There has been a palpable change in the air in Scottish political debate over the last couple of weeks.
In government, the SNP is as busy as ever with progressive policies that make a difference – from reaching agreement with councils for a new £100 school clothing grant that will benefit 120,000 families in Scotland, to a national rollout of the pilot programme offering sanitary products to those on low incomes who need them.
And as delegates head to Aberdeen this Friday for SNP conference, there will be many more policies for us to consider – such as proposals to double paternity leave and establish a new National Infrastructure Company.
We will also choose our new Depute Leader. We have three excellent candidates to choose from, and whoever wins already has their first task - to lead a series of National Assemblies throughout the summer at which we can all discuss the recommendations in the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report.
Indeed, it is the publication of that report last week which, I think, has shifted political debate in a very positive direction.
After spending two years discussing how we mitigate the economic damage caused by Brexit, it is very refreshing to now be discussing the immense opportunities afforded by having the full range of powers to take economic decisions tailored to Scotland’s needs. It is a debate based on hope – not despair.
The initial response to the Commission’s report has been heartening. Those within the independence movement who have expressed a desire for a different approach have done so in a constructive manner – I welcome that and look forward to them being a full part of the debate over the summer.
Some others who have been firmly opposed to independence have been prompted to look at the arguments afresh – and while not yet fully persuaded, now see the option of independence as an legitimate and credible one.
I urge everyone to take the time to read the Growth Commission’s report, to consider it carefully and, most importantly, to focus on what the report says – not on the pot shots being taken by the Tories and their friends in Labour, who are clearly rattled by the prospect of people discussing independence.
Such an empowering discussion only exposes the difficulties the pro-union parties face in defending a Westminster system that is about to take us out of the EU against our wishes, and a Tory Government that is overruling the Scottish Parliament in order to do so.
This week the discussion has focused on key issues of how we tackle the Westminster deficit that an independent Scotland would inherit and what currency we would have. Those are important questions which people will expect clarity on ahead of a future referendum, and I believe the recommendations in the Growth Commission provide a foundation on which we can build a compelling case for independence.
The Commission says that even if independence didn’t lead to higher growth, the deficit inherited from Westminster could be dealt with within 5-10 years without austerity. In other words, the deficit scare story that we hear so much of from the unionist parties is bogus.
The report goes on to explicitly reject austerity and stress the importance of investing to stimulate the economy.
Indeed, if the spending recommendations of the Commission had been applied over the past 10 years, the £2.6 billion real-terms cuts that have been imposed on the budget of the Scottish Government by Tory Governments at Westminster would have been completely wiped out. That’s something that we should reflect on carefully.
However, to prove that the deficit is not a barrier to independence, the Commission has been deliberately cautious. Its calculations assume no independence growth dividend – effectively a worst case scenario.
But it is not suggesting that we settle for that.
The Commission is clear that independence will help us grow our economy faster and it sets out how we can start to emulate the success of other small, independent countries.
There are many recommendations in the report about the kind of country Scotland can be - and it looks at the areas where bold and radical policies can be pursued to achieve it.
It argues that to achieve growth we must increase our population, with active pro-migration policies – that is essential to the wellbeing of our society and our economy.
It recognises that more people must be supported into work, that the gender pay gap must be closed and wages must rise.
It also talks about how we boost productivity, which requires everybody – political parties, business, civic society and trade unions - to be working together towards the same aim.
There is also a welcome focus on improving participation. The Commission highlight the ways in which inequality holds back both our economy and our society, and the benefits that come from tackling it.
To fulfil our potential as a nation, we must make sure that no one misses out because of a lack of financial wealth, their gender, race, being disabled or even the part of the country they are from.
The Commission sets out what other independent countries that have applied themselves to these challenges have been able to achieve, the benefits they have reaped, and why Scotland must seek the powers to do more.
If we can all agree that these are the key challenges Scotland must rise to – and we should – the question then becomes: under what constitutional scenario are they more likely to be addressed?
Do we accept the continued hostility toward immigration from successive Westminster governments, further austerity, rising inequality, almost non-existent wage growth, and the alienation of trade unions and business alike with a reckless approach to Brexit?
Or do we consider how an independent Scotland – furnished with a frank recognition of the challenges we face and how we overcome them - could firmly reject austerity, build an economy that works for everyone and radically improve the lives of our citizens?
I am in no doubt that we must do the latter. We must inspire people to support independence with the vision of the better country that we can build – and we must also show them how we can get there.
We have to show that people’s jobs, their bank accounts, their rents and mortgages and their pensions are at the forefront of our thoughts – and indeed, it is precisely because we care so much about people’s jobs and quality of life that we so passionately believe in independence.
With those clear and solid foundations – foundations that the Growth Commission’s report will help us to build – I believe we can, and we will, win the trust of a majority of our fellow citizens.
This article originally appeared in the Sunday Herald.
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