1947 and All That
When the independence debate ignited after the 2011 election, much of the conversation was about substitution – could an independent Scottish state manage the functions of the UK government, and maintain an equivalent standard of living. The SNP was asking for a mandate to govern, not offering a programme for government.
But the cat was out of the bag, and the debate about the new Scotland began. No-one captured the mood better than Lesley Riddoch, whose book Blossom paints a pixelated picture of better – a grand vision of possibilities constructed from clear and present stories.
We’re not there yet: but while everyday life will carry on after the yes vote, a disruptive space is opening up in public discourse. The foundations for the post-Independence settlement will not be laid this time by an establishment Beveridge but will emerge from a thousand town hall conversations which refuse to conclude when the chairs are put back on the tables after 18th September.
Beveridge’s five giants of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness are not yet slain: but we need to find our own names for what we are against and what we are for. The principle of universality underpinned the NHS (Scotland) Act of 1947; while mutuality underpinned the nationalisation of the Bank of England, railways, coal and steel. For all its unintended consequences, the 1947 Agriculture Act was designed to create food security and was a response to the shocking inequalities in diet which wartime rationing had started to reduce.
Are we prepared to implement the 2015 UN Sustainable Development goals and eradicate hunger in Scotland? Are we willing genuinely to put our children first? And what about our young people who for the first time since 1947 have worse prospects than their parents? We’re not short of space and building materials: could we make sure everyone has a decent house? Will the women of Scotland take the place they have not been given? And can we play our part in the world by becoming a zero waste, carbon neutral, nature-friendly country? Does mutuality in 2015 mean common ownership of our wind, sun and water as the cornerstone of more equitable wealth and income?
In 1947 debt was 200% of UK GDP as against 70% now – so the economic challenges were more acute than wondering if the oil would run out in 2040 or 2050.
But what’s for sure is that as Beveridge said “Freedom from Want cannot be forced on a democracy or given to a democracy. It must be won by them.”
As citizens of the world’s newest democracy, it will be over to us.