Opportunity Knocks

For me, independence is all about opportunity.

Opportunity to raise the quality of our own democratic rights, making every future national election vote we personally cast significantly more important.

Opportunity to help create a modern, vibrant and inclusive nation, with fairness, equality and respect at the heart of its ambition.

Opportunity, not to blame anyone else or forget our neighbours or our joint past together, but to build better relationships with friends and colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Opportunity to step out into the wider world too, as a friendly, welcoming and internationalist nation, and to play our part and take on responsibility for the often difficult challenges the world faces together. Not through force and bravado, but through dialogue, debate and the building up and maintaining of trust.

Opportunity to help shape our wee bit of the world into something we can truly be proud of – not a flag or a national anthem, but a happier, fairer and more inclusive society.

Grand words, perhaps. But this is a chance – and a very rare or unique one at that – to start to achieve grand things. And it can, and must, be only the start of a process which sees all of the people who live in Scotland take part and use this democratic right we all have. A democratic right that we’re fortunate enough to enjoy, and we must always remember that.

Democracy and the right to vote were key themes in the last century. People gave their very lives for those rights, all over the world, and in some parts of the world, people in less fortunate positions than ourselves still do today.

We have other, more fundamental and inalienable rights of course, but democracy and the right to vote is, in my opinion, one of our greatest achievements as a species, possibly even the most precious human accomplishment to date.

But having the right to vote isn’t the end of the story, not by any means. As with independence itself, it’s merely the start, and can always be improved upon.

Take our right to vote in the context of this independence campaign, and the possibility of having an independent Scotland.

On a personal level, each and every person living in Scotland, who is eligible to vote, will automatically see their vote mean more with independence. That’s not an unfounded assertion or a distant fantasy, that’s fact.

Your vote, rather than being 1-in-46 million, becomes 1-in-4 million. Overnight.

Now, that may seem a rather vague and slightly irrelevant vague concept – such high numbers don’t mean much at the level of the individual, even if one is only a small fraction of the other. But it is an eleven-fold increase in the importance of your one vote. For every future general election. You make your vote mean that much more, simply by putting an ‘x’ next to Yes.

Similarly, the importance of your vote is also increased by the fact that, instead of electing one of 650 MPs to Westminster, you’ll be voting for one of only 129 at Holyrood. That’s another five-fold improvement in your personal right to vote.

Who did you vote for in the last House of Lords election? Oh that’s right, none of us did. It’s an unelected house, with no real accountability to us, the electorate. For people living in Scotland, that will be gone, overnight.

These are positive changes that aren’t reliant on what party wins the first independent Scottish general election, or post-referendum negotiations with the rest of the UK – they’re automatic, they will happen.

After our automatic gains with our domestic parliament, we then come to the EU.

Some people love the EU, others aren’t so keen. But that’s not the issue here, and it’s not the issue for this referendum. I’m not going to engage with scaremongering unionists on whether or not we’ll be in the EU – that’s been dealt with satisfactorily by plenty of experts already.

What is worth bearing in mind for this referendum though is the improvement in our say at the European level.

At the moment, Scotland has 6 MEPs, and the Scottish Government is very much secondary to the UK Government in dealing with and negotiating within Europe. They haven’t even been allowed to request clarification over our position as an independent member state, for example. And the UK Government refused to use its ability to seek that clarification.

An independent Scotland, with EU membership, is most likely to see the number of MEPs we elect more than double, to 13. Why? Because that’s the number that similarly sized states are allocated.

At the moment, the 5.3 million people of Scotland are represented by the same number of MEPs as the 450,000 citizens of Malta. That’s fewer people than live in Edinburgh.

Denmark, Finland and Slovakia – all of which have populations similar to that of Scotland – elect 13 MEPs each.

At the moment, we’re obviously considered part of the UK, and with the positive weighting system employed for European Parliament elections, larger national populations elect proportionately fewer representatives. That’s the way it must be, otherwise the whole system simply wouldn’t work at all.

But when you consider that most of our domestic legislation comes from the Scottish Parliament, it seems rather out of balance that we only elect 6 MEPs, and that the Scottish Parliament is effectively meaningless in Europe.

We can fix that with a Yes vote.

With all of these, we can redress the balance in favour of our democratic rights – in our favour, and for those that come after us.

Please don’t underestimate democracy, what has been done to achieve it and the improvements that we can make to it. Don’t waste this rare chance.