HAVING spoken to countless people across the country about independence, one thing that comes up time after time is the desire to rid Scotland of its inequalities.

Many see independence as the only route towards a fairer and more equal society. This is a view shared by Susan, who works in social housing and Graeme, an architect. They live in Edinburgh’s New Town.

I went to speak to them about their reasons for supporting independence, how the middle class may be shifting towards the idea of self-determination and how the campaign for independence needs to unite people across the political and class spectrums.

Susan has witnessed first-hand the effects of poverty and cuts to frontline services. She said: “I see people every day who are struggling to get by. Something bad happens in their life, they get into debt, and the services they need either aren’t there or can’t cope with demand.”

In my short journey from Waverley Station to Susan and Graeme’s flat, Scotland’s poverty inequality exposes itself all too quickly.

On a freezing and blustery George Street, the names of boutique shops are written in gold leaf, leather gloved hands clutch designer handbags while, with only eyes visible through layer upon layer of clothing, the destitute beg for money or scrounge for morsels of tobacco in rubbish bins. Where the layers of clothing insulate those on the streets, wealth insulates many from the reality of poverty in Scotland.

It’s been almost two decades since I sat in a high-school modern studies class and learned about the 10-year difference in life expectancy between Bearsden and Drumchapel, areas separated by a small park and a canyon of inequality.

Figures from the Poverty and Inequality Commission show that in 2015-16 men in the most deprived areas of Scotland were expected to live 26 fewer years in good health than those in the least deprived areas and were expected to die 13 years earlier.

This is Scotland. This is the year 2020. We are the most educated country in Europe, we have a wealth of resources and still poverty inequality persists.

However, there are those, like Graeme and Susan who realise that the middle class need to waken up to inequalities in Scotland and see independence as the only way to create a fairer society.

Graeme looks to independence as means to tackling poverty inequalities: “The Westminster Government is not fit for a western society and consistently fails people on a number of levels. We need a more intelligent form of capitalism that is more just for society and can close the gap between rich and poor."

In Scotland, child poverty fell by 13% between 2000-01 and

2011-12, but has started to increase again. Graeme argues that things could be much worse were it not for devolution: “I think we’ve been protected somewhat from the worst of austerity here in Scotland, but that can only continue for so long”.

Susan recognises the need for change: “You see so many people sleeping rough or begging on the streets, there’s a housing crisis …things are not working the way they are now. Something needs to change.”

Susan and Graeme are in a minority when it comes to support for independence, a YouGov poll shows that only 41% of middle-class people voted for independence in 2014.

Everyone has a unique journey to supporting independence, for Susan and Graeme it was a combination of the campaign for devolution and the Iraq war. Graeme remembers the campaign in the late 1990s: “I was a Labour Party member and we campaigned for devolution. Policies such as the poll tax set Scottish people against Westminster and paved the way for devolution.

“However, after Blair took us to war with Iraq, everything changed. The SNP came out against the war. Slowly my allegiances changed and I began to see independence as the best route forward for Scotland.”

Susan recognises that many people in her peer group are now changing their minds about independence, with Brexit being the most significant factor in shifting opinion.

She said: “One of our neighbours was staunchly against independence but that’s changed after Brexit. She says she would now vote for independence and this is the same story for a lot of my friends. Leaving the EU has been a real game-changer among the people I know.”

Graeme added: “People are really scared about what’s going to happen with Brexit. I’ve spoken to clients who are worried they’re not going to be able to get the staff they need to sustain their businesses.”

When it comes to campaigning for independence, Susan feels that “people need and want to have conversations about Scotland’s future”, and this has to happen away from party politics.

“When we were campaigning for devolution is was a cross-party campaign, and everyone came together over the issue. We need that again with independence, regardless of what party you vote for, people need to come together and make the case for independence.

“We are in a climate crisis, we have massive inequalities, people are becoming disillusioned with politics and politicians, it’s so important that within our friendship groups and with colleagues that we have conversations about Scotland’s future.”

For many the case for independence comes back to the inequalities we see in society and having to take responsibility for this.

Independence isn’t the answer to every problem, but an opportunity to tackle the issues that acutely affect Scotland. Grasping this opportunity requires everyone to get involved in discussions, debates and conversations about the Scotland we want to be.

Voices for Scotland is using this column to provide a platform for stories about your journey to supporting independence. If you’d like to be involved please email info@voicesforscotland.scot or visit www.voicesforscotland.scot.