, at least until October!) I feel I share many of the same concerns of my peers in Scotland. A good education without a lifetime of debt, a meaningful job that pays a living wage, a high-quality national health care system and a say in the decisions that affect my life… A society in which these needs are met may not be perfect by any means, but it would be a good start to living a better and more fulfilling life. And in all of these areas, independence would benefit your needs.
In the area of education, of course, students in Scotland already have it much better than those of us in the rest of the UK. While English students face tuition fees of £9000 a year (and the immense levels of debt that accompany that), students in Scotland receive a university education without such burdening tuition fees. But under continuing cuts from Westminster, this system of free higher education is continually under threat. In an independent Scotland, this threat would be negated, as the Scottish government would have full control over spending, and could allocate money to education that would have otherwise gone elsewhere (maintaining Trident, for instance). As a student in England, I know first-hand how much of a burden student debt is. And it would pain me to see Scotland have to abandon free education as a result of education cuts from Westminster in the case of a no vote.
In terms of employment and the minimum wage, Scottish independence presents promising opportunities. Through their programme of ever-deeper cuts and austerity, the current Westminster government has helped aggravate problems of unemployment caused by the financial crisis. And in Scotland, youth unemployment is a particular problem, with nearly 1 in 5 young people—a total of about 53,000—in neither work nor education. It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of cutting services and investment in education and employment, the government could invest in new jobs, helping put people back into work and thus providing a vital boost to the economy. And an independent Scotland would be well placed to reject austerity and do just that, showing the people of the rest of the UK that there is a better alternative. Of course, having people in work doesn’t solve all the problems relating to employment—all too many people are employed below the living wage for that to be the case. Scottish independence would allow the Scottish government to set its own minimum wage, and the SNP’s proposal for a minimum wage that raises in line with inflation would certainly be a step forward. In order to fully ensure that people are being paid a reasonable wage for the work they do, however, the minimum wage would need to be raised to a living wage, something an independent Scottish government would be in a position to do.
A couple of weeks ago marked the beginning of a 300-mile march from Jarrow to London in response to the ‘dismantling, privatisation and destruction’ of the English National Health Service. By opening the NHS to competition and the profit motive of private corporations, the continued existence of the NHS as a system of healthcare free at the point of use is under dire threat, at least in England. Thanks to devolution, Scotland has been shielded from the effects of NHS privatisation, but this cannot last forever. As the NHS continues on the path towards privatisation, it seems likely that less government investment will go to healthcare, and thus the Scottish government will be provided with less money to spend on the NHS. Only through independence can the future of the NHS as a system of free and universal healthcare be ensured. Whether the NHS undergoes privatisation or continues to survive as a public service—it is you, the young people of Scotland, who will have to live with the consequences.
Many of the precise details of what independence would mean for the people of Scotland are uncertain, but in this very uncertainty lies exciting possibilities. For the greatest certainty of a yes vote is that you, the people of Scotland, would elect governments that better represent your interests. In 2010, Scotland returned 1 Tory MP to Westminster, and yet you now face a Tory-led government eager to impose policies such as the Bedroom Tax attacking the most vulnerable members of society. In an independent Scotland, you will get the government you vote for—a government thus more attuned to responding to your needs and concerns. And the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds have been included in the Scottish referendum looks promising for increased political participation by young people, particularly considering the high turnout expected for this group, with at least 80% of those eligible registered to vote. With a more democratically answerable government and a politically involved youth to hold them to account, an independent Scotland could better work to meet the needs of the young people of Scotland—and that, I think, can only be a good thing.
In a couple of short weeks, you will be faced with the decision of a lifetime. A choice either to accept the status quo of undemocratic rule from Westminster, including the youth unemployment and critical threats to free education and the NHS that come with it, or to reject this in favour of democracy, for a government that you can better hold to account to look after your needs. Independence will not solve every problem, for the young people of Scotland or for anyone. But I do believe that the benefits of independence—for young people as for everyone else—will be well worth any risks or uncertainties. Of course, it is your choice how you vote on 18th September, but I only ask that you sufficiently educate yourself on the issues involved to make an informed decision on what is best for you, and the people of Scotland as a whole.