Richard Leonard – Co-operative Party
Just as Scotland was unprepared for this public health crisis, so too are we unprepared for the upcoming crisis in our economy.
Just as our country was unprepared for this public health crisis, so too are we unprepared for the upcoming crisis in our economy. The underlying weaknesses in the Scottish economy have not been tackled. The Scottish Government should have been taking action to diversify and strengthen the Scottish economy and to narrow inequality – but it has not done so. But it’s not too late for us to take bold, decisive action.
Merely tinkering with these problems will not do. As the Co-operative Party’s new Owning The Future report suggests, we must harness the hard work, creativity, and dedication of people and their communities to end inequality and build a better economy.
Thanks to polling conducted for the Co-operative Party, we know that in Scotland 59% of people feel that they do not have a say in the economy. That disconnect speaks volumes. But Scots also know the answer: 65% of us feel the economy would be fairer post-coronavirus with more co-operatives at its heart.
Scotland should seek to be the Mondragon of the north. We should seek to at least double the size of the co-operative sector in Scotland. As part of this, we would review the working of Co-operative Development Scotland – giving it the resources it needs and put it on a statutory footing.
I am a strong advocate of a Scottish Marcora law: workers should have the right to buyout the business they work for at a time when it might be sold or close. But co-operation shouldn’t just be a measure of last resort: we need to look at ways of promoting employee ownership across the economy and giving employees a say on company boards.
If we truly want a level playing field in Scotland, we must make sure everyone pays in fairly. Along with Co-op MSPs, I have been arguing that no bailouts should go to companies continuing to avoid paying tax. Co-operative MSP Rhoda Grant has led on this in the Parliament over a number of years, and never has the case for us all pay our fair share been stronger.
We know that a fairer economy must also be a greener economy – I know that Co-operative MSP Claudia Beamish and others have been making a strong case for a co-operative green new deal. We should be looking for ways to include common democratic ownership in the green technologies of the future.
Our financial institutions are letting us down. Too often the big banks are abandoning our high streets and our communities. As part of our plans to expand the co-operative sector I am keen that we look at ways in which we can empower the credit union sector. I also want to see the new Scottish National Investment Bank make a real difference to communities across Scotland not just to shareholders’ bank balances.
There is some really interesting work going on in Scotland to promote building wealth in the heart of our communities, led by Councillor Joe Cullinane in North Ayrshire. Place should be much more important in economic policy. There is no one-size fits all approach for the Scottish economy: we need to empower local communities to make decisions that suit local communities and promote their economic well-being. It is communities, not corporations that have led the way during this crisis – and we should recognise that by giving them a bigger stake and say in the economy.
As I said in the Parliament recently, I appeal to all people of good will to work together, to unite to join together in a common endeavour to build a better future. I believe that in Owning the Future, the Co-operative Party has played an important role in setting out important milestones on the road to recovery, and Scottish Labour will work with the Scottish Co-operative Party to promote these policies and it will contribute to Scottish Labour’s thinking in the weeks and months ahead.
I look forward to speaking more about this at the Scottish Co-operative Party’s Owning The Future event on Saturday – and you’re more than welcome to join me at this event to discuss these ideas over Zoom.