During the Independence Referendum in 2014, economic questions pretty much dominated the whole Better Together argument: What currency? The deficit etc. The official pro Independence campaign, couldn’t really answer these questions. If they had, perhaps the vote would have gone the other way and Scotland would now be an independent country.
However, during the first referendum, there was something hanging around, unsaid in the background: a general assumption or presumption that the systems an independent Scotland would adopt, would pretty much be the same as the systems that are in place already.
There was no question or answer sessions about what Tax system an independent Scotland could implement, the presumption being, we would just continue to use the one we have imposed upon us by Westminster.
On top of the absence of Taxation, there was no real discussion about what sort of structure we wanted our society to follow. Again, the presumption being, we would just carry on with the one we currently have.
Now, this got me thinking.
Why should we just presume to use the same systems that are in place? The current systems have created one of the greatest levels of inequality in western civilisation. Inequality which has led to social division, hardship and poverty. Unless of course you are one of the few establishment elites who have benefited most from these archaic systems.
For the next referendum campaign, I would argue that the pro independence campaign has to offer something completely different from what staying in the union currently offers. Something to really show up the failings of the financial trap the systems of this union ensnare us in. Ensnared to keep feeding the system which ensnares us. Catch 22.
An independent Scotland needs to offer something bold, brave and above all else, new. A structure which will really tackle inequality, where everyone within the society does feel wanted, is treated with dignity and respect. An independent Scotland needs to offer something that remaining in the union, just can’t or won’t offer.
Inequality stems from many sources, but having a system of taxation say, where those with the most can employ ‘creative accountancy’ to avoid or lower their tax burden, is probably the most divisive and biggest area of concern for society.
Without Tax revenue a state can’t provide the service the people want and expect. There should be no avoidance or evasion.
When an employee has Tax deducted before they even receive their salary, they don’t have an option to try and lower their tax burden. The Tax man has already taken his slice, so why do self employed or businesses get preferential treatment? How can they ‘structure’ their finances so that they receive almost endless tax subsidies whilst avoiding the paying of their liability?
This has to change.
The tax system in the U.K is horrendously complex, with over 11,000 pages of loophole after loophole that the majority of people will never be able to take advantage off. So, in an independent Scotland, the tax system needs to be simple, so that everyone and every business pays their liability fairly, on time and without the ability to evade or avoid that liability.
Any tax rebates a business gets, should for example, be earned by paying employees a real living wage, not the fake, renamed minimum wage, but a real wage people can actually live on, without worrying about paying their bills.
It really shouldn’t be that difficult.
The welfare system in the U.K, especially under a Conservative Government, is a degrading affair. Renamed ‘benefits’ to make them sound like a perk of life, instead of the safety net they are meant to actually be, can be a dehumanising and agonising experience. Eighty five page forms, divisive and degrading work assessments, on top of which, the Conservative Government have implemented a system where rape victims who have a child as the result of the rape, now have to prove the rape took place. This clearly shows how mean spirited the U.K government are towards the people they are tasked with providing for. Staying in the union will only preserve and encourage this draconian regime.
In the 2014 referendum, a worry for a lot of over 65’s, was their pension and benefit payments and rightly so.
The burden on the public purse for housing benefit alone is vast. This is due to a shortage of housing and almost constant increases in private rents. Something has to be done to rebalance this picture.
The cost of housing on average, consumes @60% of a typical household’s income. This is completely unsustainable, yet the U.K government has absolutely no plans to address this situation other than reducing the amount of people who are eligible to claim those housing related benefits.
An independent Scotland needs to address this, with fairness, dignity and decency.
I would propose the scrapping of the entire Benefits system as it currently stands and replace it with something far more reasonable and fair, taking account of what sort of future world we are going to be living in, how technologies will change employment and available jobs amongst many other things.
Firstly, I would propose rent regulation be reintroduced. Regulating the amount a landlord can charge for rent must be linked to levels of earnings.Regulating rent would significantly reduce the overall cost of housing benefit on the public purse.
Likewise for property prices, they too should be linked to levels of earnings, so that everyone from every job level has the option of having a home of their own, should they wish to buy one. There should also be a return to building council housing, where a family can chose to stay their entire lives.
Society and the state have a duty of care for those who stay in a country. It is the state’s job to provide adequate housing for the population. People need somewhere to live, having to fight with other members of society over a very limited stock, only separates and divides society. We need to rebalance this as a matter or urgency and principle.
More controversially, when the pro independence campaign are asked ‘will my pension or benefits be safe?’ I would argue the answer should be an immediate and confident ‘no’.
Now, don’t all panic at once. There is an alternative which is currently being trialled in some areas of Scandinavia and was also proposed by the Green Party in their 2015 manifesto, the mere suggestion of which the likes of Andrew Neil, went apoplectic.
There should be no claiming of benefits. People should be treated with dignity and respect and as such, everybody 16 years and over, should receive a guaranteed top up income.
Automatically on your 16th Birthday, you start receiving your state pay. No claiming, no forms. It’s automatic.
This system will replace all benefits and state pension and will be structured simply and which takes account of age related changes in needs. I would suggest something along the following lines:
16 – 39 years of age = standard rate
40 – 50 years of age = standard rate + 25%
51-64 years of age = standard rate + 50%
65 + Over = standard rate + 100%
The standard rate would obviously have to be calculated, but a system like this would allow everyone to always know what they could rely on and paid weekly, when they could rely on it.
There should be no need for someone to depend on food banks or go homeless. A minimum income, would allow the best of starts for everybody and the security a civilised and prosperous society should offer as a basic right.
The standard rate would increase annually by the rate of inflation, so the recipients will always know they will never be worse off.
Now, some may argue that a minimum income for everyone over 16 years of age, would be expensive and this is true, it would be, however, I would counter that by suggesting the cost of issuing a minimum income, would be significantly less than administering the benefits / state pension systems we currently have.
Combined with the reduction to the public purse of a huge housing benefit bill, a minimum income would help alleviate inequality in society.
A minimum income, would also encourage creativity, allowing businesses to start up, musicians to live while learning or developing their craft. The potential net gain for encouraging creativity through a minimum income could pay for itself by increased tax revenues form the businesses the state helps to start.
Housing benefit would still be required in some cases, but a minimum income combined with earnings, would remove the classification of ‘the working poor’. Nobody who works, should be classified as poor. Not in a civilised society.
Now some may say this is idealistic nonsense, but with more and more jobs being taken over by technical advancements and artificial intelligence, which will only increase and improve as time goes on, a system has to be developed to allow more people to develop their own business ideas. A guaranteed income, would alleviate the stresses of starting up and following through those business ideas and would also lead to a fairer and more cohesive society.
I’m not saying that it would be easy, not by any means, but with independence, Scotland has a unique chance. We would have the opportunity to plan and create a society that is fairer, more tolerant and does offer equal opportunity for all.
Now, compare these ideas, with the reality of remaining in the union: more austerity, more benefit cuts, more undignified and draconian authoritarianism, more NHS cuts, more public spending cuts, rise in xenophobia, anti-immigrant hate crimes increasing. The list goes on and on.
With little to no opposition at Westminster, there is no real alternative to the current right wing Tory Party and may not be for many years if not decades to come. Given this chance, is it not time for Scotland to lead the way in forming a different society? A society and state who work for the betterment of everyone in the society, with dignity, respect and compassion?
These are just some suggestions of what that society could be structured like. It’s a start.
A recent poll showed that 63% of the people in Scotland expected Scotland to become independent within the next 20 years (if not before), so, we really need to start having these discussions.
We need new ideas. The more ideas the better. We need to question the union, regardless of our own for or against stances. If 63% expect Scotland to become independent in the future, it’s better to be prepared for when that time comes.
The people in Scotland need to start having meaningful discussions about our future, whether we’re in or out of the union. Together we can build a better, fairer and more just society. Let’s do it.
Feel free to comment, constructive comments are always welcome. Thanks.
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