100 days: Where’s equality and welfare in the referendum debate?

There’s been a marked shift in the issues covered, and the tone of the debate in the past couple of months. Initially issues like equity, equality, fairness were presented as fairly marginal by both sides, with a focus firmly on the ‘hard’ issues of economics, EU membership, currency and so on hitting the headlines. But the ground shifted with the publication of the White Paper Scotland’s Future, which made the case for independence partly on the grounds of the changes in welfare provision that would be possible. Most notably, the commitment to an investment in childcare, and a social investment approach to welfare policy, along with repeated references to an independent Scotland being ‘fairer’ as well as wealthier, have changed the tone of the debate.

The ‘Better Together’ campaign has been put slightly on the back foot. Unlike ‘Yes Scotland’ which has a strong feminist network of political and independent supporters (see Women for Independence), as well as a high profile powerful female figurehead in Nicola Sturgeon, there is no coherent ‘equalities’ focus from the ‘Better Together’ campaign. The Queen’s speech was a missed opportunity to set out a vision of devolved welfare for Scotland in the event of a ‘no’ vote, leaving voters to sift through three different party political aims and no concrete promises for delivery.

So far, if you want a ‘fairer’ Scotland, the ‘Yes’ campaign looks more convincing, but whether Scottish voters *want* a ‘fairer’ society, and are likely to vote on equalities and welfare issues remains to be seen. They have 100 days to decide!

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Kirstein Rummery's picture
University of Stirling
9th June 2014
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