A greener economic strategy for Scotland
The Scottish Government have today published their National Strategy for Economic Transformation. Although this still falls short of a move away from an outdated focus on growth, Greens in government have worked hard to shift this strategy as much as possible towards our ambitions of a just transition to a net-zero economy and re-orienting our economy so that it serves the wellbeing of all.
As a result, we have a strategy that takes some important steps in this direction. Here are five highlights:
1. Steps towards a wellbeing economy
One of the key stated aims of the NSET is to “reorient our economy towards wellbeing and fair work, to deliver the higher rates of employment and wage growth, and to significantly reduce structural poverty, particularly child poverty, and improve health, cultural and social outcomes for disadvantaged families and communities.”
The Scottish Greens have long championed using public funds better by making any grants of other public support conditional on minimum standards. The NSET confirms this; from now on grants will be conditional on paying the real Living wage and other Fair Work criteria, and we are now looking at how this can be extended to other forms of Scottish Government support. Scottish Government procurement – contracts worth billions of pounds every year - will also require the Living wage.
The NSET also commits to doing more to remove the barriers to employment and career advancement for disabled people, women, those with care experience and people from minority ethnic groups, and commits to developing a Gender Pay Action plan and a new ethnicity pay gap strategy. The Scottish Government will also establish a Centre of Expertise in Equality and Human Rights to embed equality and human rights within the economic policy-making process.
Finally, a wellbeing economy monitor will be published which will provide a dashboard of indicators that will guide future economic decision- making instead of the traditional approach of focusing on GDP growth alone.
2. Key role for trade unions
The NSET recognises that trade unionism “is at the very heart of a fairer, more successful society” and recognises that unions and collective bargaining are vital to our goal of transitioning to a wellbeing economy. It commits the Scottish Government to promoting greater union representation and collective bargaining, and specifically to working to achieve this in those sectors where low pay and precarious work is most prevalent, like hospitality and early learning and childcare.
3. Delivering a just transition to net-zero
One of the key objectives of the NSET is to “strengthen Scotland’s position in new markets and industries, generating new, well-paid jobs from the just transition to net zero”. As a result, we will see more public sector support for business in these sectors, new net-zero industrial ‘clusters’, and greater public R&D and capital investment. Critically, building Scotland’s supply chain industries is a crucial part of this strategy and we will therefore see the Scottish Government using al the powers available to it to capture as much as possible of the supply chain opportunities that arise as a result of the transition to net-zero.
For the first time ever, protecting and investing in the natural environment forms part of our economic strategy. This includes recognition of the need to operate within environmental limits, as well as the economic opportunities that arise from investing in nature. The strategy includes a commitment to establish a national project pipeline for responsible private investment in nature-based solutions, alongside continued public investment through the Nature Restoration Fund that the Greens have secured.
4. An enhanced role for the public sector
The Scottish Government has always had a stronger public sector than elsewhere in the UK, keeping water, for example, in public hands, and increasingly taking an direct and interventionist approach where required. Taking Scotrail into public ownership is a good current example of that. The Scottish Greens believe that the public sector needs to take a proactive, interventionist approach to the economy so that more assets are held by and for the public, and to drive the transition to a fair and net-zero economy. The NSET builds on that approach, committing to “taking a strategic approach to public ownership so that public companies are managed, developed and initiated for the public good” and to providing “support and advice to local government to identify opportunities to establish successful public companies.”
5. Promoting cooperatives and social enterprises
The Scottish Greens believe alternative models of business-like cooperatives and social enterprises have a key role to play in a fair and zero-carbon economy, but they have been historically neglected in Scotland compared to many other countries.
The NSET recognises this opportunity and commits to new tailored support for cooperatives and social enterprises, embeds support for business with alternative ownership models in the new programme designed to support entrepreneurship, and commits to publishing a review of “how best to significantly increase the number of social enterprises and cooperatives in Scotland”
But is this a green economic strategy?
The NSET does take some significant steps forward, and the positive impact of Greens in government is clear for all to see, but that doesn’t make it a green economic strategy. This is most obvious when looking at the aims of the NSET, which include continued economic growth as a key objective.
Economic growth is an excluded area in the Scottish Greens cooperation agreement with the Scottish Government. This means we have agreed to disagree over its role, which we consider to be a relic of outdated economic thinking that is driving the destruction of the planet.
Just as significant is the absence of fiscal and taxation policy, which are a necessary part of any economic plan that aims to tackle the climate emergency and economic inequalities. However, these crucial powers are held by Westminster, which is why the NSET is also clear about the limitations we have to work within. In the end, to truly transform our economy we need the powers that would come with independence.