Understandably strategies to improve Scotland’s economy are examined and criticised. People ask ‘Is this possible?’, ‘Can we afford it?’, ‘Will it work?’.
Based on the evidence, Scotland is a wealthy nation with vast natural resources, a skilled workforce and a strong, diverse economy. Scotland can do better and there are numerous examples where strong leadership and local control has made a huge difference.
One of the best examples is the Isle of Eigg – which provides at least seven lessons for an independent Scotland.
Lesson 1) Community ownership has given people control
A major milestone in the history of the Isle of Eigg was when the community took control over its assets with a community buyout in 1997. This gave the Eigg Community Group control over major projects on the island.
Independence gives future Scottish governments greater control over Scotland’s finances, as well as control of major investments and decisions.
Lesson 2) Renewable energy can transform our energy system
The Isle of Eigg has established its own independent energy grid with wind, solar and hydro sites. The island is now almost entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy, and the project has reduced overall energy costs.
Scotland is the most renewables rich country in Europe with vast wind, wave and tidal energy potential. Renewables have been supported by the current Scottish Parliament. With the full powers of independence Scotland can do much more to create jobs in the energy sector and provide clean energy for the 21st century.
Lesson 3) Investment in infrastructure improves opportunities
The Isle of Eigg Community group have focused on improving the island’s infrastructure. The energy network links into the community centre and churches to provide warm public spaces at lower cost. Housing support has also encouraged young people to move to the island.
Similarly an independent Scotland can prioritise improving transport links, energy transmission and housing. The Scotland Means Business report highlighted the opportunities to improve Scotland’s economy through investment.
Lesson 4) New technology create better services
Innovation on the Isle of Eigg has used modern technology to revitalise the island. The energy system used PV panels and advanced storage systems.
Scotland can benefit from improvements in electronics, communications, design and transportation. The design group Lateral North developed a strategy that combined technology, design and a new economic strategy to make Scotland better off.
Lesson 5) Local participation makes the system work
The Isle of Eigg projects are succeeding because those who live there are actively involved. The original buyout, the electricity scheme and future projects required determination, the ability to co-operate, overcome old prejudices and working together to solve problems. Rather than being imposed from outside or on high, it was the citizens of the island who changed its priorities and maintain the new system.
An independent Scotland will succeed due to the talents and contributions of people who live in Scotland. Developing a constitution, improving economic performance and expanding responsibilities in tax, social security and international affairs will require people from education, business, politics and throughout Scottish society to participate in the process.
Lesson 6) Communities can turn around problems
Before the community buyout the Isle of Eigg faced numerous problems. Decisions were taken from afar, the population had dropped, young people continued to leave the island, Eigg was cut off from the national grid, had no proper pier for ferries, and relied on expensive disel fuel for its power. Due to the change in ownership and a variety of projects all these problems have either been solved or mitigated.
An independent Scotland will also face huge challenges. Some of these – like national finances, demographic changes and climate change – are faced by many countries. Scotland also faces the challenges of high inequalities in health, education and wealth. Scotland also has to improve its economic performance and create new jobs for the 21st century. There are many ways to solve these problems, and the powers of independence provide to opportunity to do so.
Lesson 7) Have confidence and ambition
The Isle of Eigg raised £1.5 million to become the first Scottish island owned by its inhabitants. This was a huge challenge for a small and geographically isolated community. With determined campaigning efforts, organising and fundraising, the target was reached and this same ambition for their community has transformed the island.
Scotland is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It has vast natural resources, a skilled population, a strong trading position, competitive advantages across business sectors and many other strengths. In the vote on independence it makes sense to have confidence in Scotland and ambition for Scotland. Medium sized countries can develop strong political systems and Scotland is capable of leading the world with innovative solutions in energy, trade and design.
The Isle of Eigg is a small example of what can be done by taking on the responsibilities of leadership and by creating opportunities. With more economic influence over a community, the islanders transformed Eigg to the benefit of the people who live there. It took a great deal of effort and careful planning. Yet despite financial and social challenges, important improvements were achieved.
The independence referendum presents the same scenario on a national scale. Independence gives the people of Scotland a greater stake in their democracy. It provides the best opportunities for the renewable energy sector to expand. It means Scottish governments can invest in infrastructure, provide specific solutions and encourage participation. Most of all, a vote for independence is a vote of confidence in Scotland’s abilities and a vote of ambition that Scotland can do better with political power in Scotland.
As on the Isle of Eigg, the people who are best placed to drive improvements in Scotland are the people who live and work here. A vote for independence gives us the power to improve our lives and solves our problems.