The Referendum – YOU Decide!
In 2013, Scottish Environment LINK put together their ten point vision for the sort of Scotland we want to see in future – and put this challenge to the two campaigns, asking them how their constitutional campaigns best met the environment community’s aspirations. These ten points are known as LINK’s Referendum Challenge and this along with the two campaign replies can be read below. Following on from this LINK held a Referendum Challenge debate on Wednesday 26th February 2014 in Edinburgh, where speakers from the campaigns were on hand to answer questions. The debate was chaired by Rob Edwards and panelists included; Claire Baker MSP, Tavish Scott MSP, Cllr Maggie Chapman and Richard Lochhead MSP. See our Twitter wall @ScotLINK for a running commentary of the evening and continue using the hashtag #GreenerIndyRef to keep the debate going!
Which constitutional campaign best meets the environment community’s aspirations for Scotland? The LINK Referendum Challenge spells our ten point vision for Scotland’s future and asks Better Together and the Yes Scotland campaigns how their plans will meet these aims best. Their responses are published below.
To read or download our full Referendum Challenge leaflet please click here
Green blueprints for Scotland’s future – Sunday Herald, October 6th 2013
Talking Point: A referendum challenge – Holyrood Magazine, October 23rd 2013
Climate change threat deepens as focus is on referendum – Third Force News Blog by Deborah Long, August 7th 2014
Scroll down for the full responses – or click on an aspiration that is of interest for speedy access.
We have entered a period where the constitution of Scotland and the United Kingdom is probably the major topic of political debate here in Scotland. As environmental non-government organisations, we are a part of civic Scotland, and wish to make our contribution to this debate. In our view, the constitutional question should not be seen in isolation, however, from the substantive economic, social and environmental issues that are central to Scotland’s future.
We face many pressing and urgent issues of substance, such as combating climate change and the loss of biodiversity, and people (including many of our members) want to know how the constitutional solutions on offer will make a real difference in tackling these and similar major issues. We will continue to pursue environmental improvement whatever our constitutional arrangements are, but we hope that the campaigns can provide arguments as to why their position offers the greatest hope of achieving sustainability.
We recognise that the constitutional issue is of great importance, that it has come to a decision point, and that there is going to be a referendum within the next few years. We cannot and do not seek to hide from this, or to change it – but we want a large part of the debate to concentrate on the substantive outcomes of either continuity or the options for change.
Our contribution is to have drawn up this statement of the ideas Scotland’s environmental non-government organisations think are essential for our future. We want to investigate which constitutional option will best deliver these aspirations. We are publishing our vision here – and seeking a detailed explanation from the advocates of each competing constitutional option as to why their option would deliver best against our statement of aspirations.
Scottish Environment LINK’s Referendum Challenge is an important contribution to the debate on Scotland’s future and we welcome the opportunity to respond.
On the 18 September 2014, we will make the single most important decision our country has faced in over 300 years. We face a choice between two very different paths: continuing the success of devolution within the United Kingdom or ending devolution and separating from our friends, family and neighbours in the
rest of the UK.
The debate about Scotland’s future affords us an exciting opportunity to discuss how we build a better Scotland and the kind of nation we want to be in the future.
Achieving the aspirations outlined in Scottish Environment LINK’s Referendum Challenge demand multiple and complex solutions. Be it tackling climate change, loss of biodiversity or resource depletion; we believe the answers to these global challenges do not lie in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK, but in the decisions of governments, Parliaments and people, what they value and
how they deliver. Governments and political parties can adopt policies which safeguard or damage the environment, be it devolved
We believe that the best way to protect our environment and deliver a greener, more sustainable Scotland is by working together, in partnership, at every level. We believe power should be exercised where it can best deliver. For example, in tackling climate change there is a role for international treaties, the EU, the UK,
the Scottish Parliament, local government, and individual action.
Scotland currently benefits from the best of both worlds: a devolved settlement with powers and responsibility shared between the UK and Scottish Parliament, together with a strong influence in Europe. Since devolution, Scotland has demonstrated that this is a responsive and flexible arrangement. For example, powers have developed around marine planning to best respond to the challenges we face in Scotland and throughout the UK. We believe that the best way to take on the challenges we face in future is through the flexibility and partnership of the devolution, not separation.
The Scottish Parliament, regardless of which parties are in power, has shown itself to have a commitment to Scotland’s environment. We can always do more, and there will continue to be debates over how Scotland can become
more sustainable in future, but the challenges we face demand political will, not separation.
In short, we believe the challenge of delivering a greener, more sustainable future is best tackled by working together in partnership at every level – not just here in Scotland – but globally – to deliver a greener, more suitable future for all.
Yes Scotland is the short-life organisation working to secure a Yes vote at the referendum on Scottish independence to be held on Thursday 18 September 2014. It is a cross-party and no-party organisation and does not develop its own policy. It does, however, aim to ensure that, through a Yes vote, the people
of Scotland can enjoy a wide-ranging policy debate on the future of our country at the first elections to an independent Scottish Parliament in 2016. By way of contrast, the Westminster Parliamentary election to be held in 2015 will offer the people of Scotland little choice, a limited debate, and even less influence.
The referendum on Scottish independence is fundamentally about ‘powers’ – where we think Scotland should be governed from and what level of self-determination and decision-making it should have. The 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election will be about ‘political parties’ and their ‘policies’ – who will govern us and what they will aim to do and deliver if elected.
The independence referendum will be a choice between two futures. LINK member organisations will need to decide whether their common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society is more likely to be achieved through Scotland remaining part of the current political and economic union of the United Kingdom, or through Scotland taking on the enhanced powers and responsibilities of an independent country.
Yes Scotland agrees with Scottish Environment LINK, that Scotland’s constitutional future should not be debated in isolation from the social and environment issues affecting Scotland’s future. One of the principal attractions of Scottish independence is that it will offer the opportunity to articulate a long-term
vision for Scotland as a country, and for Scottish society. Scottish independence can be a new beginning, allowing the people of Scotland a wider range of options and opportunities than they have at present, and that can become the catalyst for meaningful, positive, transformational change.
We believe that the current devolution settlement limits what LINK members can achieve as organisations promoting positive change. It is clear that LINK members have made the most of the limited opportunities that have been available to them through devolution and the reinstatement of the Scottish Parliament, but it is also clear that LINK members (and Scotland) would benefit from being able to gain further influence on a wider spectrum of policy areas, many of which remain distant to us all and difficult to influence. Yes Scotland believes this enhanced influence will only be guaranteed through a Yes vote for Scottish independence.
A brief comparison of progress before and after devolution shows that successive Scottish governments have utilised new powers for positive change, and that LINK member organisations have enjoyed considerable success in promoting sustainability and influencing Scottish outcomes since devolution.
From renewable energy to land reform, climate change to the marine environment, where Scotland has been allowed to have control over related and relevant policy, it has delivered progressive and positive change for the better – change that is unlikely to have happened without devolution.
The logical extension of this is that an independent Scotland, with complete control over all policy areas, is likely to continue to deliver progressive and positive change across all policy areas. Yes Scotland believes that the opportunities that arise when Scotland gains the full range of economic and political powers are substantial, and that this can only lead to a more holistic and joined-up approach to tackling Scotland’s environmental, social and economic challenges, irrespective of the party or parties that form any postindependence
Those who support Yes Scotland and its aim are united by the belief that independence can deliver a better, fairer and more democratic Scotland. Within those supporters there are a wide range differing views on specific issues. For example, there are those who support the exploitation of the remaining oil in the North Sea to support the Scottish economy and establish a Scottish ‘oil fund’. There are also those who believe that the climate change impact of doing so would be disastrous and that Scotland’s remaining fossil fuel reserves should not be exploited. Both of these very different approaches could be taken with the
increased autonomy and democracy that will come with Scottish independence. The key thing to note is that the decision to do one thing or another (or neither) will lie with the people of Scotland after a Yes vote for independence, not with others elsewhere as it does at present and will continue to do as a result of a
We are confident that better decisions will be made about and for Scotland when those decisions are made by the people who live and work here – those who have the greatest stake. Scotland’s small scale and fresher institutions mean that its political culture is already more intimate and arguably more open than at UK level. It is clear that environmental and social voices are heard more readily by Scotland’s more local and more-interested decision-makers, and consequentially those voices have more influence. When Scotland gains full economic and political powers through independence, these voices will continue to be heard from day one as new Scottish institutions and laws are formed, and they will have greater influence across the spectrum of policy areas.
A sound environment underpins and supports a strong economy. Many of the existing strengths in Scotland’s economy are ones that rely on, or relate to, the sustainability of Scotland’s environment, for example tourism, food and drink and renewable energy. This context means that the issue of sustainability will be ever more important in the future, and that a raft of opportunities will exist for an independent Scotland to improve its action and leadership in this area. Scotland’s economy and people will only flourish if we protect, conserve and enhance our environment and Scottish independence will allow us this opportunity.
We want to live in a Scotland where economic, social and environmental success is equally valued – and where they all are measured in terms of their long-term sustainability and our living within environmental limits.
We want to escape from the position where economic ‘growth’ is given primacy. We want our prosperity to be related to the common wealth of the planet we live on.
Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, is a strong, proud and successful country.
While performance is often measured purely in economic terms, the success of our country cannot be measured in pounds and pence alone.
As well as more traditional methods, such as GDP, we have a series of measures which recognise our longer term environmental and social progress.
For example, Oxfam Scotland’s Humankind Index (HKI) provides one measure of Scotland’s prosperity that goes beyond purely financial and economic values.
The HKI aims to measure what makes a good life by including factors including social relations, health, skills, and physical environment. HKI and other measurements are available and have been pursued internationally with varied success.
Oxfam Scotland’s HKI work is attracting international attention and we can be proud that this leadership is being displayed in Scotland today. This in itself is evidence that separation is no requirement for the application of new, challenging metrics that measure the broad health and happiness of our nation.
The proof of success of such innovations will always be the political change they help to deliver. It is up to the devolved Scottish Government to decide how much importance should be applied to these metrics and up to the Scottish people to assess whether their government is meeting its commitments.
A devolved Scotland within the United Kingdom can continue to lead the way in improving how we measure the success of our country, including our progress towards greater sustainable development and economic growth.
There is a clear desire from across the Scottish political landscape to do more in this regard than we currently have the powers to deliver. While successive Scottish Governments have innovated in this area since devolution, the potential for further progress is limited by the devolution settlement.
The current Scottish Government has included a broad range of measured national outcomes and indicators in the National Performance Framework, which has been widely recognised beyond Scotland as a pioneering approach. Similar innovation has not been delivered at Westminster.
Measuring the success of our society in different ways must be more than an ‘academic exercise’. The Scottish Government currently has no macro-economic powers and can do very little to pursue a fundamentally different economic strategy from the current failed model. If LINK members are agreed that fundamental economic change is required, then (changes in) measurement must lead to action, and action on the scale required is simply not possible under the current devolution settlement.
With the increased powers of independence allowing Scotland to control all policy areas, it will be possible to take a more holistic and Scotland-focused view of how we measure the success of our society. Better measurement will allow us to further explore how we can measure what really matters to Scottish people. Remaining in the UK will lock Scotland into the current failed economic model and the inaction and stagnation currently offered by the status quo.
Many interesting ideas exist for alternative ways to measure societal progress, but these are matters for the public and political parties to debate as specific policy proposals.
We want to live in a Scotland where education reconciles economic, social and environmental issues.
We want all levels of education and lifelong learning in Scotland to underline the importance of our society, economy and environment, locally and globally, as part of the curriculum and in practice.
Scotland is already becoming a leading light when it comes to education and research in sustainability. Around 3,400 of our schools participate in the Eco-Schools programme, while a United Nations Centre of Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development is being established in Edinburgh, along with the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation. There are many more examples of Scotland leading in this area.
Education policy is already devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Independence will not change this, but the full economic powers of Scottish independence will give future Scottish Governments more control over levels of investment in education, and complete control across the policy spectrum will allow Scotland to integrate and cross-cut educational activities into other policy areas. This integrated approach will allow wider social and environmental concerns to inform and ‘run-through’ the education sector, but the decision on whether and how to do so would be a matter for a future Scottish Government.
Scotland is a friendly, welcoming, outward-looking nation. In an increasingly interconnected and globalised world, many of our young people consider themselves to be ‘citizens of the world’.
Engaging young people in issues of global economic, social and environmental responsibility and being part of something bigger, sits naturally alongside remaining part of the UK. In equipping our young people to be good global citizens we should focus on looking out beyond borders, not throwing up new ones.
All levels of our education and lifelong learning system have an important role to play in equipping our future generations with the skills, knowledge, values and experience they need to ensure our country has an ever more positive impact on our environment.
Education policy is already devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which means action can – and is – being taken right now in Scotland to achieve this. The Eco-Schools programme, for example, is already successfully engaging young people in environmental, sustainability and global citizenship issues.
It is important that we continue to explore new ideas and debate what more we can be done to engage people of all ages in these important issues.
THREE – Where we are successfully tackling climate change, and using a precautionary approach to all development
We want to live in a Scotland where we are successfully tackling climate change, and using a precautionary approach to all development. We want to live in a world where average temperatures have been kept below dangerous levels and where Scotland has played a leading role in the delivery of this aim. We want to have learned from climate change, damage to the ozone layer, and other environmental near disasters, that we must take a precautionary approach to all economic, social and environmental development, and weigh the consequences of developments with great care.
The fact that the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act in 2009, setting world-leading climate change targets, is not only a great source of pride here in Scotland but has driven up the ambition of other countries around the world. However, such legislation is meaningless unless it is backed by real action.
The challenge we face now is to make meaningful progress on those targets.
Unfortunately, Scotland did not meet its target on carbon emission for the second consecutive year. It is the responsibility of government – regardless of constitutional arrangements or which party is in power– to get progress back on track.
Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), which seeks to ensure that the environmental effects of major development proposals are fully investigated, understood and taken into account before planning decisions are made, clearly have an important role to play. However, in order to be effective political will is required to ensure EIAs are rigorously applied.
More could be done right now to tackle climate change. For instance, powers over housing and transport are already devolved and stronger progress could be made on these now if the Scottish Government wished; our current constitutional set-up does not present barriers to progress in these important areas.
Scotland has immense renewable energy potential and the best way of unlocking that potential is through the economies of scale that come with a single, shared, British energy market.
In line with Scotland’s population, Scottish consumers contribute around one tenth of the cost of the green energy subsidy. However, because of Scotland’s immense potential and disproportionate number of renewable energy projects that are based here in Scotland, we receive around one third of total British investment.
Scotland and the rest of Great Britain both benefit hugely from spreading the cost of investing in green energy across the country’s 26 million households. It means not only do we benefit from this significant investment and all the green jobs this brings to Scotland, but everybody across Great Britain benefits from cheaper energy bills, a more secure energy supply, as well as helping the whole of our country reduce its carbon emissions.
The nationalists assert that Britain’s successful single energy market would continue after separation. However, if Scotland became independent it would be for the UK Government of the day to determine its own energy policies and in particular where it procures its energy from. There is nothing that would require England and Wales to buy energy from Scotland. The rest of the UK could simply opt to buy cheaper sources of energy from elsewhere – such as nuclear from France. The fact is, post-independence such commercial considerations would be just as important for the UK.
Finally, given land use planning decisions and the principles underlying them are already devolved to the Scottish Parliament whether a precautionary approach to development is adopted is a question of policy and political will, not constitutional change.
The Scottish Parliament has passed impressive climate change legislation including challenging carbon emissions reduction targets. The analogous legislation in the rest of the UK is less impressive.
Currently, Scotland is failing to meet its interim targets, which is in part due to the political choices that have been made in the Scottish Parliament, but also relates to the limitations of what it can do under the current devolution settlements and the structure of the UK economy.
While the political choices made in Scotland need to develop in order for these targets to be met, this is even more the case at UK level. There is currently no noticeable resurgence of climate denial in Scottish politics, as is clearly evident in other parts of the UK, and many of the structural economic factors driving climate change remain outwith Scotland’s control. In order to meet and exceed our climate change targets, we need both the political will and the power to act. Future elections will determine the former, but the independence referendum is about the latter.
Tackling climate change is an immense challenge, but Yes Scotland believes that with full economic and political powers, Scotland will have the ability to take a bolder and more holistic approach to, for example, decarbonisation and the transition to a low carbon economy. Control of energy policy and taxation and spending, for example, will allow the support of appropriately scaled and sited renewable energy developments and the development of carbon taxes, which are unlikely to come from any future Westminster Government in the short-to-medium term.
When decisions are taken more locally, they can be better considered and more responsive to local needs and circumstances. In terms of ensuring that future developments are sustainable, we believe that a yes vote would give an independent Scotland the opportunity to improve and further devolve this kind
of decision-making, however the decision on whether and how to do so would be a matter for a future Scottish Government and the adoption of a precautionary approach cannot be guaranteed either under independence or the status quo. It is, we believe, more likely under independence.
We want our natural and built environments to promote good health amongst the people of Scotland. We want threats to health prevented and a strong appreciation of the huge and diverse benefits to physical and mental health that come from an unpolluted, accessible, high-quality natural environment and a built environment that promotes activity and well-being.
Control over health and planning policy is already devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
There is still much to do to tackle Scotland’s health challenges. Scotland has fantastic ‘natural capital’ and we should use this to benefit the health of everyone. Our built environment – housing and transport in particular – need to be brought up to the standards we see in many of Europe’s successful small countries. The full economic powers that come with independence would give us both the ability and the responsibility for investing in this future. How exactly this would be achieved would be a matter for a future Scottish Government.
The Scottish Association for Mental Health has argued:
“The natural world is critically important to our health, wellbeing and economic prosperity. In particular, the natural environment can be used to great effect to improve Scotland’s mental health.”
By working together we can ensure that our built environment promotes good health amongst the people of Scotland. Scotland is not held back in its ability to do so because of our constitutional set-up – we already have control over planning and building standards. The important question is how these powers are best calibrated.
Indeed, progress is being made right now. The Woods In and Around Towns (WIAT) programme, for example, in its first six years has created 1,400 hectares of new woodland and helped more than 610,000 people gain access to their local woodland.
As for our built environment, modern, sympathetic developments with integrated green spaces and clean air are possible within Scotland, when our government, local authorities and local communities promote and support new ways of living.
We want to live in a Scotland where – at the same time – people enjoy and explore the world around them; carefully utilise the riches and benefits of the land, sea and air; and protect and enhance the ecosystem we share with all other forms of life.
Ensuring the sustainable use of our land, seas and air demand coordinated local, national and international action.
Scotland’s diverse countryside and landscapes are important for their environmental value, but important for the positive contribution they made to the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of our country. With powers over the environment, agriculture and forest already devolved, it is political will that is required to use these powers in innovative ways here in Scotland to protect and enhance the ecosystem we share with all other forms of life.
Air pollution can damage our health, accumulate in our food chain and impact on species diversity and on our land and marine life. It is for this reason that air quality, specifically air pollution, has to be tackled at every level. It is a challenge which necessitates not only action by the EU, the UK Government, the Scottish Government and our Local Authorities but individual action and international agreement too.
The Scottish Parliament is able to take steps to protect and safeguard our marine biodiversity through Marine Protected Areas (MPA). The sustainability of marine and costal wildlife and ecosystems should be at the heart of any MPA proposals whilst ensuring that economic benefits to coastal communities, through tourism for example, can be maximised. The Scottish Government currently has the powers to ensure that MPAs are developed through extensive and genuine consultation with stakeholders and that boundaries are based on the best possible scientific evidence. The Scottish Government also has the powers to ensure that these areas are regularly reviewed to realise the full benefits of MPAs. Scottish Environment LINK has previously called for MPAs to be an ecologically coherent network incorporating the principles of replications, representativeness, connectivity and viability; the powers currently held by the Scottish Parliament could achieve this.
Land reform and land use have been high on the agenda since devolution, with the Scottish Parliament delivering a range of positive measures since1999, including the abolition of feudal tenure, crofting reform, the right to roam, a community right to buy for rural land and the creation of National Parks. It is
unlikely that any of this progress would have been made without the handing of the relevant powers and responsibilities to Scotland through devolution, which allowed a more ‘Scottish’ view to be taken into account and local interests to be represented.
The constitutional debate should be an opportunity to look afresh at how we can best govern ownership, access, and use of Scotland’s land, seabed and airspace especially with full control over our tax system. There is a growing argument for a wholesale re-visit of who owns Scotland and what they do with that land,
and independence would allow us the opportunity to visit that debate and tackle the challenges created by, for example, overseas ownership of large estates and the assets of The Crown Estate.
With full economic and political powers, future Scottish Governments would be able to treat Scotland as a ‘single unit’ – a political, geographical and ecological entity over which they will have full control, which could lead to a new approach to the integration and coordination of the full range of policies that affect our land, seas and air. Remaining within the UK will leave these under the influence of a disparate variety of conflicting organisations.
We want a proper appreciation of the importance of all the species that share our land, sea and air. We want to see an end to species extinctions and the degradation of ecosystems at home and abroad and, instead, a concentration on the manifold benefits of protecting and enhancing the fullest possible biodiversity.
Since devolution, the Scottish Parliament has legislated for new protective designations for our most important and treasured habitats, including National Parks, Marine Protected Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The Scottish Parliament has also passed legislation covering a wide range of species,
habitats and ecosystem issues, such as wildlife crime, deer management, the conservation of seals, snaring, game birds, fur farming and wild salmon conservation.
Recent negative moves from Westminster in this area include the questionable culling of badgers, a new drive towards GM crops and the idea of ‘biodiversity offsetting’ to allow building on environmentally important sites.
We believe that independence would allow us the opportunity to go further than we have been able to so far. Independence will give us full control over the whole range of economic and political decisions that have an impact on our ecosystems. Two examples are, for example, control over military activity on land and in our seas, and the ability to set our own rules on animal testing, but there are many others. Again, what specific action is taken will depend on any future Scottish Government.
Biodiversity is the building block of our ecosystems and something that we must treasure and take action to protect, not just here in Scotland but throughout the world.
Globally we are all faced with the challenge of halting the unprecedented decline of our biodiversity.
With thousands of species at risk from extinction, the scale of the global challenge we face could not be clearer. However, we cannot face up to that challenge alone. Progress can only be achieved if concerted action is taken by countries around the world.
It is by working together, as part of the United Kingdom with an influential voice in Europe and the world, that we are best able to tackle the loss of biodiversity.
We want to see real subsidiarity, where decisions are taken at the nearest appropriate and practical level, and where communities of place and interest can assess the long-term economic, social and environmental consequences for their lives and the lives of future generations before decisions are made.
Since devolution in 1999, the Scottish Parliament has helped in moving decision making closer to the people of Scotland. Our Parliament is recognised as transparent, open and accessible to the people of Scotland.
Through the introduction of legislation on issues such as land reform, our Parliament has taken opportunities to increase local decision making and empowered local communities. However, not all policy decisions taken by Holyrood have shifted power closer to the people of Scotland. It would therefore be false to claim that simply devolving further powers would automatically result in greater power in local communities. Again, this is an issue about political will – not constitutional change.
We believe the debate about Scotland’s future should be driven by where power can be best exercised to deliver for the people of Scotland – not a power grab from the UK Parliament to the Scottish Parliament. Power should not simply be transferred from one place to another for the sake of it, but should be based on a rational, evidence-based case of where power can make the greatest difference. For instance, are there powers currently held by the Scottish Parliament that could be better deployed and lead to better outcomes for Scots if devolved to local authorities or devolved even further down our local communities?
Devolution means we can have the best of both worlds: significant powers here in Scotland, while also benefiting from the strength, security and influence being part of the UK brings. We now face two paths: continuing the success of devolution within the United Kingdom or ending devolution and separating from the rest of the UK for good.
With so many of the challenges we face being global in nature, much domestic legislation – particularly on environmental issues – comes from European directives. The influence and clout Scotland benefits from as part of the UK – one of the largest EU member states – is therefore crucial in this regard.
Another benefit of devolution is its flexibility and its ability to adapt and evolve over time. Devolution has allowed all three of the pro-UK Better Together parties to come together to pass significant further powers to the Scottish Parliament – and all without the need for a referendum. The Scotland Act (2012) represents the biggest transfer of financial power to Scotland in more than 300 years, including significant further tax and borrowing powers.
Finally, it is important to note that voting to reject independence does not mean rejecting further change. By voting to keep our United Kingdom together, we open up the opportunity to further develop and enhance devolution. Indeed, all three pro-UK Better Together parties have all made clear that they support further devolution and intend to (or have already) set out detailed plans on their proposals. That is healthy for our democracy and once again highlights how devolution can be responsive to our needs.
The question of democracy is at the core of Yes Scotland’s arguments for independence. For too long, Scottish MPs have voted overwhelmingly against unpopular policies at Westminster that have then been imposed on Scotland anyway, most recently, for example, the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the privatisation of the Royal Mail. Independence gives Scotland the chance to take full responsibility for the decisions that affect our people and our environment. It will also make the votes of the people of Scotland count more often, giving them improved influence over who governs us and what they do in government.
There is some consensus among proponents of independence that a written constitution would be valuable for a new, modern state. The potential exists for the status of Scotland’s environment and natural resources to be recognised in such a constitution. Iceland’s draft constitution (Articles 33-36) attempts to enshrine a number of fundamental rights and principles that put protection of the environment on a constitutional footing. An independent Scotland could follow suit. This could never be achieved with a No vote.
Without independence, Scotland will remain part of the UK, an entity without a codified constitution, governed by an archaic approach based on an incoherent set of laws that have never been collectively reviewed. Independence will bring decision-making closer to the people of Scotland, and will allow them to take decisions over all parts of their lives and society. It will go a great way to tackling the ‘democratic deficit’ that currently exists and could act as a means to re-engage more people with the decision-making process.
By resolving the fundamental question of whether more powers should come from Westminster to Scotland, the space is then opened up for an exciting discussion on how those powers can be spread throughout different levels of governance in our country. Many different options exist, but some have talked of a ‘double-devolution’ of power, with a new settlement for local councils and island communities, for example.
We want to live in a country where landscape, both immediate and distant, is seen as a vital asset for every citizen, and a nurturing feature for all of society. We want Scotland’s rich cultural heritage to be protected and nurtured within such a landscape.
Independence means tailor-made action to suit Scotland’s unique landscapes – coastal machair, sea lochs, mountains and peat bogs to name but a few. The issues that tend to dominate Westminster-led debate are about flooding and coastal erosion in the south of England. These are hugely important issues for
those communities, but an independent Scotland would allow us to focus attention and funding on the specific, urgent and long-term challenges facing the Scottish environment and historic and ancient built environment.
Large parts of central Scotland have a landscape with a legacy from a more industrial past. Full economic powers and the ability to tax land differently following independence could create greater opportunities for restoration and revival of these landscapes and the communities living around them.
Independence would offer Scotland a clear point at which to articulate a long-term vision for our country. This could be an opportunity to resolve some of the long-standing tensions within environmental debate, such as the impact of renewable developments on our landscape. The specific approach to doing so would be a matter for a future Scottish Government.
Scotland has a distinct and unique cultural heritage – one that is renowned and celebrated worldwide. Years of disinterest and neglect from successive Westminster governments have failed to dampen down the Scottish people’s sense of ‘Scottishness’ and their ‘Scottish identity’, in fact they have, if anything, had the opposite effect, with a growing number of Scots feeling that they are neither understood nor well represented by the UK Government at Westminster.
The independence debate has formed a locus around which Scotland’s artistic and cultural communities have coalesced, as is shown by the existence and work of organisations such as National Collective and TradYes, as well as the large number of artists and creatives from all parts of the Scottish cultural spectrum who are engaged with the debate, supporting a Yes vote, and promoting a positive vision for an independent Scotland in which Scottish culture, including the Gaelic culture, is better resourced and promoted as part of the ‘whole’ of an independent nation
Scotland has unparalleled natural and cultural heritage. By conserving our landscapes, ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources and promoting economic and social development we can ensure future generations of Scots, visitors from the rest of the UK and around the globe can continue to enjoy our stunning landscapes.
Our attachment to our iconic landscapes, so important to our identity, has not been lessened by being part of the United Kingdom. No one would sensibly claim that the passion we feel for our cultural heritage would either further flourish or be lessened by the outcome of the referendum in September 2014.
With natural and built heritage; the environment; agriculture, forestry and fishing; tourism and planning all areas of devolved responsibility, real progress can be made now to nurture our natural heritage. A prime example of such action is the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000. The cultural strategy pursued by the Scottish Government is another.
Once again, this is an area where progress is dependent on political will not constitutional change.
We want the methods and processes of government at all levels in Scotland to be open and properly transparent and, as a matter of course, to include genuine representatives of our communities of place and interest in all political decision-making.
The Scottish Parliament is recognised internationally as a modern Parliament which is participative, transparent, and inclusive.
The right of access to information is a key tool in empowering people – be it individuals, organisations or the media – to hold our public bodies to account.
Freedom of information legislation has undoubtedly helped increase transparency in the administration of public services in Scotland. First introduced back in 2002, freedom of information is now rightly considered an essential part of a modern, open democracy. We can be proud that, when introduced, the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act was more demanding than the UK legislation. The 2013 Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Act – which strengthens provisions of the earlier legislation – highlights again our ability to take action to enhance and develop laws in important devolved areas such as this.
However, we are concerned that the application of the Act is not being taken seriously enough by the Scottish Government. Extracting information has become increasingly challenging in recent years, demonstrated by the increase in appeals relating to the Scottish Government increasing to 28% in 2011/12, from 15% the previous year. The SNP Government has also been involved in a number of high profile court cases to suppress the release of information – most notably in relation to a separate Scotland’s membership of the EU.
Openness and public participation in our democracy is an issue that requires political will to drive action, not constitutional change. Devolution means we can and should continue to consider new ways of engaging with the public and take action to ensure our parliament and public services remain as open and transparent as possible.
It is clear to see that the Scottish Parliament has been more open, approachable and accountable than Westminster, not least through Holyrood’s innovative Public Petitions Committee, which in an independent Scotland would have a remit extended in parallel with the extension of the Scottish Parliament’s powers
Having a Scottish Government, with full powers, elected by people in Scotland, will ensure that people and communities are closer to their representatives in every sense, and provide more direct access to active politics than a distant and disinterested, Westminster-based government and the UK Parliament does.
This would have a positive effect on people’s likelihood to get involved in political activity at all levels. The status quo leaves the power in London, hundreds of miles away, with politicians that often do not have Scotland’s best interests to the fore.
We want a Scotland that is outward looking, internationalist, co-operative and ready to learn from other nations, societies, and states – and ready to share our ideas, successes, and the lessons from our mistakes, with the rest of the world. We want Scotland to implement international obligations properly, and our attitudes and behaviours to be set in full awareness of the global ecological impact of our lives and activities.
With independence, Scotland would be able to freely represent itself and cooperate with other countries as a new member of many international institutions, including conservation bodies such as CITES (endangered species), the IUCN (nature conservation), the IWC (whaling) and within the UNFCCC process (climate).
At present, Scotland’s unique voice often goes unheard or ignored. Scotland is poorly represented by politicians from other parts of the UK who have little understanding of the Scottish context and situation and little interest in working on its behalf. This has been seen in fisheries and agriculture negotiations in Europe for many years now, where the needs of other parts of the UK have taken precedence over Scottish concerns. Independence will give us the opportunity to negotiate a new deal for Scotland’s communities, especially those in rural and coastal areas who rely on agriculture and fisheries for their income and livelihoods.
An independent Scotland would be able to fully represent its own unique circumstances and interests within the forums and institutions of the European Union. Instead of Scotland being one of the many competing interests for Westminster Ministers in EU negotiations, we would put our own arguments on the table, and we would have the kind of enhanced European Parliament delegation that other smaller countries in the EU already enjoy, plus Scottish nominees to the European Commission.
There is a broad consensus in Scotland that we no longer want to play host to nuclear weapons. Independence is the only option that gives Scotland the opportunity of achieving this long sought-after aim in the short-to-medium-term, bringing a ‘peace dividend’ worth hundreds of millions of pounds each year
to be spent on peaceful and social alternatives. There is real potential for disarmament in Scotland to spark a global shift towards ending one of the biggest threats to both people and to the planet, but this can only even begin to happen with a Yes vote.
Through independence, Scotland would gain full control over international development policy. This is currently reserved to Westminster, although the Scottish Government does control a modest international development fund to support UK work, particularly in Malawi. It is worth noting that the current Scottish Government has already indicated that an independent Scotland would easily meet UN targets on development spending.
We believe an invigorated, independent Scotland would engage on the world stage as an equal nation. It would be able to work internationally to share Scottish environmental expertise, but also learn from its overseas counterparts and adapt and implement examples of best practice from elsewhere.
While Scotland sets its own targets and policies on carbon emissions and renewables, action to tackle an issue as profound as climate change demands global action. Our historic climate change legislation explicitly recognises the need for action on an international basis, not just as a collective end of lowering global emissions but also as a collective means of achieving this. In a globalised economy only carefully balanced incentives and market structuring will prevent negligent carbon policies resulting in profitable rewards for some states. Scotland’s carbon targets are therefore contingent on EU targets. Within the UK, Scotland can yield soft power of moral leadership and match it with the political clout at the EU table.
Being part of a strong and powerful United Kingdom means that we not only have a seat at the top table in Europe, but we have the influence and clout to make a difference and promote our ideas on how to protect and improve the environment. The size, strength and stability of the UK is a huge advantage on the EU stage and is yet another positive reason why Scotland is better together as part of the United Kingdom. The last thing we should be doing is weakening our voice or creating instability and uncertainty.
Many of the examples in the above sections have come directly from EU or UK initiatives or legislation, while others have been developed in Scotland and then replicated in the rest of the UK or on an international level. We believe that as part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has been and will continue to punch above its weight. The ability to shape the United Kingdom as well as Scotland can have profound effects on more than just those within our own borders – inspiring action all around the world.
As WWF have pointed out, both the UK Climate Change Act 2008 and the Scottish Climate Change Act 2009 have attracted attention from other countries looking to learn from and build on our experience, including Mexico (which last year introduced its own comprehensive national climate legislation), Australia, Denmark and China. We want to see both Scotland and the UK continue to play this crucially important role.
Some other organisations, groups or campaign who are equally interested or concerned in the constitutional debate have voluntarily risen to our Referendum Challenge and we have listed these here.