- Would it allow the redistribution of wealth across the whole of the UK?
- Would lay the basis for the democratisation of the Scottish economy?
- Would it build working class unity?
Helpfully, since 2014 the SNP has clarified its blueprint for the economy of an independent Scotland in the Sustainable Growth Commission and reinforced it in the past few weeks with the “Building a New Scotland: A stronger economy with independence”.
The SNP’s plans have enormous implications for an independent Scotland’s ﬁscal policy — its taxation and public spending. The very levers Scotland would need to achieve its declared goals of becoming “prosperous, sustainable, fair and equal” would not be available to it.
This latest Scottish government document has been analysed by Jonathan in his blog and Vince Mills in his Morning Star article. Both describe the constraints of remaining within sterling and how it would deny the Scottish economy the levers needed for growth while excluding it from decisions about how wealth is redistributed. The plan for independence fails to meet the Red Paper’s first criteria of redistribution of wealth.
One of John Foster’s many contributions has been to track the state of the Scottish economy. He has described its shrinking manufacturing base followed by its shrinking finance sector and importantly its external ownership. This has obvious implications for an independent Scotland but is no less serious for Scotland within the UK.
The SNP has allowed vital industries to go to the wall. Overseas investment far from bringing employment has led to the destruction of industries. Based on their actions over the past 15 years, there is no evidence that a SNP government of an independent Scotland would use its powers to gain democratic control over utilities and industries. For example, in its paper on Energy Efficiency the Scottish Government explained:
“We have not abandoned our pledge to provide affordable energy to the people of Scotland however there has been significant change since we commissioned the outline business case for a public energy company. We originally committed to in 2017 under the previous Scottish Government administration.
Some of these changes include:
- The energy supply market has faced dynamic challenges;
- A climate emergency has also been announced; and
- We have set new ambitious net zero targets that require a step change on the demand side in terms of how people use heat and practice energy efficiency behaviours.
Given these factors and the on-going, complex nature of the energy market and UK Government regulations policy, now is not the right time to pursue a national public energy company.” Strange, you would have thought it was exactly the right time for such a step.
It fails to meet the second criteria of democratising our economy.
The importance of class unity across Britain has been demonstrated in recent and ongoing trade union struggles and the mobilisation around the cost-of-living crisis. It remains the case as argued in the 2013 Red Paper that the independence on offer would break the class unity of working people across the nations of Britain without breaking the chains of economic control that bind them.
The STUC played a central role in the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1995 and before that in 1980 in the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly. But there had been a time when the STUC rejected calls for devolution. It was in 1968 that Mick McGahey speaking for the miners’ union brought the STUC back to supporting a Scottish Parliament in a motion calling for a federal UK. The report of his speech is as follows:
“It was said that a Scottish Parliament, with its forms and powers to be decided by the Scottish electorate, would mean separatism. His colleagues and he rejected outrightly the theory of separating Scotland from a United Kingdom” he went on to say: “They had more in common with the London dockers, the Durham miners and Sheffield engineers than they ever had with the barons and landlord traitors of that kind of Scotland.”
The SNP plans would fail on the third criteria of consolidating class unity.
The Red Paper on Scotland of 2013 was written against the backdrop of Tory austerity and was preceded by two earlier volumes. The first Red Paper on Scotland was of course edited by Gordon Brown, but we should not forget that John Foster brought together the chapters on the economy and has been central to all three volumes.
In 1975 Gordon Brown wrote in his introduction:
“That the social and economic problems confronting Scotland arise not from national suppression nor from London mismanagement (although we have had our share of both) but from the uneven and uncontrolled development of capitalism and the failure of successive governments to challenge and transform it.” I couldn’t have put it better.
The second volume was edited by Vince Mills in 2005, eight years into the New Labour government. It analysed the impact of neoliberal policies enacted by then the Chancellor Gordon Brown. He and Blair helped shape the Scottish Parliament in a way that would ensure it would not challenge these policies. It was not as Jimmy Jack had predicted, a workers’ parliament.
Under Boris Johnson the UK became even more centralised. He used his post Brexit legislation to retain powers being repatriated from the EU that should have come to the Scottish Parliament including arrangements for an internal market and subsidy control. He took powers under levelling up to directly intervene in the Scottish and Welsh economies. With Gove back in charge of Levelling up there is every reason to think these plans will continue.
The Red Paper Collective remains committed to its three criteria. The best means it can see of achieving this is to respect the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. We go on to argue that forcing people to vote for either independence or the status quo does not respect that sovereign right. It has argued since its foundation in December 2011 that there must be a third option, but that it must be a progressive third option. In the 2013 book it argued that Devo Max, defined as full fiscal autonomy, was not progressive. Rather it is a form of fiscal discipline that would delight the Tories requiring Scotland to cut its spending cloth according to its means. Much as outlined by the Sustainable Growth Commission.
Our aim should be to define a progressive form of Home Rule that starts by guaranteeing the rights of devolved administrations and gives the parliaments shared sovereignty with the Westminster.
We have always argued for common minimum standards across the UK, but also for the right of devolved administrations to enhance services, protections and rights.
For example, even within its existing powers, the Scottish Government could enhance social security to end child poverty. It can better protect the environment by enacting some of its own rhetoric. Even though workers’ rights are reserved, it could take steps to adopt the Institute for Workers’ Rights Charter for Scotland rather than the managerial approach of the Fair Work Convention.
Should there be an independence referendum we must demand it includes a third option. But I am not arguing that we sit and wait for such a referendum, we must be arguing for these changes now. We should build the case for new powers over immigration, further workers’ rights, the restoration of powers subsumed in the Subsidy Control Act.
As John Foster argues in the Red Paper book Scottish Independence: There is a Third Option “The key levers would be the ability of the Scottish Parliament to supply state aid, to develop comprehensive public ownership of key utilities and the use public procurement to sustain local industry and employment. They need to be fought for now.”
Back to the first Red Paper and the words of Gordon Brown
“There are many Scottish roads to Socialism as there are predictions of Britain’s economic doom – but most of them demand three things: a coherent plan for the extension of democracy and control in society and industry which sees every reform as a means to creating a socialist society; a harnessing of the forces for industrial and community self-management within a political movement; and a massive programme of education by the labour movement as a whole.” That is a programme we can still support today.