TODAY’S debate at the Scottish Trades Union Congress, a People’s Recovery from Covid, is of importance across all the nations and regions of Britain. It poses two fundamental questions that face working people everywhere.
One is how we tackle the causes of the Covid crisis — not Covid itself but why its consequences have been so much more severe in Britain than almost anywhere else.
The second is about the political structures needed to do so — raising not just the issue of Scottish independence but also the more basic question of the collective power of working people, the engine for any “people’s recovery.”
The latest statistics are grim. In the third quarter of 2020 there was a 9 per cent fall in Britain’s GDP compared with last year.
That’s about double the European average. Government economists say it’s due to you.
Household consumption has collapsed. But why so much more? It’s precisely what also caused the severity of Covid-19 in Britain: greater levels of poverty, of job insecurity and low pay, a disproportionately “service-based” economy and public-sector services cut to the bone and beyond.
A Scottish business survey published last week showed two-thirds of firms were planning to shed staff prior to this month’s furlough extension. Many have done so nonetheless.
The latest figures on universal credit in Scotland show numbers almost doubling to almost half a million. Demands on foodbanks have trebled.
So what about the second question: how can the collective power of working people be mobilised to bring about the fundamental changes needed?
At the weekend SNP leader in the Commons Ian Blackford threw down the nationalist challenge.
There will, he said, be a referendum on Scotland’s future in 2021.
He was answered immediately by Labour MSP Neil Findlay. If there is to be a referendum, there must be a third question: for a radical devolution of powers, above all, new powers over the economy to assert the needs of working people.
The STUC itself notes this as a key issue: whether the poll should be just about independence or include a third option.
The STUC document also expresses itself unconvinced by the SNP’s Growth Commission report, the neoliberal programme for independence supported by Nicola Sturgeon and Blackford, himself an ex-banker.
It is for this reason that the debate at the STUC concerns all working people across Britain.
The Covid crisis has not just been bad in Scotland. It has been bad wherever there is poverty and insecurity: in Wales, in England’s regions and parts of the south-east.
The powers called for by Findlay are equally needed there. Scotland cannot be alone. Any plan of radical devolution only makes sense as part of a wider constitutional transformation that secures real economic powers for all of Britain’s regions and nations.
And this is an immediate issue also. Last week saw the House of Lords reject Boris Johnson’s UK Single Market Bill that withdraws from Scotland and Wales the economic powers devolved in 1998.
These powers, which took a generation to achieve, were those that would have enabled the democratic assemblies of Scotland and Wales to exercise public democratic control over industry, to stop closures and rebuild local economies.
They have been blocked for a generation by EU bans on state aid and enforcement of pro-big business competition rules.
Now Johnson is intent on seizing them back as part of his own centralised partnership with big monopolies and service companies.
If there is to be a People’s Recovery, driven by the united class power of working people across Britain, then this must be its starting point: securing the basic democratic powers over regional and national economies needed to do so.
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