The success of the Scottish parliament is clear: NHS prescriptions are free, university is free, and Tory austerity measures have been slowed down (though not stopped altogether). From the point of view of someone south of the border, life in Scotland has its perks when compared to the rest of the UK. Vital gains have been made through the Scottish parliament, but the journey has only just begun – a journey that will take us far beyond Scotland and into a constitutional revolution across Britain.
If it works in Scotland, why not here? Alex Salmond argues that the Westminster government doesn’t reflect the will of the Scottish people, but can we say that it represents people in England either? With election turnouts at record lows, the democratic credibility of old Etonians and career politicians is running thin. When people voted in 2010, they did not vote for a hike in university fees; they did not vote for austerity measures that would cripple vital services and pave the way for NHS privatisation. With stagnating wages and rising living costs, it is not just the people of Scotland who are suffering: all areas of Britain have seen a rise in food bank usage, homelessness and household debt.
Can independence solve these issues? It’s possible, but unlikely if Alex Salmond remains at the helm of Scottish politics. Despite their self-described status as a party for social justice and progressive politics, the Scottish National Party has promised that an independent Scotland would have lower corporation taxes and more financial incentives for big business. Instead of using this potential revenue to support families hit hardest by low wages and rising living costs, Salmond is choosing to give millions of pounds to rich multinational firms in tax relief. The right-wing fiscal policy of the SNP should be of great concern to all voters, especially those alienated by the Tory Party in Westminster.
Devolution can do so much more than just empower Scotland, it can reclaim the spirit of democracy and give all local communities a chance to decide their own future. From Bristol to Glasgow, cities need to be given greater spending towers to tackle poverty and improve living standards. If regional democracy succeeds, local representatives will be able to fight for constituents in a way that isn’t possible for parliamentary MPs. Whether it’s tackling Britain’s housing shortage or safeguarding vital public services, we all face challenges that need co-ordination from strong local governments. The case for devolution isn’t about cutting back the government, but broadening democracy and ensuring local issues are met with local solutions.
Whatever the result on Thursday, Westminster is due for a dramatic shakeup that will see more and more powers devolved to regional governments. By putting power in the hands of local representatives, we can fight for an alternative to austerity politics and rebuild a nation.