The independence debate offers a unique opportunity to question the direction in which our society should be heading, not just over a parliamentary term, but for the long run. Few generations have such an exciting opportunity, and I was very glad that SURF members were keen to engage with this debate.
I want both sides in the campaign, as well as the many undecided people in Scotland, to take the chance to focus on more than a simple Yes/No choice, and debate what kind of society and economy we want in Scotland. For those working in the field of regeneration, there are crucial questions about the ultimate purpose of their work, and whether our current political and constitutional landscape support their efforts, or undermine them.
Scotland and the UK have breathtaking levels of inequality. In the decades after the Second World War inequality was reduced, slowly but steadily, and the proportion of economic productivity which benefited ordinary people increased. With the breakdown of the post-war consensus, all of that began to change. We have now seen more than three decades of reversal and our society has grown ever more unequal. This has been true during periods of growth, and during periods of recession; the link between economic activity and people’s wellbeing is fundamentally broken.
Without power over taxation, welfare, employment law or macroeconomics, Holyrood simply cannot return Scotland to a path toward greater equality. With its continued rightward drift, and a political system in which no party can form a government without appealing to the right, both in terms of popular appeal and of the consent of the City, neither can Westminster.
This isn’t to say that the existing powers of devolution couldn’t be used to better effect. There’s great scope for decentralisation of decision-making, revitalising democratic participation, and economic measures such as a land value tax, perhaps with other local government financial powers. If the political will was there we could take a more radical approach to housing supply, standards and tenure. But under devolution even the most ambitious action on the housing market can do nothing about the mortgage market. On so many issues there are similar fault lines; we can act on energy efficiency, but we can’t define the energy companies’ duties; we can legislate on debt management, but can do nothing about the supply of credit; we can offer a living wage in the public sector, but we can’t achieve the same in the private sector.
In short, too many of our efforts to build a successful, vibrant and sustainable society end up simply firefighting the problems which are fuelled by the dominant economic model. If we want the transformation, which I believe many working in the field of regeneration want to see, we cannot opt for the status quo. We don’t need constitutional independence alone; we need independence of political will as well. The power to act, and the courage to do so. I hope that in 2014 Scotland will take this opportunity with enthusiasm.