Keith Brown: We need control of welfare and tax

Transport minister Keith Brown sets out social justice agenda. Picture: Greg Macvean

Transport minister Keith Brown sets out social justice agenda. Picture: Greg Macvean

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For around two years, a large part of our lives was a countdown to the referendum. Four weeks on, we are still assessing its impact and interrogating its implications.

How we govern our country now, how we pull together for the future, that’s down to all of us. Forty-five per cent voted Yes and 55 per cent voted No. What we now need to do is work co-operatively in the best interests of all the Scottish people.

We won’t be slipping quietly back into the shadows to lick our wounds. We won’t be fobbed off with broken promises or attempts to backtrack on the “solemn vow to the people of Scotland”.

You might have thought that on 19 September, we’d be feeling a bit downcast. We were disappointed but there was a whole new spirit within the SNP. Much – by no means all – of it is youthful and that means sustainable. In the referendum, 71 per cent of 16- and 17-year-olds voted Yes and many are now party members.

At the last count, membership had more than tripled to 84,000 and more are joining every day. That’s a fantastic endorsement of what we’ve achieved so far. We have new energy and we’re determined to be heard loud and clear in Westminster.

Theirs is the voice of hope and it echoes the cry for help that we heard in community after community.

I want to introduce a Youth Academy so that our young members can build confidence and will contribute actively. We need revitalised policymaking assemblies that everyone can join.

Independence has become normalised. It is no longer the fringe ambition it was in the 1980s when I joined the SNP, with support at around 12 per cent. Instead, it’s a dream shared by 1.6 million Scots who want a better future than that on offer from Westminster.

Many people voted No on the back of the three Westminster leaders’ vow to grant more devolved powers, but within hours of the referendum, David Cameron was already backtracking hard, tying negotiations into devolution in England.

Part of the job of SNP depute leader is to help create new policies. I relish that because it would allow me to be at the centre of the new dynamic, alongside the principles that the SNP holds dear – like getting rid of Trident, having an equitable welfare system that helps most those with the greatest need, providing a humane safety-net for our elderly folk – and eliminating the need for our biggest growth sector: food banks.

Why does one of the wealthiest countries in the world depend upon food banks to keep families fed? That is an outrage. That level of poverty, often among people who are working, can’t be acceptable. Among them are the one in four children living in Clackmannanshire in poverty, innocents caught in Westminster’s austerity agenda.

That austerity is very carefully targeted to hit the most needy. Five UK families hold the equivalent wealth of around 12 million ordinary citizens. I call it asymmetric austerity because it seeks to ensure those already hurting most are the ones to take the greatest share of fresh pain. Not those with the “broadest shoulders”, but those with the least resistance.

Scotland must fight for the powers to set about closing that gap. We need control of welfare and tax and we should accept nothing less.

Everything we stand for, everything we believe in, is directed towards improving the lives of the sovereign people of Scotland.

I want everyone to live in the fair, prosperous and independent nation that can be ours.

Keith Brown MSP is Minister for Transport and Veterans

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