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Editorial: We must hold Labour to their public ownership pledges — and push beyond

THE Labour Party’s Scottish manifesto will be published tomorrow. Will it improve on the party’s all-Britain manifesto published last week?

The British manifesto talks big about public ownership — railways, energy, buses, even postal services to be “scrutinised.”
A major step forward? As it stands, not really.
Take the railways. The operation of services, largely loss-making, will be public. But freight or the rolling stock will not.

The rolling stock, for instance, is owned by private companies, most in overseas jurisdictions, that hire it out at fabulous profits. This will continue.
Or take energy. The big energy companies, almost all externally owned, also made fabulous profits during the energy crisis and contributed massively to the level of inflation.
They will continue to supply the energy as “partners” of Great British Energy. The state company will be largely responsible for creating an all-Britain network of supply lines, something neglected by past Tory governments and the private owners.
On to buses. Yes, elected mayors would have the power to both franchise and own — but will they have the funding? This will depend on central government.
Finally the “national wealth fund” with powers to support investment in private industry: £2 of public money for every £3 of private. Just a subsidy to private profits?

However, at this stage, it might be useful to reverse the argument. Governments do not operate in a political vacuum. Labour has raised the issue of public ownership. In the circumstances, it could hardly do less.
Private ownership has failed our country. For almost two decades there has been minimal investment. Big profits have been made — but syphoned off, most out of the country.
Can, therefore, a popular mass movement be created that takes Labour’s slogans and demands their honest implementation?

A movement based in the trade union movement but uniting wider communities that depend on public services, young people who want viable work and training and those small and medium businesses that need an environment of growth, investment and skill?
In the current political and economic environment this is not a fantasy but a necessity. Our situation in Britain is no different from that in France, Germany or Italy. The international economic situation is dire: minimal growth, a looming dollar debt crisis, high interest rates, and investment diverted to war.
Labour may win 500 seats, but if nothing changes the same challenges will emerge. The French left has united into a popular front for progressive policies. Its key motive force is the trade union movement.
We may not be at this stage, yet after the election, we need purposeful unity, not fragmentation. It must be led by organised labour but engage the same enthusiasm among young people and local communities we saw under Corbyn.
Starmer has used the words “public ownership.” He must be held to them if his Labour government is seen to be safeguarding both our economy and our democracy.
And democracy is important here. Starmer tinkers with the House of Lords but does not abolish it. His structures for local government, elected mayors and combined authorities, are taken from the Tories.

The possibility of regional assemblies, and a British second chamber representing nations and regions, is postponed until the 2030s. Yet local government is collapsing — and its democratic credibility with it.
Councillors are told they have to impose cuts. Electors are disenfranchised. Yet it is here, at the local level, that the visible exercise of democratic power is most important.
And immediately it will be in local communities that public debate will be needed to build a politically informed and united movement — ensuring that a Labour government does honour public ownership and democratic control.


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