There have been attempts by some in the independence debate to frame a no vote as a vote for the status quo.
I fundamentally disagree and see the next year as an opportunity to engage Scotland’s people in a discussion about the kind of country we want to live in.
At our Conference this year Scottish Labour launched the consultation, Powers for a Purpose, to kick off our contribution to the debate by looking at how we build on the home rule delivered with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. In the spirit of that ambition, it was a privilege to speak at SURF’s debate last month.
The regeneration of our communities is fundamental to tackling the inequalities that persist in our society. The Scottish Parliament has brought government closer to home and given communities a stake in shaping the laws that affect them. Devolution gives us control on key areas like health, education, planning and housing while recognising the shared values and stability of remaining part of a long and successful union – the best of both worlds.
As Professor David Bell highlighted last month, there’s significant scope within the powers the Parliament already has to tackle the inequalities in our communities.
Unfortunately the referendum has become the overriding priority of the Scottish Government. Scotland is on pause while effort is directed towards separation at the expense of the challenges affecting Scottish communities today.
However, the SNP case has not stood up to scrutiny as their arguments on currency, the EU, the economy, pensions and defence among others have been dissected.
Perhaps the ultimate irony is that while the SNP demand more power from Westminster, they’ve gradually clawed it back from councils across the country.
Earlier this month Cosla President, David O’Neill , warned of the unsustainable funding pressure being placed on local government. Under the SNP’s watch, power is gradually being removed from local government and we can see this impact on local communities facing service cuts and increased charges.
We need a real debate on how we reverse this change. Devolution does not stop at Holyrood and we must consider how we can devolve powers further to local government and to communities themselves.
This is key if we are to begin to see the public service reform and community engagement advocated by the Christie Commission to address the big challenges presented by our changing population –delivering services to meet the needs of older people, providing opportunities for young people to access training and employment and addressing the deep seated inequalities in our communities.
Addressing these challenges is not easy but we do not need independence to tackle them. The SNP’s vision raises more questions than it answers and I don’t believe that the instability is worth it. As part of the UK, we pool our resources, share common values, spread the risks and share the rewards. The question isn’t could we be independent – but should we be independent. If we put our communities first we’ll vote “no” next year.