In this, one of two guest blogs outlining why a Yes or No vote is in the best interest of ending child poverty in Scotland, Cailean Gallagher, a contributing author to Poverty in Scotland 2014: the independence referendum and beyond, makes the case for the Yes campaign.
In the face of rising levels of child poverty, a Yes vote in the referendum will bring to Scotland the powers needed to fight poverty and make the huge wealth of the country work for the people.
‘No’ campaigners talk about pooling and sharing resources, but the Westminster consensus is to cut social security, allowing an elite to pull the wealth from the people who produce it, leaving ever more people in poverty. Last week Danny Dorling, an inequalities expert, told a Scottish audience that the UK is on track to being the third most unequal country in the developed word. This week the TUC has underlined that austerity and falling wages undermine social cohesion.
As one of the world’s 20 richest countries, and with stronger public finances than the rest of the UK, Scotland can afford a better way.
No one believes a Yes vote is a magic wand, and the challenge of tackling poverty will be great – but it will also be urgent. The shameful rate of child poverty in Scotland has been a motivating factor for many Yes campaigners, and the public, and political parties, are clear that it will be high on the agenda.
So what will be the aspirations of independent governments to tackle child poverty? This will depend on our choices in the 2016 elections and beyond, and on the effort and collective experience of campaigners and organisations, to shape a new system and set radical and achievable targets.
On welfare, a set of principles will be developed to underpin a new social state, influenced by groups like the Scottish Campaign for Welfare Reform, whose Manifesto for Change demands that ‘benefits should be set at a level where no one is left in poverty and all have sufficient to lead a dignified life’.
Better social security is not an adequate solution. Poverty is still rooted in working households, and wage-falls under Westminster will have to be reversed as a matter of urgency. The most important changes that independence can bring relate to the economy and the structure of work and pay. Trade unionists, poverty activists, parties and organisations will campaign for a better work environment with more job opportunities, so that low wages, instability at work, and poor contracts are replaced with secure and fair employment, especially for women.
Scotland is a prosperous country and will continue to be post independence. The question for those fighting poverty is how we can ensure that this prosperity is shared and that poverty is eradicated.
With a ‘No vote’, alternating Westminster governments will continue to take us one step forward only to force us back. Only the ‘Yes’ path brings the prospect of transition to a better, fairer society. It will not be straightforward, but a Yes vote will bring new opportunities to make Scotland a more just society, where no one lives in poverty and we secure dignity for all.
Cailean Gallagher is a researcher at Yes Scotland. He is involved with Common Weal, Trade Unionists for Yes, Mair Nor a Roch Wind, and is a member of the Labour Party. He has worked with openDemocarcy, co-editing the Restating Scotland debate and Fight Back! A Reader on the Winter of Protest, and was founding editor of the Oxford Left Review. He also wrote ‘Poverty and the prospects of independence’ in Poverty in Scotland 2014: the independence referendum and beyond published by CPAG.
Read Jim Gallagher's blog making the case for the Better Together campaign here.
John Dickie, Director of CPAG in Scotland, has also written a blog highlighting how CPAG has informed the terms of debate and argues that the challenge now for anti-poverty campaigners is to ensure that heightened public engagement and concern with child poverty in campaign debates is harnessed for real change, wherever powers end up lying after September 18th.
Poverty in Scotland 2014 is published in association with The Open University in Scotland, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Poverty Alliance, with contributions from academics, policy experts and campaigners. Both arguments are set out in an anti-poverty context by leading advocates of the Yes and Better Together campaigns, as well as covering perspectives from Europe and beyond. It also looks to the future in setting out principles for a more equitable Scotland – whatever the outcome of the referendum.