I am English. I was born in London, and despite living in the US for several years as I was growing up, I have now returned to the country of my birth. Now I spend my time between Gloucestershire—where my family is now living—and Durham, where I am in my second year of a degree in history.
And in just over a year, as my graduation looms nearer, I will face the choice of where to go next with my life. The most obvious choice would be to find a job and settle down somewhere in England, but there are many difficulties that come with that. I will face the uncertainty of finding a job, as there are simply not enough jobs going around, and most of those available would involve zero-hour contracts or wages below the living wage. I will be weighed down by decades of debt from the student loans I have taken out to attend university, a victim of the marketisation of higher education. As the policies of austerity pursued by the main political parties—Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP alike—continue and more benefits and services are cut, my future, like those of millions of others throughout this country, will be increasingly precarious. And due to the nature of the political system as it stands, I will be ‘represented’ in Westminster by a politician from a party I have not voted for and who will not represent my interests, but those of corporations and the wealthy. And I have to ask myself the question: is that really the sort of future I want?
In recent months, I have found myself increasingly following the news and debate from north of the border, the discussion about whether Scotland should become an independent country. And I have found myself increasingly supportive for the possibility of an independent Scotland (an increasingly likely possibility, as the polls continue to narrow, and the yes campaign clearly holds the momentum), because it would give the people of Scotland—and potentially the rest of the UK—a crucial opportunity to engage with such central questions about what sort of future we want. Do we want a future where employment is precarious and finding a good job an uncertainty, or do we want to prioritise investment in creating good jobs? Do we want our system of higher education to be based around profit value for universities while creating a lifelong cycle of debt for graduates, or should education be valued as a vital service for society? Do we want a continuation of austerity, forcing millions more into poverty as they are forced to pay the bill for the financial crisis, or do we want a fairer alternative? Do we want political parties and politicians that are increasingly disconnected from their constituents or do we want them to truly represent the needs of people they serve?
The people of Scotland face all of these questions as they confront the issue of independence, and an independent Scotland could pave the way for a better future for all. An independent Scotland would have the power to prioritise job creation instead of policies that would create further poverty and social inequalities. An independent Scotland would continue to value education as a public service and offer university degrees without pushing students into lifelong debt. An independent Scotland could show that an alternative is possible to the austerity politics of George Osborne and Ed Balls. And the political parties and politicians of an independent Scotland would be more answerable to the people of Scotland, as the Scottish parliament is elected through a fairer, proportional system, and Scotland would no longer be placed at the mercy of a Westminster government not voted in by the people of Scotland.
All of these would be of great benefit to the people of Scotland, but an independent Scotland could also serve as a beacon of hope for the rest of the UK. An independent Scotland could serve to remind the rest of the UK that education can be valued as a public service free to all (as it is in much of Europe), that austerity isn’t the only solution to our financial problems, and that people can have more of a say in their lives as politicians are made more answerable to the people they represent. And with time, this progressive example of an independent Scotland could inspire positive change in the rest of the UK, as people in the rest of the UK must also engage with these same issues currently debated in Scotland.
But to return to the topic of what I where to go next with my life after I graduate, the choice now seems clear to me. If the people of Scotland vote for independence in September, I will move to Scotland as it becomes independent. Of course this will not solve all the problems I face. But I would prefer to live in a country that values education as a public service, that could stand up to challenge the current political consensus of austerity politics, that would cut the Trident nuclear submarine system rather than jobs and public services. But above all, as a Scottish citizen, I would have a voice in the government of an independent Scotland, a voice that has been all but denied by the Westminster government system, built around an archaic and unrepresentative electoral system. I would have the chance to have a say in terms of what sort of future I want, and to feel that my needs are being represented. I would have the opportunity to help forge a new path for a new country—something I find exhilarating. Above all else, a vote for yes is a vote for democracy, and I would relish the chance to take part in the democracy an independent Scotland would bring.
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