This could have been the day of Scotland’s freedom. We could have been cheering the imminent end of some of cruelest policies to come out of Westminster – the end of benefit cuts and sanctions, and the reassurance that we lived in a nation that valued the welfare state and did not want to dismantle it. No doubt too, we would be bemoaning the caution of a Scottish Government trying to please everyone and running away from the bold progressive changes that are needed to make a real difference to fairness and equality, just as they have done with the limited powers that they already have to change local taxation, and will soon have to change income tax.
But, instead of Independence we can look forward to an increase in devolution that is even more limited and uncoordinated than agreed by the Smith Commission: a poisoned chalice that gives Scotland responsibilities without power, especially without the power to change the nature of our economy. Scotland will be gaining control of a few areas of welfare, but even here it is unclear what room we will have to do things differently. Mitigation of benefit sanctions is expressly ruled out.
So what can we do now?
We will continue to provide practical assistance to folk negotiating their way through Austerity Britain, and to campaign against the barrage of attacks coming from a Tory government bent on turning the clock back to the 1930s. We will also push for the Scottish Government to make every improvement it can within the devolution agreement – and when that is shown not to be enough, we will push for defiance of that agreement and of rules that lead only to destitution and misery.
It is no accident that defence of the welfare state has been a constant and central theme in Independence rallies. If a government can’t protect its most vulnerable people, then what use is it? We didn’t campaign for independence so that we could go on as before, just with a parliament in Edinburgh instead of London. We campaigned because we wanted real progressive change, and we will continue to campaign for a fairer Scotland. We know it is no use waiting for our politicians to act. Resistance to Westminster cuts and the drive to implement a better alternative will only be achieved as a response to a movement from below: to the energy and determination that we saw 18 long months ago. We call on everyone to recognise defence of the welfare state as a red-line issue; a cause that has to be won, even if that means civil disobedience. We are forced to look on in impotent horror at the destruction of great cultural monuments of the past such as Palmyra, but all around us the UK government is destroying one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. We can’t let that happen.