A Call to Union – Where can we go from the Scottish independence referendum?

A Call to Union – Where can we go from the Scottish independence referendum?

Yesterday, the population of Scotland decided that it was in their best interests to remain part of one of the most successful state unions in history. There can be no doubting that this union is successful. Whilst having only the 22nd largest population in the world, the United Kingdom ranks sixth in terms of Gross Domestic Product, routinely used as a measure of success.[1] Likewise, the UK punches well above its weight in terms of its impact on the world stage. We are one of only five permanent members of the UN security council, and have a significant place in NATO and the EU.

Yet this success can be deceptive, concealing what should be disconcerting facts.

The UK is a deeply unequal country; the gap between rich and poor is among the largest of any European country, whilst almost one in four children is living in poverty.[2] Our renewable energy use lags well behind the European norm, despite having plenty of scope for the expansion of off-shore wind-farms and other renewable energy projects.[3] We are unique in Europe too, in the scale of fees charged for higher education. According to Unicef figures, the UK’s infant mortality rate stands at about five children per thousand born, placing us around 30th in the ‘league table’, behind countries such as Slovenia and South Korea.[4] Given our top ten GDP, there is clear room for improvement here.

It seems likely that the root cause of these failings and exceptions to European norms lies in the influence of big businesses on our economic and broader political thinking. The distribution of wealth in the UK as a whole is skewed towards the south east, especially London, as is political influence, and this proximity appears to have led the two sectors of business and politics towards ever closer union. The rest of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, are less driven by business interests, however these regional perspectives seem to get lost somewhere between the constituency office and Westminster. The interests of communities less interwoven with big businesses are under- represented, so it is little surprise that political attention seem focussed, first and foremost, on securing economic growth and cutting the budget deficit as a whole, without considering the impact this has across the country on public service spending, or on investment in a sustainable future. London calls the tune, and the rest of the UK dances to its pipes.

Scotland has just voted to remain a part of the UK, but the strength of the Scottish independence movement has prompted all three major parties to promise increased devolution. Since the Scottish parliament was established in 1999 it has had numerous successes, which the Yes Campaign has been keen to stress. As a recent graduate, Scotland’s refusal to raise tuition fees stands out – Scottish students studying at home pay nothing, yet if they move south of the border for university, they will pay the same £9000 as English-born students. Again, 40.3% of Scottish energy came from renewable sources in 2012, compared to just 8.2% in England.[5] Across a range issues, from support for the homeless and those with mental health problems, through to voting reform and youth political engagement, Scotland has chosen to go against the UK norm, and does not seem to have suffered because of this.[6] If anything, it has prospered, and it is likely that, with increased devolution, the Scottish government will be able to do a lot of good for its citizens.


But Scotland does not stand alone. It has just been made clear that the majority of voters favour union (even if this majority is small). Scotland is part of a United Kingdom, and further devolution could serve to weaken this. Rather than pushing Scotland to the fringes of the political establishment, the UK needs to reconsider what union really means. Scotland, alongside Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions, need to reassert their influence on the political establishment. And Westminster needs to listen. The things which have made a devolved Scotland successful could surely serve to benefit the rest of the UK.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland needs to be just that, united. Not a kingdom of the South East of England, which holds suzerainty over the rest of these islands. The strength of feeling surrounding the vote on Scottish independence (which had one of the largest turn-outs in recent political history) has re-invigorated political discourse. If Scotland can only raise its voice, Westminster politicians might listen. This can be the moment to make good on Scotland’s new-found political awakening for the benefit of whole of the UK.

[1] By GDP http://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/GDP.pdf

By Population http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL? order=wbapi_data_value_2013+wbapi_data_value&sort=desc

[2] http://www.scotsman.com/news/gerry-hassan-the-fourth-most-unequal-country-in-the-world-1-2178654
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/uk-warned-that-youth- unemployment-is-public-health-time-bomb-waiting-to-explode-8913672.html

[3] http://qz.com/359415/three-european-countries-have-already-hit-their-2020-renewable-energy-goals/

[4] http://www.unicef.org/media/files/Levels_and_Trends_in_Child_Mortality_2014.pdf
27 countries are recorded as having four or fewer deaths per thousand per thousand children under five years old, while a further eight, including the UK have five deaths per thousand, meaning we rank between 28th and 35th.

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-25451385

[6] http://www.senscot.net/view_art.php?viewid=5908

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