Independence Debate Speech, 2nd Nov 2022
I think it is clear to us all that this Government have made life harder for everyone—well, maybe not bankers, but everyone else. Many face real hardship and the all-too-real choice between heating and eating, and many, for the very first time, face having to go to food banks to feed their families.
That is the Brexit dividend unleashed on our country. It was a Brexit we did not vote for in a referendum invented by a Prime Minister we did not vote for, leading a party that last won an election in Scotland back when we used pounds, shilling and pence and had one TV channel to watch, in black and white. That is the kind of democracy we are used to in Scotland—the kind of democracy that sees the votes of Scotland shoved in the Brexit bin while Government after Government are elected on a minority of votes in a single part of these islands.
That is democracy Union-style: a democracy where the electoral system dates from the 14th century, the political parties from the 17th and the constitution from whenever it needs to be changed to suit the current incumbents and keep the nats at bay. Whatever positives the Union once held for Scotland—and there were always negatives, too—have been jettisoned and are just folk memories now. The UK is a failing state, with the passage of time marked by the realisation here and abroad that the gilt and glitter favoured by the British establishment masks the state’s sinking further into a morass of its own making.
We have had to sit back and witness the explosive financialisation of the economy at the expense of productive industry and commerce, leading to real economic output that lags behind virtually every other European country, and then the desperate attempts by the governing class to blame that on Johnny Foreigner and his sleekit ways. The reality is that the Union has delivered flatlining wages for the last decade and a half, with households facing rapidly rising prices and housing costs while incomes stay stagnant.
We have an entire country afraid to turn the heating on because they do not know whether they can afford the bills; whole communities left to stew in long-term poverty and deprivation; and people forced into the gig economy with no protections or employment rights, forced to pay the costs of their boss’s delivery van out of their own pockets because we have had decades of workers’ rights being systematically stripped at the altar of economic extremism. As we speak, we await the date for the Second Reading of yet another Tory Bill stripping back workers’ already meagre rights.
The reality is that the Union has delivered a social security system that Kafka would have torn up at first draft, where the terminally ill are told they are not sick enough for benefit and then sanctioned when they die, and people living with debilitating diseases that can only get worse are told they will be fit for work. It is a system where women are forced to prove to the Government that they were a victim of rape before their children receive benefits.
The reality is that the Union has seen insularism turned into a badge of honour rather than something to escape from. Both main UK parties have embraced Brexit regardless of the utterly catastrophic damage it has wreaked on our economy and society.
The leader of the UK Labour party proclaims:
“We do not want to go back in. We want to make Brexit work.”
That goes against every shred of evidence showing what an unmitigated disaster Brexit has been. Scotland voted for no part in this carnage. We are—to the tune of 72% in the latest opinion poll—proudly European and supporters of EU membership. Despite the best efforts of the Labour and Tory parties to keep us out of the EU, that democratic mandate will be respected when we regain our independence.
No one on the SNP Benches pretends that independence is a magic panacea for the immense challenges facing our country. We will not look out of the window on the morning of our independence and see rainbows shining on the sunlit uplands, with the problems of our generation magicked away. However, independence will give us the power and resources to begin the change to a better society—a society that looks to allies and neighbours across the Irish and North seas for the kind of attitude to its citizens that should be the norm here but that has been denied by the UK.
An independent Scotland should choose to have a more sustainable and more humane social security system. An independent Scotland should choose to invest in sustainable connectivity within itself and to link itself directly with the rest of the world. An independent Scotland should choose a future that does not rely on weapons of mass destruction parked in the Clyde and instead invest in its people.
It is only independence that gives Scotland the opportunity to unleash our full potential in the world and to harness that potential for the betterment of all who make our country home. It is only independence that gives our country the chance to end once and for all the despicable attitudes displayed by the Home Secretary on Monday. Our country is not being invaded. Migrants are not prisoners to be released. For thousands of years, our country has been home to an extraordinary diversity of humans—from Celts and Picts to Indians and Poles. That history is embedded in our present, and independence will allow us to continue that history into the future—rather than the repugnant Alf Garnett garbage that passes for UK immigration policy.
I encourage Members from the north of England to start thinking and preparing now for how they might change their part of the continuing Union after Scottish independence. It is shameful that the cradle of the industrial revolution has been left to beg for scraps from the table. One major infrastructure project after another has been shelved or mothballed, while a single station on a single railway under London is allowed to go £500 million over budget. That is not the cost of the station—it is £500 million over budget. The line itself has seen an extra £5 billion thrown at it. An independent Scotland will want to work with all parts of these islands constructively to support all our citizens. It is in our interests to see a strong economy along our border—not somewhere that is an afterthought for Whitehall.
The Union has failed those areas too, but it is Scotland that is taking the opportunity to make the change and undo decades, if not centuries, of stupor, neglect and misgovernment. Whatever discussions happen in the meeting rooms of the Supreme Court, democracy will inevitably have its way. Scotland has voted for the democratic right to choose its own future—that is incontestable. Those in this place who seek to stand in the way of that right are doing their cause no favour whatever. They should have the confidence and the courage to make the case for the Union they say they support. We on the SNP Benches are taking our case to the people, and I am confident that Scotland’s people will support that case and drive our country forward to normality and independence.