Holding a mirror up to Scotland

Updated: Jul 16

Twenty-five years have passed since Trainspotting arrived in cinemas, but it’s power to shock has barely diminished with time. Here was a film that held a mirror up to Scotland, that grabbed our faces and forced us to confront life as it exists for too many.


It accurately depicted an interwoven tapestry of social issues that blight our communities. Drugs. Poverty. Social class. And a social security system that barely covers basic subsistence.


Today it is not a film but a pandemic that has exposed the inequalities that exist across these islands. It has shown, for instance, that despite unemployment support having three rebrands and a lot of tinkering since Trainspotting was released in 1996, it is no better at sustaining people, never mind providing a secure foundation to get back into work.


Up here in Scotland we simply don’t have the powers to do more than mitigate the worst that is thrown at us.

In January this year, 4,715 people received a form of unemployment support in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Constituency. That was 1,800 more than in January 2020. I’ve heard from lots of folk in the constituency – people who are really struggling on such meagre support, who must turn to charity to feed their families, and who have slipped through the wide gaps in the UK government’s coronavirus support schemes.


And if that situation was not bad enough, recently the Chancellor announced that in October the £20 uplift to Universal Credit will be removed. This will see six million families across the UK lose £1,040 per year. It will plunge 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children. And it will come at the same time furlough ends.


All of this speaks to a social security system that, after years of Tory austerity, appears to have been deliberately designed to generate fear, insecurity and neglect. Up here in Scotland we simply don’t have the powers to do more than mitigate the worst that is thrown at us.


And with devolution increasingly at risk, Scotland must seize the initiative and start anew.


Thankfully we have strong foundations on which to build. In 2018 Holyrood passed an Act which described social security as ‘an investment in the people of Scotland’ and something founded on ‘respect for the dignity of individuals’. This is a far cry from the language of ‘welfare’, ‘shirkers’, and ‘hand-outs’ that typifies the debate in Westminster.


In Scotland we’ve now set the tone, but it’s essential we have the powers to create that fairer system. Any such system must be driven by radical policies like a Basic Income, a European-style income protection for times of struggle, and readily available high-quality social housing.


For this to happen, we must make a choice. So, to misquote Renton…


Choose your right to decide.

Choose your future. Choose independence.


Originally published in the Fife Free Press

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