Welcome to my Blog

It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Greater devolution for a fairer Scotland

If the referendum result tells us anything, it’s that most people living in Scotland want a big change in how we are governed so that we can can seriously address poverty and inequality. This means that further devolution has to be more than just tinkering at the edges.

As Lord Smith started his work with the Scottish Devolution Commission, he urged the parties to show "courage and compromise" in reaching an agreement. He also recognised that a lot of thinking has been done on what we could do – now is the time to agree on what we will do.

While there are differences between the published proposals of the parties, there is also common ground. Perhaps the biggest challenge is for Labour, whose fiscal plans were the weakest. If the ‘change’ mantra is to be credible, Labour needs to be more radical in its approach to the Commission. Without such a change, the much quoted ‘slippery slope’, will rapidly become a cascade to independence.

That common ground starts with fiscal powers. Fully devolving income tax, including the power to vary the rate in tax bands, is the starting point. I would also add National Insurance, as government and the people need to see the full impact of taxation on incomes. Together with already largely devolved property taxes, this would put Scotland in the same league as Germany and Sweden with one of the most devolved tax revenues in Europe. There is very little support for devolving business and consumption taxes and in any case EU rules place limitations on variable rates within states. Some have argued that revenues from these taxes could be assigned to Scotland, but that would be largely cosmetic if the Scottish Parliament had no power to vary the rates. At this stage of the devolution journey, we should not be engaging in cosmetic change.

The other, often missed, aspect of fiscal devolution is greater borrowing powers. The Treasury approach to new borrowing powers under the 2012 Act has been typically orthodox. It is simply absurd that devolved administrations are left with weaker powers than the prudential regime in local government. With flexible borrowing powers we could finally stop wasting scarce resources on private finance schemes.

The case for fiscal devolution is not the alleged ‘moral hazard’ of a parliament spending money it doesn’t raise. It’s the ability to travel in a different direction in Scotland, without suffering the full financial consequences of decisions taken over public services in England. There would still need to be a Barnett Formula style balancing mechanism that recognises the value of fiscal solidarity across the UK – something that a clear majority of voters supported last week.

While fiscal devolution is important, we should not lose sight of other powers that should be devolved to Scotland. The principle should be subsidiarity; the idea that decisions should be taken at the lowest practical level in order to allow people the biggest feasible say over their lives. In UNISON’s ‘Fairer Scotland- Devolution’ plan we set out a range of new powers that match the radical mood that the referendum debate has engendered in Scotland.

Some additional powers will tidy up the current mismatch of devolved and reserved competences. The best example is Housing Benefit, because developing a coherent housing policy requires control over all the finances. This argument also applies to employment programmes. Energy generation is another where shared competences have led to confusion and disinvestment. Devolving the voting franchise would enable us to extend the voting rights of 16/17 year olds to all the elections the Scottish Parliament has responsibility for.

Other powers can be devolved to reflect different Scottish circumstances, or just because we might want to do things differently. The strength of more federal governance arrangements is that new ideas are more likely to be tried and delivered quickly in devolved administrations. This then becomes a learning experience for the UK as a whole. Health and safety, labour market regulation (including the minimum wage) and equal opportunities are good examples of this. As the Mather Commission report shows, we can do industrial relations better in Scotland. All of this would enable the Scottish Parliament to make a difference on the social justice themes that dominated the referendum campaign.

Adopting the principle of subsidiarity also means that devolution should not stop at Holyrood. Looking at the devolution proposals of the parties, Lord Smith should have less difficulty in reaching agreement on this point. The constitutional role of democratically accountable local government should be recognised in any devolution settlement, including greater control over their finances. The Strengthening Local Democracy Commission and the Christie Commission before it highlighted that Scotland has the most centralised local democracy in Europe. We should rebuild local democracy, not take it further away from the people through privatisation, mergers and centralisation.

So what about the rest of the UK and England in particular? As the leading constitutional expert, Vernon Bogdanor has said – English votes for English laws is a kneejerk absurdity. Unless the Tories are advocating Devo Max, a concept untried anywhere in the world, it is not possible to separate English matters from Scottish. Variation in spending on English services has a knock on effect on Scotland and a government has to be responsible to parliament for all its policies. There does need to be careful consideration of wider UK constitutional change, but this shouldn’t be done as a quick political fix.

In this debate we should always remember that we seek greater devolved powers for the purpose of improving peoples’ lives. Constitutional mechanics are a means to that end – not an end in themselves. The process for change must also go beyond the existing model where government consults with communities and involve genuine ownership of the process by the people.

 

This is a slightly longer version of my Sunday Times, 28 September, opinion column.

 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Remember the Hydro Boys

On Thursday this week, the Scottish Parliament will debate a motion from Annabelle Ewing MSP that remembers the contribution of the workers, many displaced persons from post-war Europe, who built our hydro power system.

S4M-10672# Annabelle Ewing: Remembering the Contribution of Those who Built the Dams and Tunnels—That the Parliament notes plans by Scottish and Southern Energy to develop a new state-of-the-art visitor centre at Pitlochry Dam and salmon ladder; recognises the contribution that this and other hydroelectric dams and tunnels throughout Scotland can make as tourist attractions as well as their primary function contributing to Scotland’s renewable electricity generation; respects the contribution made by the men, of many nationalities, who built the dams and tunnels, such as the Lednock "Tunnel Tigers", who set a world record by tunnelling 557 feet in seven days in 1955 while working on the St Fillans section of the Breadalbane Hydro-Electric scheme; further recognises that this was hard, dangerous work and that a number of men lost their lives and countless others experienced injury or illness that affected them for the rest of their lives; understands that some of the public visitor information boards list several nationalities of workers in the tunnels but make no reference to Irish workers, and looks forward to the new visitor centre properly reflecting the contributions of all of the men who built the dams and tunnels.

When most people remember the building of Scotland’s hydro schemes, they think of the vision of Tom Johnston who got the projects going, despite political and landowner opposition. However, it’s also a story about people, many of whom paid the price with their lives. Emma Wood’s book ‘The Hydro Boys’ tells the story well. I covered this in a blog post in 2011 in the context of immigration in the Highlands and cuts in HSe inspections.

In this week's debate we should not forget the human sacrifice of those who built the hydro schemes that serve us to this day.

 

 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The legacy of the referendum must be a fairer Scotland

It's at risk of becoming something of a cliche, but the independence referendum really was an amazing example of the power of democracy. As one voter put it, "It's the most incredible weapon for change you can have, being able to vote. Who needs a gun when you have a pencil?"

The depth and degree of political engagement has been unlike anything I have seen in forty years of political activity. In workplaces, pubs and caf├ęs you could hear snippets of conversations about economics, defence, banks, culture, identity and much more. It was facilitated by more analysis of Scottish issues than we have ever had. Governments and public bodies played a role, as did think tanks and academia. I would pay particular credit to the ESRC funded 'Future of Scotland and the UK' project that provided the most objective source of analysis.

The traditional media came in for a lot of criticism, largely unfairly in my view as social media always underplays the sourcing role traditional media plays in developing a story. I remember a discussion with the Editor of a national newspaper over a year ago, when we both wondered if his paper could keep up the level of content for a further year. They did, with a good balance of journalistic content and opinion columns.

What was new about this campaign, was the extent to which social media facilitated debate. The array of blogs and shorter discourse on platforms like Twitter and Facebook was remarkable. Of course there was a lot of complete nonesense here as well, but the same could be said of government publications!

In addition we rediscovered the value of a traditional form of engagement, the meeting. Trade unions, churches, community organisations and the campaigns themselves organised many events that allowed a collective engagement in the debate. This provided the basis for further conversations the following day.

For the campaign organisations it was a mixed picture. Better Together came in for a lot of criticism, but in fairness it was never going to be easy to enthuse activists for a 'No' message. None the less, the absence, until late in the day, of a more positive case for the UK was a huge mistake. Too many of their strategists addressed the campaign as if it was a normal election. Referenda are different, in this case with at least equal numbers of Labour supporters voting Yes as SNP supporters voted No. As many of us advised, Labour should have run their own campaign. It may not, as the PM put it, be about the 'effing Tories', but that was always going to be the Yes campaign's best card, and the creation of Better Together played right into their hand. In addition, as the polls narrowed, a few political leaders might have wished they had also taken the advice of the main trade unions that a second question on devolution would have enabled a more positive campaign.

Not that negative campaigning was limited to Better Together. The Yes campaign frequently rewrote UK political history and the NHS scare story was the lowlight of their own 'project fear'. While there were examples of abuse on both sides, twice as many No voters felt personally threatened as Yes voters. The enthusiasm for the cause on the Yes side got the better of many of their activists, particularly on social media. I'm always happy to have a debate, but all too often exchanges quickly degenerated into at best slogans and at worse personal abuse. In the end, as many of my non-political friends said, they did a lot of damage to the Yes campaign. Illustrated by a tweet yesterday from the Wings over Scotland blog, "Honestly, if you voted No yesterday, fuck you forever."

A real positive from the referendum was increased voter registration, at last getting us back to were we used to be in Scotland before the Poll Tax undermined the electoral register. And of course that led to a record turnout. At the outset of the campaign, I was sceptical of claims that the turnout would reach 85%. I am very happy to have been proved wrong on that point.

Much of that registration came from the most disadvantaged areas of the country. The wider Yes campaign did a good job here, even if their shopping list of policies were incompatible and contradicted each other. Every concern, every question was dismissed with 'we will sort that out after the referendum'. Or as Ewan Morrison put it, "The Yes camp have created an illusion of a free space in which everything you’ve ever wanted can come to pass – overnight". They offered no credible political roadmap to achieve even the few goals they could agree on.

It may not have been, 'all about Alex Salmond and the SNP', but that was the realistic offer on the table. The White Paper was strong on vision and process, but much weaker on substance. The exception was their best policy on Trident, but on issues like the currency, energy, pensions and taxation, it all looked a bit ill thought out. As one SNP strategist put it to me before the referendum, 'there has been an intellectual laziness in the SNP about what independence really means'. The biggest weakness was promoting a Nordic vision while claiming you could cut taxation. Scandamerica was never going to be credible.

For the No campaign, constantly harping on about the risks of independence sounded a bit thin to those who have little to risk. This is reflected in the Yes vote in areas like Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dumbarton and Dundee. This is less about independence, but rather a reflection of an anti-politics that has shown itself in support for UKIP in England and the far-right across Europe. This is the big challenge for Labour who need to make tackling inequality the central objective of their policy in 2015 and 2016. When business leaders and the Governor of the Bank of England are talking about low pay and inequality, Labour needs to be radical in its response. Labour must campaign in 2015 and 2016 as insurgents and not as part of the political establishment.

Getting devolved powers right is an important part of the process and we will no doubt be discussing this in detail, not just in Scotland, in the months ahead. However, we should not lose sight of the political objectives. Powers for a purpose is where UNISON and others started this debate, and that remains the central issue today.

The lasting legacy of this referendum campaign should be the broad political consensus across Scotland on the need to create a fairer more equal society. If we can achieve real progress on that issue, then the time and effort so many Scots put into the referendum will have been worthwhile.

 

 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Food safety abandoned to company profits

With more than 60% of chickens in the UK infected with a food poisoning bug, you might have expected the UK’s food safety watchdog to be tightening up inspections. Instead they are allowing the meat industry to inspect their own poultry, akin to paying students to mark their own exam papers.
Since 1994, the FSA at the behest of the meat industry has been deregulating the independent inspection of poultry. 37 of the 87 poultry plants throughout the UK have employed their own meat inspectors and the FSA’s latest plans will finish the job.
This comes after the Scottish Parliament approved the visual only inspection of pigs, bringing Scotland in line with the rest of the UK. This means tumours and abscesses will be minced into the sausages and pies we eat. The meat industry lobby works here as well!
Meat inspectors across Europe have warned that the latest measures would place public health in grave danger. According to FSA figures, more than 60% of chickens in the UK are infected with the campylobacter food poisoning bug, which on average kills 110 people each year and results in 22,000 people being treated in hospital. As we highlighted last month, the FSA was heavily criticised for backtracking on a decision to 'name and shame' retailers and abattoirs during a year-long testing programme on retail chicken for campylobacter.

This is all in addition to food fraud, another issue the FSA has ducked. Food mis-labelling is widespread, as is the practice of substituting premium commodity products in whole or in part with cheaper ingredients.
Giving the industry carte blanche to inspect its own products is yet another cynical attempt at privatisation which would save the industry money at the expense of public safety. Nobody should have to worry about eating food containing tumours, faeces, abscesses and other contaminants.
There has been no consultation in Scotland or the rest of the UK over these plans. Official controls currently in place to protect consumers from eating contaminated meat, cost each person in the UK just 38p per year.  A small price to pay for safe food.
Many experts in this field believe that the FSA has been captured by the meat industry. In June this year, I gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee on the Food (Scotland) Bill that will create Food Standards Scotland. I highlighted the work of Scottish meat inspectors in preventing over a million instances of diseased animal carcasses from entering the food chain. The FoI data we released included 100,000 chicken tumours. I said, "This shows what a vital job meat inspectors do. We are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that Food Standards Scotland is focused on safety of consumers not food industry profits. Meat inspectors and vets must be able to carry out thorough independent inspections, free from food industry influence."
This latest plan shows that the FSA, as currently constituted, has abandoned the consumer. When the Food (Scotland) Bill is debated at Stage 1 in the coming weeks, MSPs should ensure that the new Scottish organisation puts food safety before profits. Meanwhile, everyone in the UK is at risk.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Reinventing the Economy Conference

At a public debate last night tax justice campaigner, Richard Murphy said the technical term for the UK and Scottish economy is, 'It's stuffed'. Today, at the 'Reinventing our Economy' conference, a range of speakers looked at the failure of neoliberal economics and envisaged new ways of running an economy that works for people.

First session was about understanding the big challenges. Understanding what has happened and how we need to reframe the narrative.

Tim Jenkins from the New Economic Foundation set out what's wrong with current macro economic thinking. We need to understand how Thatcher and others outsourced power from the state to the big corporations by privatisation and undermining civil society including the trade unions. We have effectively handed over control of the economy. So we need to reframe the debate by creating a new narrative that tackles finance, inequality and the environment, and then take back control.

Ann Pettifor talked about how we can use the monetary system to achieve society's goals. But it can't be used if captured by a small financial elite. In a Scottish context, she was particularly scathing about the Adam Smith Institute's case for Sterlingisation, with their underlying agenda that is aimed at reducing the choices that democratic governments can make to limit the power of capital. We need a lot of money to transform our economy, so we need to understand the monetary architecture of our economy.

Molly Cato analysed the case for 'jobs and growth' by asking which jobs and growth for whom? We should use the crisis to shift the way people think about the economy. Austerity is like hitting yourself over the head with a baseball bat, it's just that the hand and head are different people! The economy cannot keep growing within physical limits of the planet and anyway hasn't made us any happier. Just outsourcing our manufacturing carbon emissions to China won't hack it.

David Bell said we should be more concerned about unemployment (including underemployment) than inflation. Even the Bank of England has made small steps in this direction. He highlighted the huge challenges facing society, in particular an ageing population. He set out the factors that matter in tackling inequality: changing household composition, rent seeking, decline of trade unions, technical change, and the changing composition of the workforce. Tackling income inequality is crucial in tackling health inequality. We should also look at pension fund management, including modern portfolio theory and high intensity trading.

In the questions, the idea of no growth was challenged. The argument is that we should invest in jobs not carbon or speculation. We don't need to create more money or growth than is necessary to create full employment and we can localise economies. Others argued that this is a difficult political sell and localising the economy has knock on effects, particularly in developing world, so we should be careful about getting hung up on growth. It is critical to focus on ownership and tax system, including land and use of pension funds. Cooperative systems are bigger in other countries, with the growth of energy co-ops in Germany a good example.

The workshop on controlling money creation was led by Ben Dyson (Positive Money). Most people think our savings finance loans, it doesn't. 97% of money is created by commercial banks and invested in property and speculation rather than productive needs with only limited regulation. Government is now creating new regulations, but it will always have loopholes to be exploited by banks regulatory teams. There is no community interest, just bank profits. Ben argued that we need to take back the power to create money and power to decide where it goes to get money into real economy. This will help tackle inequality because it stops property booms, cased by too much money rather than just land, and makes future financial crisis less likely. A key issue with this proposition is what form of democratic control and wider monetary architecture is necessary.

Malcolm Sawyer focused on financialisation of the economy, although not great in terms of employment, it's massive in terms of assets and liabilities. A feature of this is deregulation and privatisation - a consequence is large scale occurrence of financial crisis. Equally important is how financialisation has contributed to rising inequality and slower growth. He also argued for a diversity of financial institutions.

Richard Werner continued this theme by explaining how we could establish community banks. He also demolished the theory of market fundamentalism i.e. the assumption that markets are in equilibrium, perfect information etc. In reality all markets are rationed. That is where money and power comes in. If the supply of money is rationed, who controls supply has real power. 97% money created by commercial banks who invest it (90% plus) in short term unproductive ways that maximise their profits. His solution is network of local banks, kick started by local authorities.

Richard Murphy talked about the need to control the economy and that needs a new approach to tax. There is a need to make change - reorganise economy, redistribute, re price upwards bad things (carbon etc) re price downwards good things (education). This means we need to collect more of £100bn tax dodged each year. That requires investment in taxation to build the economy we want.

Andy Cumbers spoke about reclaiming public ownership. Thatcher rhetoric about democratising economy actually led to concentration of ownership, mainly in foreign investors. The energy sector is run more by foreign governments than our Parliament. The result is an industry that has failed on price, energy security and decarbonisation. Across Europe and the world there is a move to the remunicipalisation of utilities. Germany now has 44 new local energy companies. Danish wind power revolution another example with hybrid models of ownership. He set out six principles of modern public ownership.

In the afternoon, I facilitated a session on infrastructure financing led by Andy Pike and Peter O'Brian from Newcastle University. They argued that austerity and cuts have reinforced government efforts to secure private sector engagement and resources. Local infrastructure funding and financing is increasingly marked by complex interactions between public and private sector financial institutions. These include tax increment financing, earn-back and public private partnerships. They also looked at public sector alternatives that can offer better value for money, including prudential borrowing, bonds and community initiatives.

The final session looked at what needs to change and how we might do it. This was led by a panel of speakers from the partners who organised the conference. Fundamental is the role of finance, pensions and taxation in the economy. Tackling inequality as a moral and economic necessity, together with higher wages and incomes, including stronger collective bargaining mechanisms. The role of government and economic development needs to be rediscovered, including new forms of public ownership. All this economic development has to be sustainable because the planet's resources are finite.

This was a really worthwhile conference brimming with great ideas. There was a clear determination to develop a common narrative around a different way of reinventing the economy. Identifying what's wrong is always the easy bit, the challenge is agreeing solutions. Today was a useful start on that journey.

Monday, 8 September 2014

To reinvent our economy we need to reframe the debate.

The left needs to reframe the debate by imagining a different way of running our economy.

In his Guardian column last week, Oliver Burkeman commented on the reclining airline seats 'war' by saying, "Stop arguing. Capitalism already won this stupid war". It's not the fairness of reclining or not, it's because airlines cram so many people into planes to maximise profits. Essentially he was saying, the moment you agree to the terms of the argument, you've lost.

For a generation the right has dominated the terms of debate on the economy. Privatisation, free market economics, the primacy of business and financial interests have all been key markers for the hegemony of elite vested interests over that of the common good. If we are to make the case for reinventing the economy, as this week's conference in Glasgow wants to do, we need to reframe the debate.

One approach is set out in a research paper written by an international group of academics. They found that public policies that attempt to insulate citizens from the ups and downs of the market economy appear to promote greater human happiness for all citizens in society. They stepped back from simply looking at narrow economic indicators. Their statistical analysis reveals a consistent result across four measures of state intervention, that citizens are more satisfied with their lives in countries where the government more actively intervenes into the market economy. The difference between countries isn't marginal either. It's as big as the difference between someone who is married compared to unmarried and someone who is employed compared to unemployed (two of the most common predictors of subjective well-being).

This also reflects the work done by Oxfam in their Humankind index and Wilkinson and Pickett in 'The Spirit Level'. Their international comparators showed that more equal countries do better on almost every measure. More equal countries are also more likely to use the state to intervene to a greater degree and rely on public services, rather than the market, to tackle inequality. Even OECD data supports this conclusion.

If happiness is a bit esoteric and you like your economics more hard edged, then as I wrote last week, the negative consequences of inequality has other unlikely adherents, including the Governor of the Bank of England.

One of the keynote speakers at this week's conference is Professor Andy Cumbers from the University of Glasgow. He argues that new ideas are emerging about how we can develop more democratic, egalitarian and environmentally sustainable forms of economy as an alternative to the current political economy of neoliberalism. He has written a report for the think tank CLASS that argues for a range of hybrid forms of collective ownership geared to social and environmental ends rather than private profit. The report draws from a range of examples around the world to advocate a diversified mixed economy geared towards democratic, participatory and decentralised public ownership rather than either state centralisation or the growing corporatisation and financialisation of the economy.

Interventions in the form of greater public ownership is also popular, an important factor for credible mainstream politicians. A poll for CLASS found a lack of faith in private sector control of public services, with 12 to 1 people against the NHS being run by the private sector. 67% in favour of Royal Mail being run in the public sector, 66% want railway companies to be nationalised, and 68% are in favour of nationalised energy companies. The poll also suggested support for Labour’s policy to freeze energy bills for 20 months, with 74% of people in favour of governments having the power to control energy prices. But the poll also suggested the public would like Labour to go further – nearly three quarters of people think the government should also control transport costs.

New forms of public ownership and other forms of state intervention are one of the ways to ensure our economy is designed to serve social needs and environmental concerns over the rapacious demands of private gain. The evidence shows that this creates a better, happier society as well. It's also popular, not unimportant when we are seeking political change. Most importantly, like the airline seats, we need to reframe the debate away from neoliberalism.

The debate and conference 'Reinventing Our Economy' is being held at the University of Glasgow on 10th and 11th of September. Registration details here.

 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Britain needs good jobs and a pay rise

Britain needs a pay rise, not just to bring relief to hard-pressed workers, but also to drive a sustainable economic recovery.

That’s the message from the latest research and is particularly relevant to our members in Scottish local government, who are being balloted on industrial action over pay from next week. Their pay is the lowest, even across the hard pressed public sector, as they are asked to keep public services going against all the odds.

A TUC study on the living wage showed that women earn just 66p for every pound earned by men working full-time (which is a pay gap of 34.2%). One of the main reasons for this huge gender pay divide is the large concentration of women doing low-paid, part-time work. This has led to a majority of women working part-time earning less than the living wage in over 50 local authority areas across Britain.

It’s no better for young workers. The proportion of workers aged 21 to 30 who are now classed as low paid has more than tripled over the past four decades, according to new research from the ResolutionFoundation.  Almost three in ten (29%) are now low paid, equating to almost 1.5 million young workers. In 1975, the proportion earning low pay was less than one in ten (8%). This also explains why many young people are locked out of the housing market, with just 3% of buyers in June aged between 18 and 30.
Missing out on the claimed economic recovery is not limited to these groups. The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom project has revealed that 800,000 Scots were too poor to participate in basic social activities, more than 400,000 adults do without essential clothing and almost one-third cannot afford to heat their homes adequately in the winter. The majority of children in poverty come from small families with at least one parent in work – so much for the UK government’s ‘strivers and shirkers’ analysis.

Across the UK, the percentage of households below what the public considered a minimum standard of living has risen from 14% to 33% over the last 30 years. This is despite the size of the economy doubling, indicating the gap between rich and poor is increasing.

Low incomes are also linked to underemployment. The TUC’s analysis of the latest labour market data shows that while unemployment has fallen by over 400,000 since early 2012, under-employment has risen by 93,000. And at 3.4 million the current level of under-employment is over a million higher (46%) than it was before the recession. It also highlights that the numbers who want more hours in their existing jobs means that under-employment is still increasing. In UNISON, we see this in sectors like care, with nominal hours contracts becoming more prevalent.


The answer to what some economists call the productivity puzzle is that we have too many low-pay, low-skill and low-productivity jobs in low-investment workplaces. We need to rebalance the economy with an emphasis on creating good jobs and promoting fair levels of pay for everyone – not just those at the top.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Re-inventing our economy

We can re-invent our economy so that it works for people and the planet.

That’s the theme of a major conference organised by civil society organisations, including UNISON and the STUC, across Scotland in Glasgow next week. The conference brings together some of the leading experts from across the UK on alternative economic approaches. The aim is explore these alternatives and chart a way forward that offers a radical, sustainable, alternative economic pathway.

There is a widespread view, not just in Scotland, which argues that our current economic system isn’t working. We have growing inequality, high levels of in work poverty and stubbornly high unemployment. Even the new jobs being created are likely to be part-time and insecure with the growth of bogus self-employment and zero-hours contracts. The conventional economic development solutions simply aren’t working and are also driving climate change and resource depletion. The bankers and financiers have learned nothing from the crash they caused and are leading us into future financial chaos.

The conference will pose key questions such as how do we generate investment into rewarding jobs while at the same time, cutting polluting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing poverty? How can we extend public democratic controls over our economy and the financial sector so that it serves our ends?

If all of this sounds like leftie ranting on the fringe, take a look at who is now talking about inequality - and I don’t just mean the Pope!

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England noted in a recent speech that all the research suggests that "relative equality is good for growth”. He also said: “All ideologies are prone to extremes. Capitalism loses its sense of moderation when the belief in the power of the market enters the realm of faith. In the decades prior to the crisis, such radicalism came to dominate economic ideas and became a pattern of social behaviour.”

Carney also lauded an inclusive social contract and recognised that tackling climate change actually offers great scope for technological progress and economic growth: "Environmental degradation remains unaddressed, a tragic embarrassment now seldom mentioned in either polite society or at the G20."

The authors of a new booklet ‘Trade Unions and Economic Inequality’ point out that the decade in which the equality gap in Britain was at its narrowest was the decade in which trade union penetration was at its greatest, with more than 80 per cent of British workers covered by a collective agreement. They provide an excoriating critique of inequality and its consequences. But unlike others, the authors provide a blueprint for how to tackle it.

Solutions are also what we hope next week’s conference will offer. So why not come along to the debate and the conference. Both events are free, thanks to generous support from the Carnegie Trust and others. There is an impressive range of speakers and opportunities to contribute your own ideas. There is a better way!



There is a public debate on the evening before the conference on Wednesday 10 September at the University of Glasgow Union starting at 7:30pm. The conference is in the Kelvin Gallery at the university on the 11 September. Registration details at the conference website.