This article looks at what the Scottish independence vote really means for people with disabilities within Scotland.
On the 18th September 2014, Scotland will have a referendum to decide on independence from the United Kingdom. The argument for and against independence is complex, but can be broken down to one simple question. Will Scotland as a nation be better staying part of the UK or better off by leaving
This article is not to debate the argument for and against Scottish independence, but to look at what this 'vote' really means for the disabled within Scotland. The last UK census showed that one million of Scotland's population have a disability or a long term health condition that brings some level of disability. That is a sizable proportion of Scotland's potential referendum voters of around 4.2 million people.
Current welfare changes have had a huge impact on disabled people on both sides of the border. Although in Scotland, a yes 'vote' for independence will most certainly mean that it's disabled will avoid further negative changes to welfare, as the Scottish National Party are already committed to halting the roll out of the UK's Government welfare change, if Scotland gains independence. A commitment that will protect its disabled from changes to the Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment, as well as eradication of Work Capability Assessments. The SNP has continually argued that the Personal Independence Payment itself, will leave an estimated 105,000 disabled people in Scotland worse off by more than £1000 each, if it is not reversed - with a further 50,000 people who receive the enhanced rate mobility payment, losing up to £3000 each by the year 2018.
Arguably, an SNP led Scottish Parliament, has already been effective in using its powers to protect the interests of its people. For example, in 2011 The Scottish Government ended NHS prescription charges in 2011, a move that followed Wales in 2007 and Northern Ireland in 2010 - and leaving England as the only country in the UK to continue to pay prescription charges. Scots also get free personal care in old age, and Scottish university students pay no tuition fees. Scottish parliament have also introduced the living wage in every part of the public sector it has responsibility for, and is currently seeking a change in EU rules to allow a requirement to provide the living wage to be included in public procurement contracts.
By taking more control over its own affairs, it is argued that an independent Scotland will become a much fairer society, and a more prosperous one. Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics indicate that the gap between rich and poor within Britain has become increasingly wider over the years, with just 10% of the population now owning almost half of the nation's household wealth. Additionally, a quarter of homes within the UK don't even have a private pension and are therefore dependent upon the state pension as their only source of income in old age.
Certainly, an SNP led Scottish Parliament has made already made progress in reducing poverty, and particularly child poverty. Save the Children in Scotland highlight that progress has been made in reducing child poverty from 32% in 2000/01 to 20% in 2011/12. However, it is argued that current welfare changes taking place within the UK are risking to tip child poverty back up around 28.5% by 2020. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have also highlighted that child poverty has fallen in Scotland within the last 10 years, and at about twice the rate of England.
So, if past performance is anything to go by, then a Scottish Parliament led by the SNP, will certainly be expected to reverse current Government welfare policy if Scotland does decide to vote for independence. Therefore, the disabled of Scotland may definitely be financially better off in an independent Scotland. Whether this will happen in reality is pretty much down to the finances available for an independent Scotland to draw upon. But certainly the political will is there, and many reports indicate that an independent Scotland may actually be in better financial shape than the rest of the UK.
Government spending in Scotland is already higher per head than in the rest of the UK, which perhaps explains the benefits that the Scots have seen in recent times when compared to the rest of the UK. This higher rate of public spending is also of great resentment not only to the British Government, but also its main opposition party. While this higher spending is more than offset by Scottish tax revenue and revenue obtained from Scottish oil and gas reserves, it is nonetheless a constant irritation to the political regime down 'south'. It is also living proof that there is an alternative to the 'austerity' measures set in stone by Westminster, and supported not only by the Conservative party and The Liberal Democrats, but also by the opposition Labor Party.
While the SNP is far from being a 'socialist' party, it is nonetheless working towards an equal and fairer society within Scotland, rather than upholding the ideological 'status quo' that has existed within recent UK political history. Therefore, the argument about whether Scotland is better off staying within the UK or better off being an independent country, is not just one of deciding who should run Scotland's affairs, but also about making positive social change.
As we have witnessed in the US, the Democratic Party has been unable to make the social change it promised it would at the last US election. Similarly in the UK, the last Labor led administration failed to make any real change of substance, but presided over a country that became more unequal by the month. In 2015, we Brits face our own election, but whoever gains power it is pretty certain that nothing will change for the better - unless there is a very strong wake up call to our political elite to actually implement such change. The vote for Scottish independence may be one such wake up call, and certainly in the past few weeks we within the UK have witnessed the visible panic of our politicians as they suddenly realized that the 'status quo' may indeed be changing somewhat, at least in Scotland.
Arguably, nobody within Westminster gave a minutes thought to the notion that the Scots may actually vote for Independence, as it has been stated many times that no contingency plans have been put in place by London for a 'yes' vote. That not only shows you the arrogance of our political establishment, but how brainwashed our politicians may believe us Brits to be. Brainwashed to believe that there is no alternative to the policies proposed by the Conservatives, Liberals or Labor, and policies broadly underpinned by the same political ideology and the same financial policy, and ultimately with the same consequences.
Scotland has rarely got the British Government it has voted for anyway, and despite consistently voting against the Conservative party, has now had 38 years of Conservative Government within the last 68 years. Now it has the chance to have the Government it actually votes for, and with full powers - but whether or not Scotland will chose that, will undoubtedly come down to who the voters believe have told them the truth regarding the pros and cons of 'independence'. Certainly, there has been a massive media campaign within the UK against Scottish independence, and it has been argued that out of the 37 or so national and daily newspapers that Scotland have in circulation, not one so far has come out in support of an independent Scotland.
However, the disabled within Scotland may be argued to be in with a fighting chance of a fairer and just society under Scottish Independence, and for the reasons outlined above. We should also keep in mind that the UK Government is also under current UN scrutiny at the moment for potential violations of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) treaty. While a 'yes' vote for independence undoubtedly carries with it a small amount of risk, it also carries with it an enormous amount of hope. If the Scots do vote for independence on the 18th September, then that feeling of 'hope' may actually cross over the border and inspire the rest of us Brits - and inspire us to pull our own socks up and actually begin to fight for equality and justice ourselves.