'The Independence Referendum; and the Challenges and Opportunities for Creating a Sustainable Economy that Works for Everyone' - release from Green Party
The third ‘Politicians and the Professionals’ seminar saw Scottish Green Party leader, Patrick Harvie, speak of the opportunity independence could provide “to pursue a different economic model" which "prioritises equality and sustainability and supports small business and social enterprise".
Acknowledging his party and supporters do not all share his pro-Independence stance, he insisted that the Scottish Greens offer a more balanced contribution to the debate: Independence would not be “Utopia”, he said, nor would it be “disaster”; “the truth is somewhere in between”. He urged all parties to engage honestly with the key issues and risks “to meet undecided voters on their own turf”.
He has been the most direct to date in addressing YAS’ plea to speakers to explore both the risks and opportunities of independence, although focussed on the economic and social angle rather than directly addressing the challenges in the Higher Education sector.
A Shift away from the “Tyranny of Big”
Independence, he said, offers the opportunity “not just to shift where power lies but to redesign our economy and build a better society,” through developing an economic model that rejects the “Tyranny of Big” – referring to the monopoly of a “handful of dominant players” in the banking, food and energy supply sectors. He accused the Scottish ‘No’ campaign of perpetuating “the myth that bigger is always better”, and Westminster and Whitehall of returning to “business as usual” through pursuing the same unsustainable economic models that resulted in the recession in the first place: “it was broken before the recession.”
“We’re now told we’re getting economic recovery [but] we’re not…we’re talking about protracted periods of growth [in GDP] that widen inequality and benefit those who need it least.” In another clear attempt to distance himself from others in the Yes camp, Harvie added "I don't want an independent Scotland to punch above its weight, I want our people to have a decent life"
A renewable future & sovereign currency
He set out a vision for publicly owned energy companies that invest in renewables to replace oil and gas revenue. A devolved government, he said, could invest in renewable energy, but only independence could facilitate the borrowing options required to implement fully. For Mr Harvie, the SNP’s White paper, offers a limited view of independence: “we need to look at independence in terms of macroeconomic choices”. In his view, anything short of a sovereign currency would not provide the flexibility to pursue serious economic policy change.
Sustainable food practices
Brandishing an apple (‘the planet’) and a knife, he cut away the flesh until virtually nothing remained, illustrating that the top soil left on the planet cannot sustain current industrial scale agricultural practices. "We need to create planetary boundaries beyond which we will not overload the environment … the notion that we could have an economy that is not fundamentally dependent on ecological systems is nonsense.”
Through Independence, he said, we could nurture a return to diversely controlled, locally-based food chains.
Capacity in governance
Mr Harvie identified capacity within our governance structures – the Scottish Parliament, central and local government, the civil service – as the main risk of a ‘Yes’ vote if proposed timescales are adopted: “there’s a risk if we don't develop capacity quickly enough then we’ll buy in from consultancies who have run the system south of the border… that we don’t end up repeating the same mistakes is one of the biggest challenges”. He expressed concern, for example, that we would let KPMG write our tax code rather than anti-poverty campaigners: “we need to be putting capacity in place now – it’s not something I see happening yet.”
De-centralising power and decision-making
Asked how he would grow capacity and break the “strong-hold of institutions”, he responded that debating a written constitution should begin immediately (not in 2016 as the SNP propose) and that power and decision-making should be de-centralised to local government and communities.
Isolationsism and youth engagement
He challenged recent claims that the “Networked Generation” believe independence would isolate Scotland from the modern age, describing it as “laughable” that a younger generation would fear the opportunity to “decide for ourselves the society we wish to live in and what wealth means in our lives”. Barriers to change, he said, “lie in Westminster with a Political culture beholden to the City of London and its institutions”. Asked about the role of young people in an independent Scotland, he responded that strong engagement of 16-17 year olds in September’s vote would strengthen enfranchisement of this generation, something he hoped could be capitalised on for retaining engagement in the future.
Following the talk by Mr Harvey, there was a 30 minute question and answer session which touched on topics including “the economic and fiscal performance of Scotland post referendum”, “how to address some of the challenges of land/property ownership” and “if there is a yes vote in 2016, what will youth engagement be like”. Mr Harvey provided a robust defence on these topics and further built on some of the topics developed during his earlier talk, stating “I hope there is a strong turnout of 16/17 year olds and [youth engagement] will be significant”.
He concluded that, “yes”, facing up to the (inter-connected) economic, societal and environmental challenges he had outlined “is scary; and, it should be. But we can either pull the duvet over our eyes, or face up to these challenges…” We can read from this that a ‘No’ vote, for Mr Harvie, would be a retreat under the covers.
We await the final two seminars in the series with eager anticipation.
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