FOLLOWING my election, I have listened to the lived experience of employed and unemployed, unpaid carers and “stay-at-home” parents, business and community leaders, all from the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency – and I have felt, like so many of us, that we are watching the last days of the United Kingdom. A Union breaking apart under the weight of Westminster ’s self-serving rule.

But as we also know, the economic and political context for the region and throughout Scotland has changed since 2014. With that, and the clear betrayal of Brexit supporters in my constituency, there is now a move to be more open to the economic case for independence, as well as the constitutional.

Grampian still has its Tory/Brexit support, in part socially conservative, but a support who no longer recognise the party they once aligned with. It’s a matter of trust.

People in my constituency respect and honour a promise, a handshake is as good as a contract. This is not reflective of their once-respected Tory party. It now comes down to who they trust to lead us through recovery, and beyond through all the challenges many countries face.

Communication and mutual respect have become more important than ever as my political opponent is a different beast, and ever moving its goal posts. In the business communities and with employed people I meet, we discuss the current hypothetical scenarios as to what independence may look like.

Many may appear content to sit on the fence for now, but are willing to wait and be convinced by fresh arguments in a post-Brexit North East of Scotland that has seen itself ravaged by the combined impact of the pandemic, labour shortages in key sectors such as hospitality, agriculture and fisheries, and our exit from the EU. The willingness to listen, and what could be described as an almost “desire to be convinced”, is apparent.

The devaluing of both child poverty as an issue and that of “levelling up” investment (crucial to my constituency) as portrayed in the Tory leadership campaign sends a message of alarm to waverers, and signals a necessary constitutional switch. Add the potential for scrapping net-zero targets by the same far-right Cabinet, and the gulf between the Tories and those in the struggling communities of North East Scotland can only spawn a cry for choice and local democracy never witnessed before. That is happening, now.

We know the limitations and frustrations surrounding our devolved powers, on taxation, welfare and borrowing to name a few. Locally, a lack of borrowing powers constricts aspiration and suppresses what could be achievable without Westminster tying our hand behind our back. For example, there has been a remarkable upsurge in support for transport infrastructure linking a rail system to Fraserburgh and Peterhead.

The Campaign for North East Rail has motivated and galvanised a local population to look at what is possible to transform the area’s connectivity and not least two key ports of international repute. People are feeling empowered, enfranchised and part of real local democracy.

We need to spark more of this, plant the seeds of potential and show exactly what could be achieved.

Think big. Open Scotland up to the rest of the world by connecting one rail track, one ferry port at a time, with full power to do so.

This is partly envisaged in a recent paper making the case for independence, “Renewing Democracy Through Independence”, in which the First Minister argues that there is a democratic deficit in which: “Westminster retains ultimate power – even on devolved matters – and over recent years, as this paper shows, the UK Government has acted to override decisions of the Scottish Parliament and claw back powers in devolved areas.”

This deficit will continue to hinder projects in the Grampian region.

An independent Scotland can lead the renewable energy revolution. Scotland’s North East is a world-leading region for oil and gas expertise, but the North Sea’s billions were diverted to Westminster and the opportunity to invest in and transform Scotland’s economy was wasted. Scotland has huge potential to produce renewable electricity but, at the moment, that is constrained by the UK’s energy policy, and also by the outdated, privatised National Grid which has lacked proper investment for years.

Westminster has presided over a situation where producing renewable energy and smart storage in Scotland is effectively disincentivised: it’s expensive to connect to the grid; there are delays; permission may be refused. UK decision-makers have chosen instead to pour billions into nuclear energy plants, even though they are much more expensive than renewables and have high decommissioning costs.

They have also sunk more billions into importing gas.

For farming in the North East, Boris Johnson’s oven-ready Brexit deal is a dog’s dinner. The Scottish food sector is suffering particularly – production is shrinking, some businesses are going to the wall and the wellbeing of people in the sector is becoming a cause for concern.

Scottish food producers can’t get EU seasonal workers and are reducing what they plant. Scotland and the UK will be even more dependent on imported food as a result.

The North East’s food and farming sector is hard-hit by Brexit and the other global factors that are feeding into the current crisis. Sectors from fruit to fish to pigs are struggling to deal with politically chosen challenges. Where are these broad shoulders?

We must not allow what we have within our grasp to sound dry and constitutional when it is so much more. To state again, “communication is key”. As Darren McGarvey puts it in The Social Distance Between Us: “A ravine cuts through Britain, partitioning the powerful from the powerless, the vocal from the voiceless, the fortunate from those too often forgotten.”

We are in a unique position to take a far-sighted approach to this ravine, more than is possible in normal elections, to develop a democratic, coherent economic strategy for transition and to offer a vision of a successful independent Scotland which everyone can identify with as a basic human right.

This article was published as part of a special-edition paper distributed in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire by the Aberdeen Independence Movement. Click HERE to read more of these articles.