At the hustings for Kirkcaldy SNP Scottish Parliament candidate selection on Sunday night, I said in my opening remarks the time has come to look the people of Scotland in the eye and persuade them of Scotland’s cause.
Ten questions were asked of each of the candidates, but not a lot of time was spent on what might be called higher level questions for a prospective parliamentarian. So let me give a glimpse of what I mean. In the following dialogue I am questioned by the former parliamentary candidate for Ayr, Barbara (my wife).
Barbara: You have said we need to think about transitioning to Independence, what do you mean by that?
Roger: It means getting in place early enough the things you need to function as an independent nation from a political and economic perspective. I like to think of it in three phases. First, things to help secure the path to independence.
Barbara: Do you mean winning a referendum?
Roger: That’s vital of course but I am thinking more on insuring it isn’t compromised. For example I talked in an earlier blog about Namibia. They made sure they had a representative based around UN headquarters long before independence, to ensure delegations were briefed on their case. We need that, otherwise it will only be the UK doing the briefing. I'm pretty sure they have already been doing so. Similarly, because of the importance of the EU we need to retain a strong presence to counteract UK efforts to brief against Scotland and so on. The UK does not have a good record of assisting countries freeing themselves from colonial rule, so it would be naïve to imagine they wont try and block us.
Barbara: I see. So first phase ensure everything in place to maximize the legitimacy and recognition of the will of the Scottish people. So what is your second phase?
Roger: Lots here but for illustration let me just mention one aspect. Both the Scottish Government and the new Independent parliament, will need the full range of civil servants, officials and other advisers in place prior to independence day. The current staffing of the civil service to even support devolution is weak in my view. Furthermore, where are the most senior civil servants in areas like the economy, defence, trade, foreign affairs etc to come from? We need to be putting this all in place. We also need to learn the lesson that we need to ensure those recruited are fully committed to the independence cause and trusted.We need a ruthless focus on getting the Independence Team put in place.
Barbara: And you said a third phase?
Roger: Yes, we certainly wont have everything fully in place as we would like after day 1. I’d suggest we need to be thinking of a 3 to 5 year plan to secure independence and have everything fully in place. In some respects of course it is a never ending task, but the initial years are critical. For example how are we going to manage our international footprint? How are we going to realign defence? It takes time.
Barbara. Ok lets move on, and could you try and give me briefer responses? After the last recession caused by the financial crisis of 2008, it was young people in particular that were hard hit. What can we do this time to help them given it is predicted we face a much worse situation than back then?
Roger: One thing we need is to ensure our college and training sector has the capacity and ability to respond to future needs. We don't need short term provision to meet the demand from unemployed young people, but real investment in high quality provision for the future. For example, at present every one of the Scottish Government’s priority 1 countries for trade, and every one of the main trade competitors as identified by the Scottish Government are members of the World Skills movement which amongst other things develops high international standards in skills areas. Scotland is not a member, and should join and ensure we provide world class training to young people who will otherwise be left behind in the post pandemic world of change.
Barbara: The pandemic has revealed how important the national health service is to us. How do you see its future?
Roger: I see its future secure if the we achieve independence soon, but hugely at risk if we do not. Just look for example at the testing system in place for Covid19. The NHS labs are working well, the UK government’s hugely expensive private sector labs are not. The UK should have been investing to build more capacity in the NHS. But most concerning is the looming “lousy deal” Brexit. I am deeply concerned just as the UK is experimenting with private sector testing regimes, they have in their sights privatisation by stealth of parts of the NHS, so we need to prepare to respond if any attempt is made to privatize our NHS.
Barbara. OK I get the point. Not to mention chlorinated chicken. You don't half go on sometimes! I’m calling a halt even though there are many other areas we need to pursue in the future…
These are big questions. You may not agree with my answers, but we need to debate what the party’s answers should be. There are a multitude of significant policy areas remaining to be explored. Will your MSP candidate choice be able to contribute effectively? That for me is a key question.