Scotland's future: "I didn't want to tear my hair out"

Yesterday, the Scottish government produced its blueprint for an independent Scotland. Here, feminist comedian Liz Ely and independent MSP Jean Urquhart respond.

Jean Urquhart MSP Liz Ely
27 November 2013

The Scottish Parliament/wikimedia

Liz Ely: A government document which doesn't make me want to tear my hair out?

I'm only halfway in to the summary of the White Paper, but it is distracting me from all the many things I have to do today (which Harry Potter never did, so in that way it's 'better than Harry Potter' the SNP can have that quote for free if they like). 

It's not perfect, and there are things in there that I disagree with, and would not be a part of a utopia I would build. The monarchy, NATO memberships and promises about keeping income tax low are things I would change if I were writing a vision for Scotland's future. 

BUT, and its a big but, it's the first time in my living memory that I have read anything about government policy and not wanted to tear my hair out. Quite the opposite, some of it is really good. 

A quote which really stood out for me was 'in an independent Scotland we envisage a welfare system based on clear principles and values, support for those who work, a safety net for those who cannot work and a climate of social solidarity'

Social solidarity! Social solidarity - those words give me little hopeful goosebumps. We have been so used to vile attacks on our social security system, for so our main political parties have de-humanised those who can't find work, and those who can't work. I see the effects of these attacks on the well-being of people I care about every day, the idea that we could have something different makes me feel a little emotional.

The idea that we shouldn't take money away from the poorest in society is not really all that radical, but it's an important first step in the right direction. So far the White Paper makes Scotland seem more and more like a place I want to stay, offering a hopeful vision of a better society.

Liz Ely is a feminist comedian, based in Edinburgh

Jean Urquhart MSP: the start of a conversation which we cannot allow Better Together to shut down

As predicted, the No campaign dismissed the White Paper out of hand before it was humanly possible to have read the entire document, but today wasn’t about them. It was about providing the Scottish people a detailed, honest assessment about the case for independence, how we get there and what we do once we get there, and that was delivered. The First Minister and deputy First Minister gave measured, detailed answers, often with references to pages within the White Paper, during the hour-long question and answer session with a rather sceptical journalist corps in Glasgow.

Today has marked a palpable shift in the independence debate. There are, naturally, some issues where those of us in favour of independence would pursue different policies after a Yes vote, but those debates are for 19th September 2014 onwards. As it stands, the Scottish Government have contributed a weighty yet accessible tome to the independence debate that will help to add flesh to the bones of the basic principles of democracy, fairness and prosperity that drive many Yes supporters.

In particular, I’m glad to see that the Scottish Government is making a real effort to make the White Paper as widely available as possible, with a full-scale information campaign and the offer of free hard copies for every citizen. This precedent was set by the Scotland Office for the 1997 devolution referendum and makes eminent sense given the importance of the decision that faces every one of us. For the No campaign to complain about this open process – combined with anecdotal tales of local No groups refusing to take part in local events to prevent the Yes campaign getting their message across- feeds into a worrying picture of a side that at best is still refusing to believe that the referendum is happening and at worst is trying to prevent any meaningful debate taking place.

I hope that, over the coming days and weeks, the White Paper is digested, debated and discussed in households, offices, cafes and factory floors up and down the country in the manner it deserves. Scotland deserves nothing less.

Jean Urquhart is an independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands

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