The National:

WE are fast approaching the crossroads at which we must choose the best direction to take if we are to build a fairer, greener society which works for all of the people of Scotland.

The Social Justice and Fairness Commission (SJFC) recognised earlier this year that Scotland can’t build that fairer and more equal country within the UK while decisions on things like social security and other support mechanisms remain largely in the hands of Westminster.

In recovering from the pandemic, we face a choice of how we want to build back and recover. The Tories have already made it abundantly clear their version of recovery will be built on the backs of the most vulnerable in society. They also have form for this. After the financial crash a decade ago, we suffered Tory austerity. Scotland cannot afford another 10 years of Tory cuts.

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We are already witnessing perfect illustrations of Scotland’s tale of two governments. At the end of September, we face the prospect of Universal Credit being cut, one of the biggest cuts to social security in living memory. There seems no prospect that the Tories might yet U-turn on this decision.

Considering that more than 170,000 people in Scotland on Universal Credit are in work, this will hit thousands of working families, with the potential to plunge 20,000 children into poverty. Coupled with the winding down of the furlough scheme, sky-rocketing energy bills and National Insurance being hiked, thousands of the most vulnerable in Scotland are facing a devastating squeeze on household incomes at a time when they need support the most.

The Scottish Government, meanwhile, continues to build a social security system built on fairness, dignity and respect. But it does this with one hand tied behind its back as we continually mitigate the impact of devastating austerity policies from Westminster.

The National: David Cameron's Tory government imposed austerity on the UKDavid Cameron's Tory government imposed austerity on the UK

Since its inception, Social Security Scotland has introduced support that has been described as "game-changing" by charities, such as the Scottish Child Payment, Best Start Grant and the Young Carer Grant.

However, the Scottish Government cannot exist purely to mitigate cruel policies implemented elsewhere. We must be able to forge our own path and build a social security system safety net built on the foundations of empathy and fairness. With independence we can re-write our social contract and develop policy that works with the people, for the people.

In the SNP’s election manifesto, we made a commitment to begin work on a Minimum Income Guarantee, but with the powers of independence we can take that further and introduce a Universal Basic Income to ensure that no one falls below an acceptable standard of living.

The SJFC report also recommends several community changing policies that we can implement in an independent Scotland, such as enshrining the right to a home and ensuring we have universal services that work for everyone at the point of need.

Independence not only allows us to introduce a true social security safety net but, as recognised in the SJFC report, it would allow the constitutional ceiling to be lifted on areas such as social care and housing.

Although some areas are currently devolved - and the SNP has an excellent record on homebuilding and radical plans to introduce a National Care Service - there is still a limit on what we can do in Scotland because social security and tax is still largely reserved.

Every government across the world should be motivated by the same goals - to eradicate poverty, ensure children have the best start in life, guarantee the right to a home and to produce universal public services that work for everyone.

In an independent Scotland we can release Scotland from the shackles of a Westminster government motivated by cuts and instead create a fairer country and a better society for all our citizens.