"When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation."

These are the opening words to the American Declaration of Independence. Though they, in part, reflect the attitudes of the era in which they were written, there is no denying the eloquent truth of the words used by the learned men who drafted it. It is beholden to Scots who favour independence to explain why we should “dissolve the Political Bands” which have connected Scotland to England and, subsequently, the UK.

As we turn to this task, however, it is worth looking again at four words in this preamble: “separate and equal Station.” Scotland’s aspiration is not so new nor unusual. Winnie Ewing summed it up in the first of her two famous quotes of modern times when she said: “Stop the world. Scotland wants to get on.”

Scotland needs to be independent because it is perfectly normal for a country to want to be ruled by a government elected by its own people and for it to take its decisions on the future. When the United Nations was founded it had 51 members; it now has 193. There is no reason why Scotland should not take its place alongside the others.

Twenty years of devolution have shown how well Scotland can follow a different path from the other nations of the UK when it chooses to act independently within the constraints of devolution. This is not true solely of an SNP government. The Labour-Liberal Coalition introduced free personal care and the ban on smoking in public places. The SNP introduced minimum alcohol unit pricing and abolished tuition fees. Both the Coalition and SNP Governments resisted moves to extend the commercialisation of the NHS. During the pandemic, the SNP opted to use public sector expertise for Track and Trace rather than expensive and inefficient outsourcing to the private sector.

With this record there is no reason to be concerned that, if an independent Scottish Government were able to take decisions on matters currently excluded from Holyrood, these too would be different from the approach of Westminster. Instead, we might be proud if a Scottish Government chose to stick to its international commitments and refused to cut overseas aid. Or, if it dismantled a hostile environment for immigrants and implemented a policy on immigration that reflected Scotland’s needs.

The National: The Houses of Parliament are open again for public tours

This reference brings us to another success of the Scottish Government although it remains constrained by the devolution settlement. Amelia Gentleman, the journalist who did so much to expose the iniquities visited upon the Windrush Generation, points to an interesting parallel that says a great deal about the UK Government: “As the state became more hostile towards immigrants, cuts to disability payments, the freezing of benefits and a punitive process of welfare reforms were creating a parallel hostile environment for anyone who had previously relied on state support.”

Currently Scotland has limited powers over social security that amount to only 15 per cent of the UK social security budget. The Scottish Government has used some of its power to counter the worst effects of the UK Government’s policies e.g. by mitigating the bedroom tax. Even more commendable, but generally unrecognised, is the fact that the Scottish Government has established from scratch a Social Security agency. It has achieved all this while adopting a humane approach almost diametrically opposed to that of the UK Government. In his 2019 report, the UN Rapporteur on Poverty, Philip Alston, praised the work of the Scottish Government, saying “It has also used newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system, guided by the principles of dignity and social security as a human right and co-designed with claimants on the basis of evidence.” This is in contrast to Alston’s withering criticisms of the UK Government about which he said: “The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

The National:

UN Rapporteur on Poverty Philip Alston

Scotland needs independence so that it can implement its more humanitarian approach across the whole range of social security to support those in society who need its support.

Scotland needs independence to widen the political debate in Scotland. At present the domination of political discourse by the issue of independence means important matters are shelved. There might be good reason for this on the grounds of political expediency but it is restrictive. For example, the SNP shies away from tackling the important need to reform local government, to devolve power away from Holyrood closer to local communities (and, incidentally, remedy the Conservative gerrymandering of local authority boundaries in the 1990s). This task is seen as too difficult, with the risk of alienating support and diverting energy from the primary objective of gaining independence. Equally important, however, is the fact that a matter such as local authority structure is best settled in the context of an independent Scotland. We need independence to tackle the democratic governance of Scotland - root and branch.

I am focussing on the positive reasons why Scotland should be independent. It would be odd not to consider the alternative, however briefly. On this, I shall make three points. Firstly, Scotland needs independence to remedy a serious democratic deficit. Solutions to Scottish problems should be debated and addressed by parties in Scotland, who are fully accountable to the people of Scotland. In just over the past forty years, at no fewer than eight elections (out of eleven), the people of Scotland have decisively rejected at the polls the party that has gone on to form the government of the UK.

The National: David Cameron

Moreover, in 2014, ten hours after the polls closed for the independence referendum, David Cameron announced that the UK Government would introduce English Votes for English Laws, barring Scottish MPs from voting in Parliament on some matters. Despite the preceding months of political focus and debate in Scotland and the UK, there had been no hint of this. The ability of MPs from other UK nations voting on “English matters” was never raised in connection with members of the Welsh Senedd or of the Northern Ireland Assembly (nor, indeed, throughout the fifty-year existence of the Northern Ireland Government at Stormont that was ended in 1972). It was framed firmly in a Scottish context. One side effect of this artifice makes it virtually impossible to envisage that any of the so-called Great Offices of State in the UK Cabinet could ever again be held by an MP representing a Scottish constituency; imagine a UK Prime Minister unable to vote on all measures brought before the House of Commons. Add to this the considerable emphasis placed by the Conservative Party in the 2015 election on the inherent undesirability of a coalition that might have occurred post-election between Labour and the SNP, then Scottish representatives at Westminster have almost been delegitimised from any part of the UK political process.

Secondly, the stewardship of the UK Government and its impact on Scotland has been deplorable, to put it mildly, over generations. In their 2014 book, James Foley and Peter Ramand unearthed a wonderful quote from an earlier Project Fear. Ten days before the 1979 referendum the Daily Express editorialised: “How much of Scotland’s economy will be left intact if a Scottish Assembly gets the go-ahead on 1 March? Will Ravenscraig or Linwood survive? Will Bathgate flourish or Dounreay prosper?” That turned out well! Mind you, these words might have inspired a song familiar to us all. Scotland needs independence in order to manage its own affairs better.

Thirdly, Scotland needs to be independent because the alternative is not the status quo. The alternative will be an erosion of the devolution settlement by the UK Government. The Internal Market Act is only the most prominent example of this intention. We should heed the warning: “The devolved powers are rendered worthless by this new system. UK ministers are given powers to do things which contravene the devolution settlements without consultation, let alone consent.” These are the words of Lord Hope of Craighead, a former Deputy President of the Supreme Court, not generally considered to be a nationalist firebrand. Having mentioned Project Fear, we do need to explode one myth, that Scotland could not survive economically if independent. Before he allowed the negativity of Project Fear to dominate the pro-UK argument in 2014, even David Cameron had said in 2012: “Let’s be clear, though, I’m not going to stand here and suggest Scotland couldn’t make a go of being on its own, if that’s what people decide. There are plenty of small, independent nation states of a similar size or even smaller. Scotland could make its way in the world alongside countries like those.”

More recently, early in 2021,two economists wrote: “Scotland’s economic performance has been strong which bodes well for a small, open and independent Scotland.” As one of the two individuals was an adviser to the UK Government’s Department for International Trade, this might explain why the article was removed from the London School of Economics website.

I have described what Scotland has done while constrained by the limits of devolution. The basis of independent decision-making in a range of areas has been enlightened and humanitarian. The Scottish Government has consistently recognised the duties of the state and the public sector to care for its citizens. It has not sought to put private profit at the centre of delivery. In any binary choice, Scotland has consistently elected for the progressive option.

Scotland needs independence to exercise similar choices in areas currently denied to it. The most striking example is to allow Scotland to remove nuclear weapons from its soil. Scotland could develop a focus on modern defence needs, not a system developed in the post-war era based on the threat of mass destruction as reprisal. Of the 193 countries in the UN, the number of members with nuclear capacity is in single figures. Scotland need not aspire to be one of them.

The National: Anti-Trident demonstrators at the entrance at the  North Gate at HM Naval Base Clyde, Faslane. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 13, 2015. The Scrap Trident Coalition say they have blocked all entrances to the base, which is home to the

Scotland has been working with other countries such as New Zealand and Iceland on a better definition of how to measure the wealth and well-being of its population than an aggregate of economic factors. It has begun to explore seriously the practicality of a Universal Basic Income which is surely going to feature in everyone’s thinking as the world seeks to recover from the pandemic.

What, in contrast, is offered as an alternative to this innovative thinking? I began with a reference to 1776 and the War of American Independence. In his excellent pamphlet, Resist, Reform or Rerun, Ciaran Martin, now an academic but, in 2014, a senior figure in the UK Government’s campaign, also turned to that period when considering the current position in Scotland. He argues that frustrating a second independence referendum “appears to be motivated not so much by love of the Union as by fear of the ignominy of losing the Union and becoming the ‘Lord North’ of the 21st century” i.e. the Prime Minister who “lost” the United States. Scotland deserves a better future than being “retained” simply to avoid political loss of face. It deserves better than being regarded as some sort of trophy not be surrendered. We have seen what Scotland can do while still connected to the UK by “Political Bands.” It is a commendable record even if it is generally drowned in raucous negativity. Imagine what an independent Scotland could do on a whole range of policy areas and on a wider stage! Scotland needs to dissolve these Political Bands and fulfil its potential as an independent country.

This essay was published as part of our Yessay series – click here for more information. If you'd like to support The National in running more competitions like this, click here for information on how to support us with a digital subscription.