A Scottish Liberal Vision

Over the past few years politics has been dominated by constitutional referendums. First Scottish Independence then Brexit. Wider visions for our economy and society have been shelved.

As the slow-motion disaster of Brexit rumbles on and the SNP continue to avoid actually governing by focussing on #indyref2 the future of Scotland’s economy and society have largely gone ignored. What happens if independence fails on its second attempt? What happens if Brexit softens? What happens if both plow on?

Apart from the direct consequences of constitutional changes no one seems to be paying attention to the future of Scotland. There’s no great visions or plans to take Scotland forward in the 21st century. As employment levels slip, the economy stagnates and the education system falls to pieces Scotland looks to be in trouble no matter what happens. Plenty of independence supporters insist that these are problems that can be dealt with after independence but that’s simply backwards logic — these problems will be harder to deal with, not easier, as Scotland franticly tries to build an independent state at the same time as dealing with them. They are issues that need to be faced head-on now, not later.

The doom-and-gloom vision of the future of the “project fear” campaigns fought by every side of every constitutional crisis has grounding in reality. Things really are getting worse, no matter what box people tick in each referendum. There’s a very obvious reason for that — political parties are simply ignoring the task of actually running the country while they fight about what shape the country’s borders should be. There’s no vision, no plan to turn things around, no actual hard work to create a Scotland that benefits the people in it. That doesn’t need to be the case. Scotland’s political parties should be expected to lay out their visions of Scotland’s future regardless of the results of referendums or face the justified accusations that they are failing in their duty to lead Scotland.

Scotland has an immense amount of potential with or without independence. It sits on the largest potential resource of renewable energy in the EU. It has a sleeping giant of a digital economy only just waking up. It is open and tolerant of immigration in a way that gives it a huge advantage in jobs, industry and higher education over the Tory/UKIP dominated south. It has a true belief in social justice and equality that should create an empowered and consuming workforce capable of dispelling the myth of trickle-down economics forever. Opportunity for all is not a buzzline here — It is how things are expected to be.

A truly liberal vision of Scotland isn’t a pipe dream, it’s something anyone can see on the horizon. Real investment in green energy infrastructure and research could turn Scotland into an energy exporter no longer slave to the failing fortunes of North Sea Oil. Investment in retraining an industrial workforce to man green industry can be a reality. For so many exiting oil and education with uncertain futures re-skilling in the digital economy should be an easy and available option. With 11,000 jobs per year already presently waiting for the workers to fill them unemployment trends can be turned around.

As Theresa May’s England turns its back on the skills and opportunities of ambitious migrants Scotland can open its arms to what they can offer. By welcoming desperate refugees it can market itself as the destination for the brightest and best of the world to kickstart innovation and entrepreneurship.

Scotland should expect, and demand, an increase of its powers regardless of the results of the constitutional questions. This should be a policy all the political parties can get behind and push hard on. As the Tories plan to make London a post-EU tax haven for the rich and driven by the overworked, underpaid labour of what workers remain there Scotland can ensure everyone is paid fairly for their work. When your workforce earns enough to not only live, but to invest back into your economy, you have achieved not only equality and opportunity but also the recipe for a thriving economy free from boom and bust.

This can be a real vision for a liberal Scotland going forwards. Whether or not it is independent, whether or not Brexit drives onwards. Scotland can safeguard its future with a vision free from the divisiveness of constitutional battles that can ensure the prosperity and freedoms of people here. Scotland can have a truly radical, liberal and green future. Scottish politicians need to find this vision, grasp it, and fight for it.