The Scottish government has set a date of October 2023 for a second independence referendum. In a forward to a series of papers, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has begun to set out the arguments in favour of independence for Scotland.
Since May last year, the Scottish Parliament has had a clear majority of Members who are in favour of independence and committed to giving the people of Scotland that choice in a referendum.
The Scottish Government is determined that the choice people make on independence will be an informed one.
To that end, this is the first in a series of Building a New Scotland papers designed to contribute to a full, frank and constructive debate on Scotland’s future.
Independence in itself does not guarantee success for any country. For Scotland, the aspiration of a wealthier, fairer and more successful country will depend on democratic decisions made post-independence and the good stewardship of governments elected.
But the point is this: in an independent Scotland, crucial decision-making power will rest with the people who live here – not with Westminster governments that do not command the support of people in Scotland, and which pursue policies, for example, Brexit, that are deeply damaging to Scotland’s interests.
As well as setting out the Scottish Government’s view of the opportunities of independence and how the greater powers that it entails could be used to make Scotland wealthier, happier and fairer (recognising that others will have different and equally valid ideas), this series of papers will answer key questions about the transition to independence and the infrastructure that will be required for the effective governance of an independent country.
Of course, with regard to that latter point, it is worth noting that Scotland has already come a long way since 2014. A great deal of nation building has been done in the years since the last referendum. For example, in Revenue Scotland, we now have our own tax agency, and in Social Security Scotland, our own social security agency. We also have the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission and the Scottish National Investment Bank. In other words, substantial parts of the institutional infrastructure that an independent country would need, and which did not exist in 2014, are now in place.
The series of papers that will be published in the months ahead will set out details on all of the key issues that people will want to be informed about.
However, any case for change must inevitably begin with an analysis of the ‘status quo’.
Has Scotland’s position as part of the UK allowed us to reach our full potential – and will it do so in future, especially now that the UK is outside the EU?
The analysis put forward in this paper, comparing the economic and social performance of the UK (and therefore Scotland within it) to a number of comparator countries suggests – overwhelmingly – that independent countries of Scotland’s size do better.
This poses fundamental questions for everyone who has the highest ambition for Scotland.
Why are neighbouring independent countries of Scotland’s size wealthier, happier and fairer than the UK?
Why do they, and indeed other countries in north-west Europe regardless of size, frequently out- perform the UK across a range of key measures that determine well-being?
And, fundamentally, if these countries can be successful, why not an independent Scotland, given the abundance of talent, resources and natural advantages we possess?
It seems clear from the evidence in this paper that the status quo is not allowing Scotland to fulfil our potential, and that the UK economic model, and Westminster decision-making, are holding us back.
It follows that if the status quo is not working, we should ask how best to fix it.
It is hard to conceive that being part of a UK outside the EU – and with a UK government acting to limit, not expand, our Parliament’s economic autonomy – will help Scotland close the gaps in performance set out here.
What this – and the papers that follow – will seek to do is to demonstrate that becoming an independent country, while forging a close and constructive partnership with the rest of the UK and with our fellow Europeans, can and will help Scotland match the performance of our neighbours and fulfil our potential.
This is not an abstract issue – it is about the prosperity, earnings, opportunities and wellbeing of everyone in Scotland, now and for generations to come.
We are a brilliant country in so many ways – but a glance at many of our European neighbours tells us we can do better. That should excite and inspire us. But first we must equip ourselves with the powers of independence that they already possess.
In this first paper, the Scottish Government presents key evidence to support the informed, inclusive debate that people in Scotland deserve. We look forward to hearing others’ views as we work together to build the better Scotland we know is possible.