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VOICES OF SCOTLAND The left in Scotland must move beyond slogans

Real future planning is needed that moves debate beyond the primacy and comfort zone of Yes v No, says GORDON MUNRO

“ARISE ye starvelings from your slumbers,
Arise ye criminals of want,
For Reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.”
– The Internationale

The problem is that Scotland is still in its slumbers. The diminution of debate to the primal level of Yes v No has a debilitating effect, but suits the protagonists on either side as it does not raise questions of power — who has it, who wields it and to what purpose. 

There are attempts to tackle this void, with the Red Paper Collective publishing writing and material that should be used for political education in parties and trade unions.

But the silence — or is it complicity — of the self-styled left in Scotland is worth underlining.

Jim Sillars lampoons this as “wheesht for indy” but the problem is it’s a much deeper malaise.

How many know that the outturn position of the Scottish government is that it had an underspend of £631 million in 2020/21? 

Worse is that it also has an underspend of over £1.1 billion of the Covid monies allocated to Holyrood by Westminster. 

The underspend of £631m has been allocated to spend in 2021/22 but has so far failed to be allocated. What and where should it be spent?  

Earlier this year the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities made the case for “fair funding” for all Scottish councils — a call that went unheeded, despite praise from government minsters for their response to Covid.

Council services are key to Covid recovery by our communities, especially libraries and sport centres, and yet deliberate underfunding of councils means that citizens are protesting on the streets of Glasgow about closures, and council workers are taking strike action. 

The underspend could be used to tackle these problems, which are not unique to Glasgow.

Indeed in its report, Local Government Overview 2021, Audit Scotland notes that councils have a Covid net pressure of £767m.

This includes loss of income for arms’ length external organisations of £400m.

Surely these underspends should be used to relieve these pressures? This is where the “wheesht for indy” really bites home.

Blame is allocated elsewhere — be it Westminster or trade unions — but when money is there doing nothing, then it is up to everyone to point this out and demand that it is used. Especially in a pandemic. 

Another good example of this paucity of thought is “industrial policy.”

Whether it’s the purchase of Prestwick airport, the ferries scandal or the importation of wind turbines from the other side of the world, there is an absence of thought, discussion, debate or even coherent action. 

Policy is reactionary to headlines or the crowd of people at the door with a “buy-them-off policy” as the main strategy.

Substantial powers are held by Holyrood that could be used to build a strategy that would deliver on the promise made of Scotland becoming the “Saudi Arabia” of renewables.

The opportunity and moment may soon be lost if not taken now.

Parliament has a budget of £38bn; borrowing powers for capital investment of £450m per year with a cap of £3bn; and borrowing powers for resource spending of £600m per year with a cap of £1.75bn. 

The absence of any debate around the use of these powers means that there is no understanding or discussion of why only £200m of the £1.75bn resource spending has been drawn down.

There needs to be a discussion about how all key actors — local government via Cosla, trade unions, industry — work together to use the skills and resources currently held and/or can be adapted to make the economic transition necessary and demanded by Cop26.

This is real future planning, but it also requires a discussion that moves debate beyond the primacy and comfort zone of Yes v No. 

In his seminal text The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon has a chapter titled “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness.”

In it he observes that “the objective of nationalist parties as from a certain given period is, we have seen, strictly national. They mobilise the people with slogans of independence, and for the rest leave it to future events.

“When such parties are questioned on the economic programme of the state they are clamouring for, or on the nature of the regime which they propose to install, they are incapable of replying, because, precisely they are completely ignorant of the economy of their own country.”

This is the importance of the work of the Red Paper Collective and the call by Sillars for a revised case for independence.

Both lay a burden on the left in Scotland to move beyond “slogans” to the work that needs to be done if Scotland is to recover from Covid and play its part in the agenda set by Cop26.

Time to roll up your sleeves and put on your thinking caps.

“Arise ye starvelings” indeed.

Gordon Munro is a Labour and Co-operative councillor in Leith ward, City of Edinburgh Council and a member of Unite.

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