Bought and sold for English gold

How Scotland has yet to be consulted over the Treaty of Union that established the UK

On the 1st of May 1707, Scotland’s shotgun wedding to England came into force through the Treaty of Union, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established. News of the decision was met with rioting across Scotland and the backers of the union were forced to hide in an Edinburgh cellar to escape the rocks and chamber-pot contents that were being thrown their way.

As Robert Burns so eloquently put it: “bought and sold for English gold; what a parcel of rogues in a nation”. It was a union that the people of Scotland did not want, secured by bribing Scottish parliamentarians with lands and titles while English troops stood ready on the border. This was far from a marriage of willing and equal partners.

Fast-forward 300 years, and the people of Scotland are still waiting to be asked what it wants its relationship with England to be. The constitutional question has been central to Scottish politics since the 1960s, yet at no time have the people of Scotland been given the opportunity to decide their future in a referendum. If those who argue in favour of the continuation of the union truly believed in the strength of their argument and that the will of a majority of Scots backed their views, then what better way would there be for the legitimacy of Scotland’s marriage to finally be underpinned with a clear and demonstrable example of public support?

The fact of the matter is that the unionist parties are all too well aware that if Scotland were to be asked what it wanted in a fair manner with balanced arguments presented by both sides of the debate, there would only be one outcome: Scottish independence.

No matter what the historical causes of the union, the question of what Scotland’s relationship with England and the rest of the world should be is one that is firmly rooted in looking to the future, not the past.

A forward looking, independent Scotland would allow us create a business environment that is responsive to the particular needs of Scotland rather than those of the South-East of England. It would allow Scotland to harness the resources available to it in terms of its educated population, its huge renewable energy potential and it’s oil supplies and couple it with a business friendly environment to emulate the success of Ireland, Norway and Iceland, all three of which are in the top six of the worlds most wealthiest countries.

A forward looking, independent Scotland would grant us a seat at the table in a European Union where power firmly resides in the hands of the member states. This would allow Scotland to fight to protect her interests, particularly fishing, in a way that is not possible as long as the UK as a whole regards the industry as expendable.

A forward looking, independent Scotland would mean an end to Scotland’s involvement in bloody and illegal wars and would allow us to use our armed services to protect the fundamental values that Scotland believes in, such as human rights, rather than to protect the oil interests of neo-conservatives in the United States.

But most of all, a forward looking independent Scotland would mean an end to the illegitimate sham of a marriage that exists between Scotland and England and would allow us to cooperate on an equal footing. Where we agree England would have a new partner on the world stage and where we differ Scotland would be able to do so without antagonising her nearest neighbour. More and more it is becoming clear that it is time for Scotland and England to become ‘just good friends’.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.