Every Friday morning my neighbour, Richard, heads to work. Walking to his car and starting his twenty-five-minute journey into town, he brings with him to the kerbside the bins from both of our flats. One week it will be blue, the next it will be green. And every Friday night after work, I’ll return those same bins from the street back to their home in our courtyard. An arrangement that was never actually arranged, just simply an act of two households intuitively pulling together to solve a simple issue – recycling. It’s an issue that could be tackled separately, but is easier surmounted together.
I’ve been told many times by politicians that an independent Scotland would follow the same cooperative route by becoming the closest of allies with the nations that we share these islands with. In national defence, economic policy and climate action, Scotland would deploy “good neighbour doctrine”. Borrowed from the FDR administration, which credited it with resetting relations with Latin America, the Scottish version of this doctrine would hope to do the same. Namely, to become a grown-up member of the local neighbourhood of nations, that is serious and accountable on the world stage.
Despite some of the nations of the United Kingdom being somewhat limited by their devolved powers, they can still live up to the ideals of the “good neighbour doctrine”. These governments can work collaboratively on the issues in devolved areas and there is nothing in any of the devolution settlements that outlines each nation must go it alone.
The deposit return scheme is a timely example of this. It is understandable that political parties don’t agree on everything, but there must be more that unites us. Especially when it is about the preferred way to, wait for it…recycle.
If, as nations, we can’t collaborate with reason to find common ground on an issue so universally vital as the safeguarding of the environment, should we be concerned that our leaders do not truly understand the implications of apparent policy tunnel-vision? There is no medal for launching a scheme ahead of neighbouring nations and arguably no friends to be made in playing constitutional politics on an issue such as this.
As ever, our recycling bins will be emptied this Friday. Of course, the bin lorry driver is none the wiser to how they arrived at the kerb, or the cooperation that got them there. All we can hope for is, when shared interests align, that our leaders can similarly focus on the outcome rather than the process to find space to work together.