Tony Banks: Yes vote can secure a fairer Britain

Picture: Ian Rutherford
Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THERE is a vote for independence in the hearts of most Scots. But emotion apart, it’s vital we use our heads to understand the rationale for taking our destiny into our own hands.

I recognise that within the UK our futures are intertwined. I care not only about my fellow Scots, but about everyone across these isles. So let me explain why I am convinced a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will be good for Scotland – and the rest of Britain and Northern Ireland.

First, we have to tackle the blight of inequality. The UK is currently the fourth most unequal country in the developed world.

The Fiscal Commission Working Group set up by the Scottish Government, whose number includes Nobel economist Professor Joe Stiglitz, says that since 1975 the UK income gap has grown faster than in any other developed country. And inequality, Professor Stiglitz says, is one of the biggest inhibitors of economic growth.

Professionally, I am involved in the care home sector. Our company helps elderly people who need it. In doing so, we provide employment, pay taxes create wealth. I, therefore, have a particular interest in Professor Stiglitz’s work and his central message that supporting those most in need is key to promoting broader economic health.

Fairness and prosperity are two pieces of the same jigsaw. This resonates with business people like me.

For example, I want to hire bright, committed people with a vocation in caring – their socio-economic background matters not. It is also in the interests of a stable economy to have high levels of productivity – and that means giving everyone of working age a fair opportunity to realise their potential.

Next we need to consider whether the UK offers the optimal economic and political model to achieve greater equality – and sustainable economic growth.

It is clear that in this respect the UK is not OK. We have a London-centric and short-term focused system that has failed to learn the lessons of the financial crisis or address sectoral and geographic imbalances.

Population in London and the South-East is expected to rise by two million over the next seven years.

But the latest economic figures suggest no improvement in the balance between manufacturing and services despite the concerns of senior figures on the left and right of politics, including Lord Heseltine.

These voices are not opposed to the growth of financial services in London or elsewhere. Rather, they recognise that sector’s sustainable success is as much dependent on the development of the wider economy as any other.

A Yes vote next year can be the trigger for major reform that will be in the long-term interests of the City of London and the rest of the UK. Westminster needs to recognise that by letting go and allowing other parts of these islands to compete and create wealth will benefit everyone.

The numbers don’t support the belief that London’s performance will trickle down to the rest of the country, be that the north-east of England or the Central Belt of Scotland. In other words, we have a sound financial basis on which to prosper independently but our potential is constrained by the Westminster straightjacket.

Scotland needs the powers to compete and competition is good for the UK economy.

Independence should be seen as a catalyst for structural reform across the UK. George Osborne worries about this because it involves change and he is more comfortable with the familiar.

That involves tailoring policy towards a City of London-led recovery pursued - not because it is necessarily sustainable – but because it retains power and improves the prospects of short-term political success in South-East of England where elections are decided.

I was not sure about declaring my views on independence so early in the debate – that was until Mr Osborne came to Scotland last month and continued the convention favoured by successive Westminster governments of trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

We have been told for generations that we were too poor and too small. Now, because those arguments have been disproven (we more than pay our way in the UK), the same people pretend that everything about independence is complicated and difficult. They reckon if they muddy the waters enough, Scotland will bottle it next September.

But we must not forget that the referendum is about the right to choose. Will we choose to take Scotland’s future into our own hands – or leave with politicians in a Westminster system that isn’t working for us?

Even when, as an independent country, we are co-operating with other countries in these isles – whether it be on currency, pensions or financial regulation, we’ll be free to make choices that are in our interests.

My third factor is something we choose already – our national identity. Let’s be clear: a Yes vote does not mean the end of Britishness. It does not mean an end to the union of monarchy, the defence union through NATO, the currency union or the family and social unions of these islands.

What it means is a change to the political and economic union so we can have the economic powers to make for a more prosperous and fairer society according to our own priorities and goals. It also means maintaining Scotland in the European Union in contrast to the direction of travel at Westminster.

As a youngster growing up in Scotland I began to realise the extent to which we are capable of ploughing our own furrow in a way that works for all of us.

When all the arguments are done about shared currency or North Sea oil, it boils down to whether we have the will and the self-confidence to build a better future.

An independent Scotland can have a perfectly credible and successful defence capability, but the beauty is that we can choose to share our defences with friends, including England, if it’s in our mutual interest.

I am proud to be British and will remain so after independence because I, not anyone else, choose my identity. I will cheer on Mo Farah at the next Olympics in Brazil because he is from the same island as me, where a common sense of identity will remain open to us all.

It does not matter whether he’s wearing Team England colours or not. I do not need to be part of an outdated political and economic union to be better together.

I am a proud Dundonian who was brought up in a working class family. My dad was an RAF logistics sergeant and my mum a housewife. In 1961, we lived for a while in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, when I was the youngest of four. A few years later we moved back to Dundee. Later I joined the Territorial Army before being so inspired by the experience that I left university to join the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. Two months later I was serving under a Union flag in the Falklands.

I remain proud of my roots, north and south of the Border, and of my British identity. I believe that independence is in the interests of not only Scotland – but also the rest of the UK. I support an independent Scotland because I am British.

• Tony Banks is chairman of Balhousie Care Group and a member of Business for Scotland which is to be officially inaugurated in Glasgow tonight.