As our exit from Europe continues to dominate daily politics, other, vitally important areas are being neglected. So what should our politicians’ priorities be once we are beyond Brexit? We asked various contributors to draw up a pledge card for a post-Brexit manifesto.
1. Invest in education and training for young people
Changing the law so that every young person would remain in education or training until age 18 would transform the life chances of great swathes of the population, as well as benefit the Scottish economy. Currently, 20% of Scots aged between 16 and 19 are not in any form of education or structured training. More than eight in 10 business leaders in Scotland told the Open University’s Business Barometer last year that they struggled to find staff with the required skills.
Such a change, combined with a rebalancing of public opinion – to champion and value vocational education as much as academic education – would give every young person the opportunity to develop their skills and achieve their full potential. It would help employers fill the skills gaps in their sectors, increase productivity and encourage a strengthened Scottish economy to invest and support public services.
2. Build a new generation of New Towns
The current solution to the housing crisis is to continue to build groups of dwellings in similar patterns and locations as we have done over the past 25 years – but a bit more of it. We need a more radical solution. Rather than battle with local authority planning departments in order to tack hundreds of small estates onto the fringes of existing towns, and adding strain to existing services, let’s look at building whole new communities in structured way, on a large scale and with design at their heart.
The original New Towns programme in Britain saw 32 new urban developments being constructed, which today provide homes for about 2.5 million people. Developments such as Poundbury in Dorset, or Tornagrain outside Inverness, show how good design can make building new communities from scratch such an attractive proposition.
3. A clean energy revolution
Given our international climate change commitments, and with the UK having already scaled-down coal and beginning to look beyond oil and gas, there is a clear need to adapt our engineering technology to future energy supplies. A recent report into the storage of hydrogen points to an enormous opportunity: the transportation of renewable energy.
If the UK can lead the hydrogen revolution, not only would it secure our energy needs, it would allow us to lead the world in exporting renewables. We already have the inputs required – a renewables industry, engineering expertise and lots of water – we just need the vision, investment and political will to develop and champion this technology.
4. A lifelong skills guarantee
We need to think about skills the way we think about pensions – an investment for the future. The time when you could get a job at 18 and stay there until retirement is long gone. So we need to ensure workers are able to develop new skills throughout their careers – which these days is harder than ever. A skills guarantee would mean that government, helped by business, would ensure that anyone who wants to retrain or up-skill would have the opportunity to do so.
Creating personal learning accounts where workers, their employers and government can invest would give people ownership over when and how they access skills training; an expansion of lifelong apprenticeships and second chance centres for adults with no skills would help widen the provision of training, particularly for low-skilled workers.
5. Strengthen our Union
Brexit has put enormous strain on the democratic underpinnings of the nation. A nationalist government in Scotland, suspended self-government in Northern Ireland and a Labour Welsh government defining itself against a Conservative UK government have seen the devolved settlements stretched and tested. As a post-Brexit UK seeks to re-establish its position in the world, it cannot do so merely as a little England.
Twenty years on from the establishment of Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay, we need a new union delivery unit at the heart of government – ensuring that UK legislation is devolution compatible, that businesses from across the home nations are involved in helping draw up trade policy and invited on trade missions, and that civil servants and ministers have a genuine understanding of how power is shared and policy delivered.
With a raft of powers being repatriated from Brussels, and whole industries, such as agriculture or fisheries, being supported and regulated from home, ensuring that the distinct needs of Britain’s nations and regions are met will be a huge test for the UK government. It’s one it must pass if it wants citizens on board in post-Brexit Britain.
Click here to compare Ruth Davidson’s pledge card to the others in our Beyond Brexit series.