STUC gives Scottish Government a masterclass in building back better for a fair and green Scotland

Roz Foyer critiques the ‘business as usual’ thinking and rallies us for a fight.

Last year in Scottish Left Review’s STUC congress, I argued for a People’s Recovery, setting out our demands for a different track for Scotland’s economy. Now as our class faces the worst cost-of-living crisis for decades and the Scottish Government has finally launched its long anticipated National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET), it’s a good time to reflect on what progress we’ve made and what working people need to do to win a fairer share of the wealth and power in our economy.

Launching the NSET, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes, said the next decade will be the decisive one when governments will stand or fall based on the long-term economic decisions made to rebuild economies post-Covid and set them on a journey to net zero. She then laid out the five pillars of the government’s ten-year plan: i) embedding an entrepreneurial approach across our society; ii) identifying and attracting investment to new market opportunities; iii) supporting increased productivity and innovation; iv) improving skills with a lifetime approach to upskilling and retraining; and v) building a fairer and more equal society through developing a Wellbeing Economy and Fair Work approach.

As a member of the advisory group helping inform NSET, on behalf of the STUC, I argued hard for the kind of transformative economic measures that were set out in our People’s Recovery plan. Instead, the Scottish Government’s plan is more a strategy for deepening the economic status quo than economic transformation.

NSET has a sprinkling of good ideas around the lifelong skills agenda and we have successfully argued for some strong lines on the importance of Fair Work, decent pay and the role of unions, with welcome statements being made around Fair Work conditionality, the key role of collective bargaining and the need for sectoral bargaining to be developed in sectors like hospitality where low pay is endemic. But overall, it is a missed opportunity to address the challenges before us and make manifest, transformational change.

The Scottish economy’s main engine is the foundational economy, being it biggest employer and encompassing transport, retail, energy generation, distribution and, importantly, education and public services. So, at the NSET’s heart should have been a strategy to increase pay and improve terms and conditions in these sectors. Investing in public services offers huge opportunity to support sustainable growth while tackling poverty and inequality.

Over the coming years we face enormous challenges, none greater than the journey to net zero, a journey that must be carefully planned to ensure we create good, secure jobs that do not leave communities abandoned. Whilst the NSET talks about the potential for future development in the renewables and low carbon economy it fails to acknowledge previous failures or, more importantly, how we can learn from them and build a new industrial strategy.

Scotland is not immune from global economic shocks or Downing Street’s self-inflicted economic damage. Financialised capitalism embeds structural inequalities as evidenced by the escalating cost-of-living crisis. Addressing these structural inequalities is fundamental and it will certainly not be solved by prioritising Scotland becoming a ‘magnet for global private capital’ nor through the appointment of a ‘Chief Entrepreneurship Officer’. While genuinely building new business start-ups is good, flooding the economy with new start-ups, too many of which then fail, is not.

The public sector has an enormous role to play in our economic transformation yet it is barely mentioned in NSET. Neither is there any mention of tax – which is crucial to tackling inequality and raising revenue. Paying lip-service to community wealth building and the desire for a well-being economy will not deliver the change needed. Serious planning for economic transformation means the Scottish Government must develop a green industrial strategy and invest in our public sector and the local authorities that make our vital services a reality.

So, the STUC will continue to engage with Scottish Government both on taking forward the more positive elements and aspirations of this strategy and to ensure the foundational economy is not left behind in Scotland’s economic future. But the question remains: what must working people do to deliver a People’s Recovery? Politicians, corporations and the billionaires aren’t going to listen to our proposals or give up their grip on the country’s wealth unless we make them.

So, we need to build a big, broad and angry alliance – we need to mobilise and build people power. That has to start with a strong organising and collectivising approach in our workplaces and in our communities. It starts with local and relevant issues and showing folk that by acting collectively on issues like cuts to libraries, or acting through tenants’ unions, or taking strike action for a decent pay rise at your workplace, you can make change happen.

Then it requires political education and movement building to go broad and build alliances across a range of divides; it needs us to find winnable issues that can unite us; it needs us to demand better from our political parties and meaningful manifesto commitments; it needs us to motivate people to have hope, have confidence, and get actively involved in piling on the pressure and visibly backing our demands. It needs leadership and for organisations like the union movement to knit together a diverse range of interests into rising class struggle.

It isn’t an easy option. It will take time. But there are no alternatives if we want to see radical change to our economic system and how it works. So, let’s put our energy into movement building like never before and build people power. When we do that, we will be heard because standing together and demanding our fair share with one strong voice will make us more powerful than we dare imagine.

Roz Foyer is the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). The ‘People’s Recovery’ report can be read at