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Poverty and the independence question … both sides have their say

THE 'YES' SOLUTION

THE 'YES' SOLUTION

By Cailean Gallagher,

researcher at Yes Scotland

PRO-Union campaigners insist that pooling the resources of Britain is the greatest benefit to the Union, but this is fantasy: the Westminster system allows an elite to pull the wealth from the people who produce it, leaving ever more people in poverty. The UK is on track to being the most unequal country in the developed world.

Independent of Westminster's regressive decisions, Holyrood could use its full economic and social powers to align employment, health and education policies with the ambition of social solidarity and security for all. Rather than being undermined by benefit cuts, health policy would reflect and complement the benefits system.

Economic evidence shows a newly-independent Scotland could afford to increase spending on social security and investment.

Activists and campaigners are already investigating how full political independence could be used to make Scotland a fairer country; one where poverty and exclusion are challenged.

The contributory principle, the universalist principle, the living wage, a guaranteed citizens' income, flexible work, free quality childcare - all these ideas are already in our political vocabulary, despite the fact we lack the powers to implement them in Scotland, and each can be part of the political agenda after independence.

Collective knowledge, experience and expertise will shape Scotland's anti-poverty challenge.

The Scottish Government's expert working group on welfare is currently investigating principles that might form the foundation of a new social state, including income support and adequate social insurance.

THE 'NO' SOLUTION

By Professor Jim Gallagher, an adviser to Better Together

FROM Scotland's perspective, two arguments justify social solidarity within the UK.

The first is pragmatic. The full resources of the UK economy support public services and benefit payments, irrespective of economic performance in Scotland. This argument was made on Scotland's behalf in the decades following the 1970s, when industrial decline resulted in the need for social protection and public spending.

The second is more principled. Throughout the history of Scottish social reform, the left has consistently argued for UK solutions on essentially moral grounds: people in need should benefit equally in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, essentially because they belong to the same community.

You can make a contrary argument: the only relevant community is Scotland, and social solidarity should be confined to that level.

Obviously, this fails on moral grounds - but it also fails on pragmatic grounds too. Nationalists will argue that, when the UK is indulging in substantial fiscal retrenchment and cutting many benefits, poor people in Scotland would be better off with a Scottish welfare system.

This superficially attractive argument is not sustainable, once we have a clear understanding of an independent Scotland's potential fiscal position.

Oil is a significant, but dwindling and volatile, resource; forecasts as to how long the oil will last differ, but all agree that future revenues will be less than at present.

If it were spent to maintain present levels of benefits, then we will eventually fall over a financial cliff.

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