Gill Scott – Why This Social Justice Campaigner is Voting No

When Carol Craig wrote in the first piece appearing on this blog that she ‘was in grave danger of being denounced as a fool, a hypocrite and a wimp’ by saying she was voting No in the referendum I knew what she meant. I have the same worries.

I grew up in Liverpool and have lived for more than 40 years in Glasgow. I know what poverty looks like; I know how the disappearance of shipbuilding and docks affects communities and regions. My whole working life has been devoted to highlighting the inequities of poverty and affluence, to exploring how badly insecure work, housing and health impacts on all members of a household and to passionately promoting the idea that social policy can contribute to a significant reduction in social injustice in Scotland.

I have contributed in that vein throughout the last two years during the run up to the referendum as well as the previous forty. I agree, for example, with many of those who have contributed to the policy papers of the Common Weal, I’ve taken part in vibrant grassroots discussions of what a better Scotland could look like. I have also argued that devolution, from its very start, has provided scope for action to address issues  fairness and social justice but that more powers could bring better policy.  So when the Yes campaigners are claiming that Independence is the only way to gain the powers that Scotland  needs to have a fairer, more socially just society why I am voting No?

There are three reasons. Firstly I am a lifelong supporter of the Labour Movement and although I’ve had my disagreements (Trident, Iraq) I know that it represents a secure home to ideas of collective action, social welfare, universal and free health and education services that transformed the society I was born into. This is not to disagree with the progressive Left – I am part of that. Secondly I believe that powers for the Scottish Parliament could be extended and the sound social democratic base that has been built on since 1999 offers a more guaranteed route for change than the uncertain rupture that Independence would bring to too many areas of welfare. A rupture that could mean more rather than less insecure work, housing and health for too many of the poorest.  And thirdly, perhaps, I fear that nationalism, despite the claims that the current debate represents a fight for civic nationalism, can end up excluding rather than including the most marginal. This is more than a slight worry. In both Catalonia and Quebec, for example, it is the poorest who are most often missing from debates for self determination.

If this sounds pessimistic let me disagree. I have watched change for the better and for the worse in the last two decades. I have seen how housing policy in Scotland can protect the most vulnerable, I have been part of an education system that has come to support and extend opportunities for many young people in a way that was not there when I was young. I have seen gender inequality recognized and transformed in a Scotland that was overtly sexist when I arrived . However I have also seen growing income inequality, significant increases in employment insecurity and little reduction in health inequalities. Whatever the outcome of the referendum the need for pursuing social justice will not go away and I have confidence that in Scotland a desire for social change will be pursued and can be better achieved outwith a territorial justice debate.

Gill Scott is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Glasgow Caledonian University

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