It hasn’t even been a day since Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention that there should be a new referendum on Scotland’s independence and we are already seeing the usual suspects trotting out their tired old lines about division and divisiveness.
The people who tended to think of the first independence referendum in those terms were largely those whose unionist leanings had always been the accepted status quo and who found it difficult when they were suddenly being challenged by family and friends who saw, perhaps for the first time, that a different direction was both possible and desirable.
The simple fact of the matter is that as countries our trajectories are diverging. This has been the case since the advent of the Scottish Parliament, and in the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the decisive vote for devolution, the policy differences between Scotland and rUK are starkly defined. It is more than simple policy though, it goes deeper than that, the attitude of government in Scotland is palpably different to that of the UK government. Instead of pushing people away and branding them as different, undesirable, foreign, we are saying if you choose to make your life here then you are welcome, you are one of us, you are family.
Inclusivity is our strength, never a weakness. More than that though, it is a virtue born of necessity. Scotland needs immigration to act as a counter-weight to the relatively low birth rates and longer periods of old age. To be wed to the UK system of ever tighter immigration is to feel the life slowly strangled from our country. We need the transfusion of young talent that flows here through our universities in order to thrive. It is good for the economy and also for the vibrancy of our collective national life. If we are forced to leave Europe, we will have lost so much in the leaving that it may be generations before we see recovery.
Divergence is obvious in so many policy areas. The Scottish Government found £58 million to offset the bedroom tax in the budget this year. This is to protect the most vulnerable in our society from UK Government policy. Imagine having to pay every single year to offset a remote government’s policy objectives because you consider them harmful to disabled people. In what other country would this be normalised and tolerated?
The NHS is a prime example of the difference between the Governments. Privatisation is taking hold in England, whereas it is being largely held at bay in Scotland by a Scottish Government that is ideologically opposed to people having to pay for health care, not just at the point of need but when it comes to prescriptions as well. Charges for prescriptions were phased out in Scotland and are now £8.40 per item in England.
We will still be close to rUK after independence, we are not physically going anywhere and the ties of blood and friendship that bind us are deep and enduring. I could say the same about Ireland, our other near neighbour. We just don’t want to be ruled by Westminster any longer, our values have long since diverged and we recognise so little there that we want to mirror in Scotland. We have drifted so far apart that it is barely even a breakup at all, more a slow dawning realisation that there is nothing left that is worth holding on to.