Giving the country more control over its land, sea and air will enable the development of better policies to protect and sustain the natural environment and to combat pollution, says Yes Scotland.
The arguments have been prompted by a “referendum challenge” made by Scottish Environment Link, the umbrella body for more than 30 environment and conservation groups. It claims that getting reasoned responses from both sides on a major policy area is “a first” in the referendum campaign.
Yes Scotland’s submission was written by Stan Blackley, the campaign’s director of communities. A prominent activist with the Scottish Green Party, he has worked as an environmental campaigner for more than 20 years with The Woodland Trust, WWF Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“While I strongly support Scottish independence, I am not a nationalist,” he said. “I recognise the significant positive progress that has been achieved through devolution, but the current devolution settlement is now limiting what we can do to make Scotland a greener and more sustainable country.”
He argued that a Yes vote for Scottish independence would give Scotland full control over the policies that affect its environment and allow campaigners to continue to have a positive influence. “A No vote will leave us with limited opportunities, a distant and uninterested UK government speaking on our behalf, and little hope of much more progress,” he said.
Independence would give Scotland the opportunity to “look afresh” at how best to govern ownership, access and use of Scotland’s land, air and seas, Blackley argued. This would be greatly helped by gaining control of taxes.
Independence would also enable Scotland to pursue a “fundamentally different economic strategy” based on better social and environmental aims, he said. The way in which success was measured in society could be changed for the better.
It would be possible to make “greater progress” in cutting the pollution that is disrupting the climate, he suggested. And the importance of natural resources could be recognised in a new written constitution, which could also get rid of nuclear weapons.
Scotland would be able to represent itself at United Nations (UN) environmental bodies on endangered species, nature conservation and climate change, Blackley argued. It would be able to put forward its own arguments within the European Union (EU).
Voting yes could be “the catalyst for meaningful, positive, transformational change,” he contended. Independence would provide a raft of opportunities for Scotland to improve its leadership on tourism, food and renewable energy.
“Scotland’s economy and people will only flourish if we protect, conserve and enhance our environment,” he concluded. “Scottish independence is now key to allowing the people of Scotland the opportunity to do so.”
In his eight-page submission, Blackley highlighted the deep differences between the Scottish National Party, which believes in exploiting the oil left in the North Sea, and the Greens who believe that this would have a “disastrous” impact on the climate.
“Both of these very different approaches could be taken with the increased autonomy and democracy that will come with Scottish independence,” he said. “The key thing to note is that the decision to do one thing or another will lie with the people of Scotland after a Yes vote for independence, not with others elsewhere.”
Better Together, which has made its own submission to Scottish Environment Link’s referendum challenge, pointed out that the UK had led the world in tackling climate change within the UN and the EU. “The big environmental challenges we face are best tackled by working together, not breaking apart,” said a campaign spokesman.
“Nowhere is there a better example of working together across Britain to improve our environment than in renewable energy. Investment is supported by energy consumers across the whole of Britain, which means the burden is shared and Scotland's renewables industry has developed,” he added.
“By pooling and sharing our resources across the whole of the UK we are better placed to meet today's environmental challenges. Where is the sense in putting this at risk?”
Andy Myles, Scottish Environment Link’s parliamentary officer, welcomed the responses from both sides of the argument. “After much work and many months, we think we’ve achieved a first in this campaign,” he said.
“In at least one major policy area of substance, voters now have a reasoned starting point for discussion of what the constitutional alternatives might mean. We will now set our sights on encouraging public debates on the environmental issues.”
In the debate so far two prominent environmentalists have made personal declarations that they intend to vote Yes: Dr Richard Dixon, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, and Cameron McNeish, the well-known mountaineer, writer and broadcaster.
The Sunday Herald understands that discussions are now underway in the wider voluntary movement that could lead to more Yes voters becoming public in coming weeks.