Anne Houston: Why I’m voting Yes

When the official polling card for the Scottish Independence Referendum dropped through my letterbox, my first instinct was to frame it or in some other way acknowledge this momentous opportunity.

Anne Houston believes indpendence will give an opportunity to address Scotland's beliefs. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Anne Houston believes indpendence will give an opportunity to address Scotland's beliefs. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

With Thursday fast approaching I hope that all of us who will be voting have taken time to consider the bigger picture.

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Working for almost 40 years with and for people struggling with many difficulties has undoubtedly shaped how I see our options, or more specifically my options, when it comes to voting. For more than 20 of those years I worked in UK organisations with headquarters in London. I often heard valued colleagues saying in exasperation: ‘Of course it’ll be different in Scotland’ – which it often was. Unfortunately they rarely had the time to understand how or why or what that really meant.

I get frustrated when I hear the weight given to whether we will be £500 a year better or worse off if we choose independence.

There are already too many families in Scotland living in poverty and who would rightly be very concerned if they saw the immediate future as bringing even more hardship.

The current retrograde welfare reforms being driven from Westminster, hitting those already working against the odds in low paid employment; with disabilities; or other challenges in their everyday lives, are not what I would choose. Vulnerable families and their children, Scotland’s children, are being made more vulnerable, with even less opportunity to move out of poverty and all the disadvantage that brings. It is unacceptable that one in every five of Scotland’s children is living in poverty – a rising figure.

For me the decision is about the difference independence would make to our control over the things that matter most to us. Many of our priorities are patently different from those driven by Westminster. Whether I personally have a little more or less money in my pocket in 2016 is less important. I will undoubtedly survive either way. However, if there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that whoever ultimately holds the purse strings wields the highest power.

Devolution has made significant positive changes, for example the emphasis on early years provision, early intervention and prevention which the Scottish Government has driven and invested in. This has the potential to make major differences to many lives, immediately and into the future.

But to make more fundamental change I believe independence, with complete control over our budget – both income, and how we raise it and how we spend it – is the only way we will be sure that our priorities are our focus for action.

People often say children are our future and that is true, but they deserve more. We should value our children - and in a small country like this with our own choices we can do that better. What that future will look like, how aspirational, innovative, creative and successful depends largely on how we value our children in the here and now.

This is about a positive vote for our future and is not about voting for any particular political party – that comes later. None of us will get everything we want – but we will certainly be better able to influence a positive future, relevant to Scotland’s specific aspirations and priorities when we decide what we can do rather than being told what we can’t.

In an independent Scotland we can together identify the fundamental principles that will address what we care about and believe in - our aspirations for our country. I believe the way to assure a positive future for Scotland is to be a country that values, nurtures and protects all of its children, something they have a right to expect from us. I am not naive enough to think it will all be plain sailing but how we resolve difficulties will be ours to decide and for me it is important enough to live with the challenges along the way.

That is why I’ll be voting Yes on Thursday.

Ann Houston is the recently retired Chief Executive of Children 1st and one of Scotland’s leading child welfare and safety campaigners. She is writing here in a personal capacity.

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