Today’s most successful economies and societies had similar structures and standards of living as Scotland in the early 1970s; now they are ahead of us in almost all ways of measuring quality of life and economic development. This is down to the UK’s poor performance in innovation, productivity, competitiveness and the other drivers of sustainable development and the divisive and wrong policies and strategies of successive Westminster governments. Our neighbours also have high trade union membership, low gender and income inequality, employee involvement at work, and high protection for the unemployed, disabled and old. These are not unrelated in theory, policy or practice to economic success, and the Nordic countries, Basque country and other small northern nations have shown how an industrial policy contributes to a balanced and sustainable economy.
Yet, none of the Westminster parties has promoted such an approach of inclusion and quality, and not one has the essential building blocks in their manifestos or plans. For change to happen, we must have a reversal of anti-trade union legislation, regeneration based on high quality-high value added-high wage jobs, active encouragement of employee ownership and involvement, funded through a national investment bank with complementary financial institutions and enterprise support at the local level. That Common Weal approach is inclusive, cohesive and all-embracing.
The revival of the economy and society cannot be based on consumerism and personal debts nor blind to the negative and stultifying effects of the financialisation of the economy. An industrial policy can make the most of our natural resources and investment in our people: a Common Weal approach which is for all and involves all.
Our institutions for the development of the economy, enterprise and skills have been rightly described as world-leading in the recent past and partnership working has led and informed best practice across the European Union. Our networks and diasporas give us access to markets around the world, but many have been obstructed and underdeveloped without a focus on the smart specialisation of the Scottish economy.
The key words in the superior economic and social performances of our closest neighbours are inclusion, cohesion, innovation, sustainability and involvement. These do not feature highly on the agenda of the neoliberal parties who oppose independence. In power or opposition at Westminster, the damage of the policies and closures from 1977 have not been addressed – there has been no recognition of the need for radical change, that ‘fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families’ that we voted for and never rejected at the polls. If we look at the social partnerships underpinning the Nordic countries, the low levels of inequality and strong social security systems, we see how local communities and enterprises can thrive to mutual advantage.
The UK has an industrial policy which privileges banking, insurance and finance sectors and retailing, which together suck energy, incomes and hope out of families and the local economy. A better future is possible through a Common Weal industrial policy which highlights:
– creating and sustaining high wage, high quality jobs
– produces socially useful goods and services
– creates sustainable industry sectors which achieve these two goals without social or environmental harm