You know when you go abroad on holiday, especially to somewhere you haven’t visited before, you get that momentary sense of unease? Things are different from what we know and experience at home. We can, if we’re not careful, fall into the trap of unfamiliarity breeding contempt. If only everything were the same, because naturally ours is better.
For those of us though who taken the next step and moved abroad, this initial response diminishes over time. Once we get a handle on how to carry out the basic tasks required to survive, it’s as if the scales fall from our eyes and we see things as they truly are.
Last week The Common Weal published its book Sorted: a handbook for a better Scotland. I haven’t read it yet, nor am I likely to do so until I visit home again and purchase a copy. Thanks to Brexit the import duties and taxes levied on everything entering the EU from the UK, mean that the costs are prohibitive. Well done Farage and Co.
The publication of Sorted got me thinking though. Based on my experience, which is far from unique, what are the things that I would like to see working differently in an independent Scotland. By that I don’t mean the highbrow, intellectually challenging issues, but those things which have a direct impact on our everyday lives.
I live in a country of 5,500,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in the south. Sound familiar? Well Finland is a bit like Scotland, only much much bigger, and of course colder. This weekend Scotland has been blanketed in snow. Where I live we have had over 40cms in two days but it’s as if it doesn’t exist. Everything runs as normal, there is very little, if any, disruption. Of course the Finns are experts in dealing with snow, everybody knows that. But they are also quite good at other things as well, things which could be equally successful in an independent Scotland.
Let’s take public transport as an example. Here we actually have an integrated transport system. How novel is that? Okay, but what does that actually mean? Let me tell you.
I live in a commuter town about 23 kilometres North of Helsinki, just on the edge of the Capital Region. A ticket to travel into Helsinki on public transport costs me €5.70. Next month the cost of the ticket will decrease to €4.50. When was the last time you heard of a price decrease on public transport in Scotland?
So what do I get for my €5.70? Well, first off the ticket has a “lifespan” of 80 minutes. It is deliberately designed to allow customers to get to their destination within the Capital Region without having to buy a second ticket. The train journey into Helsinki central station takes 18 minutes and from there I can use the same ticket to take a bus, take a tram, take the metro or even take the ferry to Soumenlinna, the island fortress at the outer approaches to Helsinki harbour (a “must see” if you every come here). Imagine that, a system which actually puts the needs of the paying customer first.
If such a system can operate successfully in Finland, why couldn’t a similar system operate successfully in Scotland. What it needs is the vision, the determination and the political will to make it happen. Perhaps one day…