The independence referendum transformed Scotland and its politics. It was a carnival of democracy, generating mass participation in debate about Scotland’s future. Confounding the widespread view that engagement in politics is in terminal decline, millions of people took part in peaceful, if also forceful, political argument. And although Scotland voted to stay in the UK, it did not return to the status quo ante: at the subsequent general election, turnout was a full five percentage points higher than in the UK as a whole, and the Scottish electorate delivered a political earthquake of their own, routing all of the unionist parties. As a consequence, a new cadre of SNP MPs has become a powerful presence at Westminster, while the Holyrood parliament, with elections due next year, is gaining important new powers.
In light of this political transformation, IPPR has set up IPPR Scotland: a new non-partisan, independent thinktank, in and for Scotland. It is a new venture for IPPR, and it builds on our influential work in the rest of the UK over the last almost-30 years, notably the creation more than a decade ago of IPPR North, which now operates out of offices in Manchester and Newcastle. IPPR Scotland will be one of the few thinktanks working across progressive politics in Scotland, researching and developing new evidence-based policy solutions, supporting Scottish politics and its people to meet the opportunities and challenges facing the nation.
And, as we know, there are many big, long-term challenges facing Scotland. With new powers over taxes and benefits stemming from the Calman Commission, and soon from the Smith Commission, how can we use fiscal policy and social security reform to make Scotland fairer and more equal? With demographic change and an ageing population, what changes do we need to see to public services and the welfare state to ensure social justice for all? With productivity rates in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, behind those elsewhere in Europe, how can we support business, and get the most out of the talents of our people, to ensure that the Scottish economy can generate widely shared prosperity and pay decent, living wages? In housing, education, health and justice, what does social democracy and progressive politics mean in 21st-century Scotland? And, of course, with the huge level of political engagement we’ve seen in Scotland, how can we change the way we do politics, from the local to the national level, to empower individuals, families and communities? It is these big questions, and many more, that IPPR Scotland will work to answer in the years ahead.
As a first step, we are really pleased to have secured Gerry Hassan to work as a partner and associate fellow of IPPR Scotland, and we will be bringing together an advisory group including talents from across Scottish political life to support and steer our work. In these formative months, we will be working on research relating to skills and the Scottish labour market, and taxes and benefits in Scotland. We will be building up an ongoing policy research programme, and at the same time developing a series of lectures and events to bring together high-profile thinkers and policymakers from within Scotland, the UK and abroad.
There has rarely been a more exciting time for Scotland, and for Scottish politics, than the times we are living in. The constitutional debate in Scotland has been a truly great one, and IPPR Scotland now seeks to support a whole series of equally vital debates on public policy in Scotland. In doing so, we will take the world as we find it, and work to improve it from there. In short, IPPR Scotland will do all that it can to make the Scotland of tomorrow even better than the Scotland of today.
Russell Gunson is director of IPPR Scotland, the cross-party progressive thinktank for Scotland, based in Edinburgh.
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