"I have no idea if an independent Scotland can do all that I want it to, but I have to take that risk". Photo: Getty
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“I hate bagpipes, I hate kilts, but I've changed my vote from No to Yes”

Kev Sherry, of Glaswegian indie outfit Attic Lights, explains why he's changed from No to Yes on the Scottish independence question. 

I despise nationalism. I despise patriotism. I hate bagpipes, I hate kilts and tartan and I hate the cringe inducing shouts of “wha’s like us” in bars across the nation at closing time on drunken Saturday nights. I love the other countries we share this little island with. I am not what you could ever call a patriot or a nationalist and I would call myself European long before I’d ever call myself Scottish. I believe in cultural and ethnic integration. I believe in a world where nationalities blur into one another rather than divide on tribal lines. I have been, until fairly recently, a staunch ‘No’ voter. However, all things considered, I now feel I am left with no choice but to vote Yes in the forthcoming referendum.

There are economists on both sides of the argument saying wildly different things. I’m not an economist, and neither are the majority of people who seem to have decided to believe one side of the economic argument because it suits their inherent prejudices (as I did until recently.) This is not a decision the lay person can make based on just economics. It has to be about more than that.

We have the unique opportunity to build something better than the status quo – a status quo that is destroying the fabric of our society, that more than ever in living memory, supports the rich and powerful at the expense of the weak and the poor (regardless, I think it is fair to say, of whatever Westminster party is in power.) To ignore the possibility of changing this, to not at least consider taking that risk of independence, is at best shameful and at worst a disgrace to future generations.

How does anything happen in human history? How do we make the great leaps forward? We take risks. We place our hope in new, heretical ideas. If Albert Einstein had accepted the status quo of physics we could be living in a vastly different world. The same goes for Jesus Christ and Mohammed and Socrates and Galileo. New ideas that are heretical to the established order are fundamental to human progress.

I am not interested in Alex Salmond as a man or the SNP as a party. I don’t care about keeping the pound and I accept that, should the country vote Yes, Scotland might initially struggle economically – as any country would while trying to find its feet. That is not the point. This is bigger than you and me. This is about the future.

This is about more than you and your own wallet and your own ideas of culture and history. This is about more than whether you will have enough money to take the family to Mallorca next summer or to buy a new flatscreen TV. It’s about more than the “shared traditions” you were brought up to believe in.

It is about refusing to accept the pernicious lie that, “we are all in this together.” It’s about making the decision to redefine that phrase. In an independent Scotland, the wealthy and the powerful who comprise the British establishment will no longer get to define what “we” “this” and “together” mean anymore.

I have no idea if an independent Scotland can do all that I want it to, but I have to take that risk. The only other option is the status quo with its interchangeable political parties and neoliberal selfishness – an oligarchy in all but name. As a nation that consistently votes to the left, we can be sure that the policies of the main UK parties will not hold as much sway in Scotland as they do now.

Independence offers us a chance to make a change, to take a leap of faith, to show our brothers and sisters in England and the world beyond that there is a better way of living and treating people.

I urge you not to play it safe and I urge you to think about more than your own pockets. I urge you to see something better in the people around you. I urge you to vote Yes.

This article was originally published on kevsherry.wordpress.com. Read the original hereKev Sherry is a Scottish indie musician who plays in the Glaswegian band Attic Lights. He tweets @KevSherry1

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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.