All the news from Westminster on forthcoming public service cuts must not be allowed to hide the positive option for Scotland. This was spelt out clearly at the recent SNP Conference in Perth in plain language by the First Minister and party leader Alex Salmond. He said
“Either Scotland stays in the Westminster straightjacket of low growth, public sector cutbacks and blighted futures or we take responsibility and deliver the better society we all want.” And he followed on, “The Independence I seek is the independence to create jobs.”
In Ross-shire there is no doubt that the SNP is setting the policy agenda as elsewhere ahead of this year’s Scottish budget and the 2011 Holyrood elections. A series of opinion poll questions show the SNP is hearing the views of the people of Scotland and responding to their priorities.
A YouGov poll carried out immediately after SNP conference shows that Labour and the LibDems are on the wrong side of the argument, with strong public support for SNP plans to freeze the council tax for two more years and to abolish prescription charges. Labour has failed to back both policies with Iain Gray specifically calling for council tax to increase. 59% of people back the SNP’s decision to extend the council tax freeze. Here in Highland the LibDem council leaders agree with Gray.
In addition, the SNP plans to extend the living wage and call for more financial powers to help grow Scotland’s economy. It’s the only alternative to a dismal decade of cuts from Labour, Lib Dem and Tory London governments. Support for the full powers of independence are increasing since the UK Election.
Over the coming weeks the SNP will continue to listen to the priorities the public share with us through our bepartofbetter.net website. We will set out further details of the policies we will pursue in government now and at the election.
All the talk is that the LibDem and Conservative coalition in London expect private firms to take up the work the public sector has to cut. Huge loans required to stabilise the pound sterling after the crash of 2008 can be coped with better if we grow the number of jobs people had.
During the recess, at my own expense, I visited the huge complex of cooperative industries in the Spanish Basque Country around Mondragon. After 50 years development the workers are still the bosses. There are now two hundred and fifty-six coops in the group. They employ over 90,000 workers who have their own coop social security system, health service, university and bank. their turn over is 16,700 million Euros in 2008.
I defy anyone to say that there is only one solution to strengthening our local and national economy. However Mondragon is also based in Basque culture and language, it breeds local self-esteem. and now they have factories in China and Brazil to name but two outposts of their work.
It should be noted that Basque parliament has more economic powers than Scotland raising all its own taxes….
Can we learn from them? Surely so! Last week I noted Lord Thurso calling for competing firms to join together to free up and use Nigg to create new jobs. Remember that Scottish Government wants offshore renewables developed, yet Highland Council under the LibDems has baulked for eighteen months against compulsory purchase of Nigg. Another approach is needed, you say? Some of Lord Thurso’s councillor colleagues are in the competing firms, so I don’t see competing firms actually cooperating. You have to build that ethos from the start. If Highland Council has the guts, change can come.
An independent country like Norway with the rich resources Scotland also has would not have such fearful local ‘leaders’.