Welcome to Glasgow! Over the next week you’ll be enjoying what life at Glasgow University has to offer, meeting new friends and having a great time. But in just a few days, between the all the nights out, horrific hangovers and free stuff you’ll end up never using, Scotland will go to the polls in what will be the most important vote in a generation.
The independence referendum isn’t a contest between political parties or national identities. It’s a choice of two futures, a decision about whether we continue down a path of austerity imposed upon us or whether we chose to harness the opportunities that come with putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
A Yes vote in the referendum guarantees that the people of Scotland will always get the governments that we vote for. When in 2010 Scotland voted Labour and elected just one Tory MP, we got a Tory-led government at Westminster. When Scottish MPs voted in overwhelming numbers against George Osborne’s welfare cuts, which charities say will push an extra 100,000 children in Scotland into poverty, Scotland got them anyway. But with independence the big decisions that affect our lives will be taken by those to whom they matter the most – by us, the people who live here.
Most of us at university today have grown up under devolution, and we’ve seen first-hand that being able to make our own choices has not only been more democratic but has allowed us to make better decisions, such as protecting free tuition, so that access to our world-leading universities is based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.
But devolution has its limitations. Even with devolution, Scotland’s place in the European Union is being put in jeopardy by a Westminster elite obsessed with the threat of UKIP. We’re still forced to pay £600m a year for nuclear weapons and an unelected House of Lords; money that could be better spent elsewhere.
The vast majority of job-creating powers too – along with control of our budget and what we can spend on public services like universities and our NHS – still rest in the hands of Westminster governments that we didn’t vote for. Only with independence can we have the economic powers that we need to create more jobs and opportunities for graduates, so that thousands of young people no longer need to leave Scotland in search of work.
And we could more than afford to become independent. Few nations have had as secure a financial footing for independence as Scotland has today. We have a strong and vibrant economy, which per head produces more than the United Kingdom, France and most other developed nations. We have a quarter of Europe’s potential offshore wind and tidal renewable energy. Our exports, creative industries and tourism sector continue to thrive, and on top of all this is the bonus of North Sea oil and gas.
There’s no doubt that Scotland is a wealthy nation, but for far too many people who live here it just doesn’t feel that way. One million people in Scotland now live in relative poverty, with thousands reliant on food banks for survival. Westminster policies, such as the bedroom tax, have had a huge impact on our most vulnerable, and have only served to further the inequality that runs throughout our society. With a Yes vote, we can change this. It won’t do this automatically, but it gives us the opportunity to pursue fairer and more socially-just policies. We can have a fairer welfare system that supports people back into work instead of stigmatising them, employment laws that give employees a greater say in the workplace and a minimum wage that always increases in line with inflation.
By stark contrast, the vision put forward from the No campaign has been one of constant negativity. Lurching from one scare story to another, they’ve tried to scare us into voting against independence by saying that we couldn’t have a currency union with the rest of the UK, a move condemned by academics such as Nobel-prize winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz as a bluff. Now, after the last TV debate, even Alistair Darling admits that Scotland could continue to use the pound after independence.
No-one says that independence is a magic wand that can solve our problems. We’ll still face difficulties and challenges that we’ll have to overcome. But no-one else can do a better job of running Scotland than we can, because no-one else has a bigger stake in our success.
So when you go to vote on Thursday, vote Yes to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands and let’s begin creating a fairer and more prosperous nation.
[Chris Glendinning – Glasgow University Yes Scotland co-ordinator]