Set Scotland free
It isn’t hard to find things to be grim about. Scotland is politically sclerotic, the pandemic just won’t go away, world leaders aren’t serious about climate change and few believe that another independence referendum is within sight. It amounts to a picture many find really depressing.
But it will do no good to mope. There are plenty of things which are outside Scotland’s control but we should not lose sight of what we can achieve quickly if we turn our minds to it.
Scotland has a wealth of amazing resources if only they could be set free, released from captivity to do their own thing. If we think about Scotland not top-down, but from these resources-upwards, we can see ways to turn Scotland around.
Change would be fast. All that is lacking is the will…
Release the creativity of Scottish people
Scotland is probably the most centralised country in the developed world. Our lack of functioning local democracy means that people in communities have no way to realise their plans and ideas, so it is barely worth coming up with them in the first place. You can’t restore a nation from the ground up if the ground is constantly undermined.
We need to set people free to change what they feel they need to change. They have to stop being beaten down through lack of power and funding. There may be nothing more transformative in the short term than restoring local democracy to Scotland’s towns.
Common Weal’s idea of Development Councils would mean every town or group of villages or neighbourhood of a city could have its own elected body with serious powers and proper budget. Whatever their ideas for how to transform where they live, they would have the power to do it.
Nothing would create a surge of real and exciting change in Scotland like a proper system of local democracy could. All within the powers of the Scottish Parliament, all doable quickly.
Release a new generation of leaders
Scotland is a closed shop, the same old figures rotating between quango boards, government committees and commissions, public appointments and internal consultations. This tiny clique has the ability to lead ‘sewn up’. And backbenchers in parliament are hopelessly powerless.
So a tiny number of people get both to lead and to scrutinise each other, shutting out new faces with new ideas. We need ways for new generations of Scotland’s leaders to come through – by democratising the governance of Scotland. Let ordinary people stand for public appointments, let other people vote for them. Reform Holyrood to give committees and backbenchers proper power.
And set up that second chamber for the Scottish Parliament, a Citizens’ Chamber where people are selected at random to watch over our legislators, so no-one can just ‘get away with it’ without scrutiny any more. It would shake up Scotland’s complacent ruling classes and bring in fresh blood.
Release Scotland’s land innovation
Release Scotland’s innovation. There is so much potential for this from small business to academics to community leaders. But let’s start by promoting innovative use of our land by making it possible for people to get land to start land-based businesses and by giving communities more control over the land around them.
Scotland is ripe for the land innovation – it could be anything from new businesses making construction products to hemp businesses making sustainable fabrics to high-tech start-ups experimenting with bioplastics. A proper programme of land reform with a proper rural industrial strategy to back it (and that proper local democracy) would turn things around quickly for rural Scotland.
Release our energy
The failure of Scotland to capture jobs from the renewable energy boom is a national disgrace. It is the result of letting our energy resources be held captive by a tiny number of overseas multinationals. How can Scotland become a leader in green technology if we are just a branch plant of a global energy business?
So set our energy free – start a National Energy Company. Begin by taking control of Scotland’s existing energy resources by nationalising wind farms each time one comes to the end of its licensed operating period. In that way, within 25 years all of Scotland’s energy could be in public ownership at no cost to the public.
But that’s not enough – it needs a proper national industrial strategy to make sure that any supply chain which can be delivered in Scotland is delivered in Scotland. It wouldn’t take that long to get those manufacturing plants off the ground if a National Energy Company was giving them contracts.
And there is no better way to avoid the green-washing of Scotland’s hydrogen potential by oil giants than by taking the market away from them. The woeful rate of investment in marine energy in Scotland could be transformed if a National Energy Company took over. If done right, these moves would be a rapid ‘jobs engine’.
Set the independence movement free
The independence movement is climbing the walls, desperate for direction but drifting away in its absence. It has been told it must wait for precise instructions from above, but that is not the nature of any movement. The movement needs to be set free to do what it does best.
So set up a National Commission for an Independent Scotland to begin the hard work the movement can’t do and the SNP leadership isn’t doing. If that kind of clear direction was given and a proper plan for independence produced with proper answers for people to use, it would take very little to get the independence movement going strongly again.
It just needs that spark…
Set Scotland free
Every one of these examples is easily and quickly doable within the powers of the Scottish Parliament. None needs the power of taxation to raise public money to make them happen. All are built on the natural and human resources of Scotland which are all around us. Each would make a visible, substantive difference to the country we live in.
All would generate momentum, excitement and energy. All would shift the balance of power in Scotland, returning much more of it to citizens and communities. With that power they could do great things.
Things are grim. There isn’t a lot of cause for hope or optimism right now. What is frustrating is how easily that could be reversed – with a handful of initiatives to set Scotland free.