11 Sep 2014

Why welfare is a vote winner for Scottish independence

Some of the biggest and boldest promises being made by the yes campaign are on welfare.

Independence would see the so-called “bedroom tax” abolished. The roll-out of the troubled Universal Credit benefit would be halted as would Personal Independence Payments – the coalition’s replacement benefit for Disability Living Allowance, which has had a difficult start with hundreds of thousands of claimants waiting for assessments.

If you’re looking for vote winners – certainly among people on welfare – it’s fair to say all of the above are a good way to start.

But talk to people in Inverness who rely on benefits , and it’s interesting which part of the pitch for independence seems to be having the greatest appeal.

The policies are one thing but it’s the vision of a fairer Scotland – the word “fairer” is peppered throughout the white paper – which seems to be drawing them in.

Mags McDonald, is a former medical secretary, who has been out of work since she was diagnosed with acute psychiatric illness eleven years ago. She says she’s simply fed up with being treated like a third-class citizen.

She voted Liberal Democrat at the last election, drawn by their promises of a fairer society. Instead she says, she ended up with a coalition government who’ve introduced a “barbaric” welfare system.

The blame for the rhetoric of “skivers and scroungers” she lays at the government’s door.

“There’s more of an element of hatred for people like us on benefit, as if we’re taking the money for ourselves and we’re living the high life, big holidays, drinking , drugs, everything and that we don’t want to work and that we’re just settled in receiving money.”

Twenty-year-old Emma Grant agrees. She has a learning disability and has just moved out of a residential boarding school to live on her own.

She has real concerns about the reality of independence, is nervous about whether the country could still afford to pay for the support she needs, for the benefits she relies on.

But yet she will vote yes to independence. Why? She’s hoping Scotland, as a smaller independent nation, could be easier to persuade that people on benefits are not all cheats and idlers – she says, the prevailing attitude.

The vision of a new welfare state on offer from the yes camp has been clever, their opponents concede, but they say, it is just that – a vision – a mirage.

But the SNP say Scotland is a wealthy country and it can afford to be a fairer one.

And deciding who they believe will determine how people vote next week of course. But for virtually everyone we met, whatever their reservations about the facts and figures, there was a feeling they might as well vote yes, when for them , things could hardly get much worse.

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