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What does Scotland’s independence referendum mean for the environment?


If you can, imagine yourselves on the other side of the referendum. It’s easy to imagine that once such a big question has been asked on 18 September, Scotland’s future will be settled.

No, it won’t, not quite. Once Scotland has decided its constitutional direction (the shape, the size, the way it operates, the way it makes decisions), Scotland must decide its policy direction (what we want to do with our powers, how we look after our people or our environment, what we spend, what we build). It’s one thing having powers in your toolbox, it’s another thing to use them in a way that achieves real outcomes.

The policy questions are the questions that, once Better Together and Yes Scotland have disbanded after 18 September, the political parties that want to form the next Scottish Government will have to answer. For example, if Scotland gets new powers over North Sea oil, what are the policies the next Government will put into place to ensure a planned transition away from oil?

North sea oilNorth sea oil © iStock
  • What are the policies the next Government will put in place to ensure that we meet our climate change targets?
  • Where will climate change come in the next Government’s priority list?
  • How about in its list of funding priorities?
  • Will the next Government bring forward a programme of green infrastructure projects that will help cut our emissions rather than add to them?

The organisations that make up the 2014 Matters coalition, like my team and I here in Scotland, are all about advocating the kinds of policies that make Scotland, and the world, a better place. Once the referendum question is settled, we will be calling on Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems, Conservatives, Greens, to come up with the policies to achieve the outcomes we want.

Jobs in renewablesJobs in renewables © iStock

I hope, and expect, that there will be a large turnout for the referendum. And, we have seen with the series of referendum events our coalition has organised this year, people are interested in environmental issues, social justice, poverty eradication. They want to be able to contribute to public debate on these issues, hold their politicians to account on their commitments, and discuss new ways of tackling the issues that affect them. I also hope that this level of public interest and debate is evidence of an upsurge of interest in politics, a feeling of empowerment, of being listened to, a feeling that together we can achieve better outcomes.

I also hope that once the referendum campaign is over, Scotland’s political parties capitalise on this, and ensure that when they ask the electorate for their votes the next time round, be it in 2015 or 2016, they will inspire the electorate with the kind of policies they want, to bring about the kind of outcomes they want.

WWF Scotland will play our part, advocating the kinds of policies we think will lead to a better Scotland, a more sustainable Scotland, a beacon of environmentalism for the rest of the world to follow. We hope that the parties will do the same.

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