A speech for a school debate

In early summer 2014 I had the privilege of speaking to young voters from Boroughmuir and Gillespie’s high schools in Edinburgh. Alongside Kez Dugdale MSP, I had some of the most intelligent and challenging questions of the whole referendum. This is the speech I gave that day.

Thanks so much for having me today. My name’s Sarah Beattie-Smith and I am the co convener for the Edinburgh branch of the Scottish Green Party.

I’m going to set out some facts and figures for the head and the heart and explain why I’m voting yes and why I think you should too. I’ll focus on three things – the economy and the proof that we absolutely can afford to be independent, democracy and how independence can bring power closer to the people, and identity and what it could mean for how we see ourselves.

So let’s start on the economy…

We’re told that Scotland has the best of both worlds. Sure. We’ve got child poverty in Scotland and tax avoidance across the UK. We hold some of the most abundant resources in the world yet the UK is on track to become the most unequal country in the world. Totally – best of both worlds.

The UK right now can boast many things about it’s wealth and power in the world. But we must face up to the fact that life in the UK is pretty dire for many people. The UK has the second lowest pay, the third longest hours and some of the most expensive childcare anywhere in Europe. We have the second highest rate of fuel poverty in Europe and the worst child poverty anywhere in the developed world with,unsurprisingly, the unhappiest children. Last year the richest people and businesses in the UK avoided paying £32bn in tax at a time when 900,000 people are reliant on food banks, and the UK government has pledged to spend another £100bn on renewing nuclear weapons that the people of Scotland neither want nor need. We have the lowest level of trust in politicians and no wonder with a track record like that.

The UK economy is a big business economy, based on the idea that wealth trickles down and that we can afford to be intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.  It is an economy based on low pay jobs in high volume sectors that make their profits not from the skills of their workforce but from taking as much out of the pockets of their customers as possible – and we see this every day from the banks to the energy companies to the supermarkets.

And all the while we’re told that this is economic growth.

We’re told that this is progress – recovery even!

And we’re told that there’s nothing we can do about it because it’s always been that way.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Another Scotland is possible!

A Scotland where no child has to grow up in poverty, where no parent has to worry about how they’re going to put food on the table and where no pensioner has to choose between heating and eating. I want to see a Scotland that rejects austerity and the vile rhetoric of scroungers and skivers, and which advocates for genuine social security with dignity and solidarity with each other.

And another Scotland is possible where we don’t simply rely on depleting reserves of polluting, climate changing oil to fund a growth in wealth. We can move towards a greener, more sustainable energy policy, protecting the public services we have and improving them for future generations, and taking our seat at the table of nations. We can do all of this with the powers of a normal, independent nation.

But aren’t we too wee? Too poor? Too stupid? Don’t we need the rest of the UK to keep subsidising us? Quite simply, no.

Scotland is one of the wealthiest and best-educated countries on the planet, and a Yes vote offers a unique opportunity to use that wealth and talent to improve the lives of Scotland’s people and our country as a whole

The Financial Times – a paper not known for it’s support of independence – showed Scotland would be among the top 20 wealthiest countries on the planet – wealthier than France, the UK and Italy. And David Cameron said “It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be a successful, independent country.”

Let me give you some facts about Scotland;

Analysis, again from the Financial Times shows Scotland’s exports total £73.6bn a year – and that’s even without Scotland’s North Sea oil production

With the oil? Scotland has 60% of the EU’s oil reserves, with the North Sea generating around £34.3bn in the next five years.

We’ve got 25% of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal energy potential, putting Scotland at the forefront of the coming renewables boom.

And we have 10% of Europe’s wave energy potential – with projects in Scotland leading the way in this cutting edge sector

Aside from energy, Scotland’s tourism sector employs almost 200,000 people and contributes £3.1bn to the economy annually.

Scotland’s food and drink industry turns over more than £13 bn every year, and last year the equivalent of 40 bottles of Scotch whisky were sold overseas every second.

Our life sciences sector is one of the fastest growing in Europe – in the space of a decade it’s turnover increased by 75% to £3bn.

Scotland’s creative industries have a combined turnover of £5bn – with growing strengths across our heritage, artistic and cultural industries.

Manufacturers in Scotland export £15.4bn worth of goods abroad annually.

Scotland’s bank balance is healthier than the UK’s. Over the past five years, Scotland has been better off than the UK as a whole to the tune of £1,600 per person.

Over the same period we’ve contributed 9.5% of UK spending and received 9.3% of public spending in return,

We’ve generated more tax per head than the rest of the UK in each of the last 33 years.

So don’t let anyone tell you we can’t afford to stand on our own two feet. We can more than afford it, even with expenditure exactly as it is now. But of course a big part of the reason for independence is that we don’t carry on spending money exactly as it’s spent now. With power in our hands, we’ll be able to do things differently.

For example, while the UK government plans to spend £100 billion on new nuclear weapons in the years ahead, we can choose to use our £8 billion share of this money more wisely.

Even our share of the annual running costs of the current Trident submarines could instead be used to train 3,880 nurses or 4,527 teachers.

So – we can afford to go it alone, and with power in our hands we could use our money to even better ends.

Of course a society is about so much more than how much money we have and how we spend it. It’s also important to look at who gets to make the decisions that affect our lives and how, where, when and why they make those decisions? For me, independence is about democracy – bringing power to the people.

Let me give you some facts about democracy.

We currently have 9% of the MPs at Westminster.  We’ve had Tory governments for 26 of the last 44 years, despite the fact that we pretty much always vote labour at Westminster elections.

Some people worry that without Scotland voting Labour, the rest of the UK would be condemned to perpetual Tory governments, but in fact in 14 of the last 18 general elections since WW2, our votes haven’t made a blind bit of difference to the outcome.

Yet this is the democracy we are supposed to cherish, proving that we’re better together. What it proves is that even if we have only 1 Tory out of 59 MPs, the other 305 Tories down South can always make up for it. What it proves is that policies like the bedroom tax, which means 100,000 people face eviction or choosing between eating and paying the rent, can be forced upon the people of Scotland despite 91% of our MPs voting against it. What it proves is that the Scottish parliament can mitigate – we can make the best of a bad situation, but we don’t have the power to fundamentally change the structure of our society and the drivers for such awful policies.

We can change that with a Yes vote. We can finally get the governments we vote for and ensure that decisions about Scotland can be taken here, by people chosen in Scotland. That 9% can become 100%.

But I, like so many other Yes campaigners want to see another Scotland where power doesn’t just lie with politicians but with the people. The root of the word democracy is from the Greek words Demos, meaning people, and Cratos, meaning power. Literally people power!

With independence we cannot allow power to simply transfer from Westminster to Holyrood and stay there. Real democracy, in local communities and in our institutions and industries is the means by which we can truly call ourselves a self-determining nation. And a nation where the citizens take part in determining their own future is one that’s confident in its own identity.

The question of national identity is one which comes up again and again in this debate, whether you’re JK Rowling or Irvine Welsh. But for me, it’s not about whether you’re Scottish or British, whether you were born here or moved here or whether your a McDougall or a Mohammed. It’s certainly not about Alex Salmond vs David Cameron, nor about braveheart and flags. What matters is the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and the actions we take together to become who we want to be.

And I think that all too often we tell ourselves that we’re too poor, too wee, too stupid. And that story helps shape who we think we can be and what we think we’re capable of. We have an inferiority complex as a nation and inferiority complexes often lead to resenting others. In our case I think it has led to us resenting the rest of the UK and particularly England. That relationship is not a healthy one and I think it’s one that could improve significantly with independence.

Let me tell you a story.

From the age of 16, I’ve lived in shared flats in Edinburgh. For the last three years, I’ve been living with a lovely woman from New Zealand called Gen. We get on really well and although we have the occasional argument, we work well together. She’s a bit messier than me. I’m definitely the tidy one. For years I’ve rolled my eyes at unwashed plates in the kitchen, grumbled to myself about the bathroom being mucky and muttered “ugh, Gen” when the recycling mounts up. And I’m pretty sure she thought the same about me.

But then a month ago, Gen moved out. And a weird thing happened. About a week after she’d gone, the washing up started to pile up. The bathroom felt a bit gross and the recycling appeared to be multiplying all by itself. And I realised, this was my mess.

I realised we were just as bad as each other. So I’ve changed. I think at the age of 28 I’ve actually grown up a bit. Now the washing up is always done and the bathroom’s pretty spotless. I know what I need to do to have a nice clean home and I just get on with it, no grumbling. I take pride in my home, and I’ve started to see Gen as more of an equal. We’re better friends than ever.

I really believe that with independence we could see the same kind of transformation in our relationship with England.

We could stand on our own two feet – we’d probably be the ones moving out. With no one else to blame but ourselves. With no one scolding us for our bad habits and poor choices – we’d have to up our game, but can you imagine the pride that would come with that?

So I truly believe in my heart if hearts that we can do this. We can absolutely afford to be independent and to become the country we wish Scotland could be. We can become fairer, more equal, with more power distributed further than ever before. We can feel proud of our achievements and learn from our mistakes. It’s time to grow up and take responsibility as a renewed nation, welcomed into the family of other normal independent nations around the world.

So I urge you to be confident, to grasp this opportunity of a lifetime with both hands, to ensure that hope of a better future triumphs over fear. I urge you to say yes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s