by Professor Kirstein Rummery and Craig McAngus of the Fairer Caring Nations, University of Stirling
Would the vision of an independent Scotland as described in the White Paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ be a fairer nation? The White Paper sets out some interesting commitments but leaves some important questions unanswered.
“Independence will provide the opportunity to create a fairer, more equal society built around the needs of citizens” The evidence suggests that small, economically strong states with fair welfare regimes and more equal and far societies (particularly Norway, Denmark and other Nordic states) have both the *principles* of equity and fairness built into There are few details of how a constitution could be worked out that, for example, guaranteed women’s equal representation in all areas of public life, or gave guaranteed access to social rights (for example a citizen’s income, right to access care services, etc) For example, a commitment to enshrine the principles of the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in the constitution would be substantial and effective.
However there is recognition that current welfare reforms being imposed on Scotland have a disproportionately unfair effect on some sections of society, particularly women. “the Scottish government’s recent analysis concludes that women will also lose out because of how the universal credit system in particular is structured”. It is important to recognise that women’s economic independence plays a vital part in achieving equality, and this is not just through women’s participation in paid work, but also that their roles as parents and carers should be recognised and valued. The White Paper does not offer any options that would do this (for example a citizen’s basic income, or tax credits for non-working parents and carers).
There is the recognition that “Extensive provision of early learning and childcare is a hallmark of some of the most advanced and successful countries today...” Scottish parents pay 27% of their household income on childcare as compared to the 12% average in OECD countries and that therefore “independence will give us the opportunity to invest more in the supply of services rather than subsidising demand”. This commitment to an infrastructure that research indicates will result in better outcomes for children,. But the model proposed still is based on one parent working part-time (school hours) so unless there is wrap-around childcare as well then working parents, particularly women, will be stuck in part-time work with lower wages and fewer prospects for career development.
Looking at wider welfare issues and fairness, the commitment to abolishing welfare reforms that have been imposed from Westminster and are divisive and unfair are to be welcomed. For example to abolish the bedroom tax, halt the further rollout of universal credit and personal independent payments, and increase benefits and tax credits in line with inflation. A commitment to creating a constitution and a welfare system built on the principles of social justice is important. Again, drawing on research evidence from ‘fairer’, wealthy societies, their welfare systems are based on universal entitlements based on citizenship rights and a commitment to *fairness*. Independence alone will therefore not be enough if the constitutional and governance framework which underpins and independent nation is not built on these principles and actions.
But, would an independent Scotland make policy decisions that would result in a fairer nation? Some indication of the post 1999 changes indicates that it would. Free personal care, free prescriptions, a commitment to no university fees, governance mechanisms like the Equalities and Budgetary Advisory group, domestic violence policy, a commitment to end homelessness etc all indicate that Scotland has the will and the capacity to create a fairer society. But Scotland is still a very divided society. We know that health inequalities and the gender wage gap are very high. Future policy decisions in an independent Scotland could be made by political parties which are not committed to social justice, fairness and equality.
The White Paper therefore does create some of the conditions necessary to achieve a fairer nation, but these on their own will not be sufficient. Fairness is therefore more likely to be achieved under independence, but it is not guaranteed. It will depend heavily on a constitutional framework that embeds principles and actions to guarantee social justice. For example there are few concrete guarantees that all sections of Scottish society will be involved in the drawing up of the constitution and the governance framework that will follow (eg a commitment to gender quotas etc