Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

Only independence will enable Scotland to choose funding the NHS over nuclear weapons

It is now just two weeks until the general election to the Scottish parliament.

People always claim that the next election is the most important ever. I don’t know about that, but it’s certainly the most important since the 2014 referendum. Why? For the simple reason that it’s the first time since then that the electorate have been asked to assert their right to reconsider that decision. This election is an opportunity to say you want another referendum. If the majority of those elected stood on that platform, then that’s what should happen.

Whether you believe in that or not, it’s pretty major stuff. And yet, this is the quietest election campaign I’ve ever been involved in.

In part, because it’s being fought under the necessary Covid restrictions, but I think it’s also to do with the seriousness of the situation. Over ten thousand of our fellow citizens have died, thousands of jobs have gone, and none of us know for sure when and how we get out of this. So, it’s not surprising that the electorate have a sober, if not sombre, attitude.

The SNP manifesto chimes with the gravity of the public mood. It is a weighty document, heavy with policy pledges in every area. But they are focused and they are practical.

Take education for example. There must have been a temptation to focus on the record level of spending, the new schools, the additional teachers. Instead, tackling the gap between the achievement of kids from low income backgrounds versus others, has been placed front and centre. The gap is closing, but not fast enough; despite targeting extra spending in schools.

So we need to do things outside the classroom too. An SNP government will double the new Scottish Child Payment, feed all primary school children and make sure every one of them has a device they can get online with. We’re still a long way off getting rid of the class system entirely, but we can try to level the playing field and make things fairer for those at the sharp end.

Across other areas – health, transport, environment – the emphasis is on serious practical measures to aid the recovery from Covid. Some of these promises are very big, like ending dental charges, and taking the trains back into public ownership.

But I also like this manifesto because it is honest in saying what cannot be done. The Scottish government can prepare the ground for a universal basic income, for example, but it cannot implement it. It can argue the merits of spending on health rather than nuclear weapons, but it cannot switch the money.

Not unless things change. Not unless the Scottish government have the power and capacity of a normal independent country. Which is why, when the pandemic is over, the SNP are adamant that people here should get the chance to consider that proposition. When the times comes, you may want it, or you may not. But it should be your choice, no-one else’s. At the end of the day, that is why this election does really matter. If you want to keep your future options open, vote SNP.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 23rd April 2021

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