Ahead of delivering the inaugural annual Jimmy Reid Foundation Lecture, Alex Salmond discusses Jimmy Reid's legacy, in an article for the Daily Record.
As much as I miss Jimmy personally, what I miss more is the power of his voice speaking out against the attacks on the most vulnerable members of our society.
And that voice is needed now more than ever.
When Jimmy was elected rector of Glasgow University, he described in his world-famous address the threat of alienation and its corrosive effect. He defined alienation as “the cry of men who find themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their destinies.”
Forty years on, I’d argue that the biggest threat to human dignity is in a new kind of alienation. The alienation felt by those who need the help of benefits to survive and find themselves arguably being demonised by some sections of society.
Jimmy was a tireless campaigner for a better society and he would be appalled by some of the brutal effects being felt on our doorstep here in Scotland thanks to the UK government’s process of welfare reform.
Many of us can think of human stories illustrating the misery being felt up and down the country. The person reduced to penury by removal of their Disability Living Allowance, the working single parent made £30 a week worse off by the reduction in working tax credit, the sense of despair among the most vulnerable in our society as they bear the costs of an economic whirlwind not of their making – all human examples of people being alienated.
Last week Citizens Advice Scotland even testified to the Scottish Parliament that they were providing suicide awareness training awareness training for their counsellors as a result of the stresses caused by welfare cuts.
I do not argue for one second that any of this the intention of welfare reform but these are its consequences.
Here in Scotland we know there is a better way and this Parliament has done all it can to mitigate the consequences. Together with Cosla, we have agreed to meet the cost of the UK government cut to council tax benefit, protecting more than half a million people on low incomes. We have set up a Scottish Welfare Fund, protecting an additional 100,000 vulnerable Scots, and last week we announced we will provide more than £5 million of support for services like Citizens Advice Scotland.
But this is no more than mitigating some of the worst impact.
Scotland deserves better and with the powers to control our own finances and our own welfare system we could do better.
For me, independence is not just an end in its own right but a means to providing a fairer society that better looks after those who need it. An independent Scotland will see key decisions about our future being made by people who live and work here.
We will have the power to choose what sort of nation we want to be – one where we live up to Jimmy Reid’s legacy, by using the powers of an independent nation, to fully address alienation and create a fairer society.