Jenny Marra: Building a better Scotland

COME the day, the only task is to build a better country, writes Jenny Marra

What would an independent Scotland look like? Picture: Phil Wilkinson

THE date 19 September looms large in my mind as we approach the last 100 days of the referendum campaign. How we act on that day will set us on a path for the next generation. This is true for all political parties, but especially mine.

It is an exciting prospect. There is a feeling in this country that social democracy and progressive ideas could have their moment. How to create a fairer Scotland is what the debate has become. Both sides of the referendum campaign are trying to occupy the political ground of fairness, equality and a brighter future.

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So 19 September, whatever the outcome, is a single moment for this country to make a change. Because if the long duration of this campaign has told us anything, it is that people up and down the country want their communities to be better. They want to be part of a country that values every person, and where every person has the dignity of work, a fair wage, their personal choices respected. One where we value our communities because these are the places where our children can explore their endless possibilities within the security of a safe and ambitious country.

I found myself the other evening in the company of a leading figure of the Yes Scotland campaign. Discussing music, agreeing on possibilities for our respective cities of Dundee and Glasgow, someone then wedged the referendum question awkwardly between us like an unwelcome guest at a good party. Working together – Labour, the SNP, the Scottish Parliament, across the constitutional question to build a better country – was what this non-politician desperately wanted; a constructive and progressive agenda, driven across political boundaries. It took me back to the aspiration for our parliament when it opened in 1999.

There is probably agreement behind the political scenes that cosy agreements in Scotland need to be challenged if we are to make progress, if we are to make our economy stronger, our citizens healthier, and our children’s minds fit for the world of their own possibilities.

On 19 September I hope we can convene a meeting of minds, energy and commitment on to address the aspirations for our children’s education. Eradicating illiteracy and innumeracy would be a good start. Some children are still going up to secondary school with reading and writing abilities of Primary 2.

We used to congratulate ourselves on having the best education system in the world; we are doing our children a disservice if we do not strive to live up to this accolade.

On the subject of health, do we want to continue with an entrenched unhealthy relationship with food and alcohol that saps people’s potential by leading them from an early age into ill-health? Or makes them incapable of work, or a big burden on the health service?

We often talk of emulating the Nordic countries. Finland has had a very successful public health programme that has changed diet and improved health. If we are serious about improving lives and igniting our economy, the focus on 19 September must be on transforming our health service into a service that keeps our citizens healthy and fit, to allow them to fulfil their potential.

An ambitious and bold agenda for our economy is one for another full discussion, but lastly, I think it is critical to say that the political parties could start the transformation of our country on 19 September by signalling our willingness to work together to tackle a non-sexy but vital component of change. We must get round the table and come up with an alternative to council tax, which is broken beyond repair. With every day that goes by, the freeze becomes more and more untenable, as spending on schools falls by hundreds of pounds per pupil and services for the most marginalised in our communities are cut. The best minds in the SNP know this. If there is a way to signal to Scotland that we are all ambitious together for the future of our country, finding a solution together to this problem, would be a good and positive start. It is a moment that needs to be seized. «

• Jenny Marra is a Labour MSP for North East Scotland