“It’s a Common Weal program for government.” – In an email sent to Common Weal today.
Today saw the return of the Scottish Parliament for the 2017/18 session and the opening speech by the First Minster introducing her program for government. You can watch the full speech below.
After far too long of what seemed like the political doldrums of a couple of fairly drab elections and the ever endless string of intentionally depressing political headlines, this speech was a remarkably refreshing change of pace with some fairly strong statements of intent in several areas.
Notably, Common Weal appears to be finally having a significant influence on the political direction of government with several of our policies now being talked about openly or outright adopted as policy.
The biggest of these is our proposal for a Scottish National Investment Bank. Long time followers may remember that our initial proposals, despite being signed off by everyone up to Treasury level, were rather brusquely knocked back by the Scottish Government but thanks to intense pressure by our activists and our supporters within the SNP, they managed to bring the issue to attention amongst the branches which culminated in a motion at the SNP conference in March to formally adopt the policy. It passed by overwhelming acclaim. Thank you to all of you who were involved in getting us this far. You’re amazing.
Of course, it’s far from done yet. The FM also announced that the chief executive of Tesco Bank, Benny Higgins, will be charged with leading the work on bringing the policy to fruition. It is important that the rationale for the bank, to boost and support the “real” economy from the ground up, is maintained. If it just becomes another massive financial conglomerate then it will not serve its purpose. We’ll be watching very closely and engaging as much as we’re able to ensure that the policy is a success.
Another of our policies mentioned was the Universal Basic Income. The announcement today falls well short of a formal adoption of policy. Instead it’s merely a feasibility study and more research and, to be honest, my own research suggests that that may well be all that is possible given the very tight limits of devolution. Some limited trials – maybe even a saturation study or two – might be possible but at least we’re going to be talking about this exciting policy a bit more. Let’s show what can be done with it and challenge those who would prevent it from happening to explain why they don’t think you should get the benefit of it.
The speech came out pretty strongly on environmental issues too. A strengthening of will to honour Scotland’s Paris Agreement targets is vital and a commitment to ban new internal combustion vans and cars by 2032 and to expand provision and infrastructure for electric vehicles is very welcome – although this should be offset against the continuing commitment to cutting and eliminating the Air Departure Tax – which will increase air passenger miles without necessarily providing any economic boost.
Investment in staff training and the expansion of free childcare is another Common Weal policy we’re glad to see in the programme for government. It formed one of our recent seven key domestic policies from our Renew agenda.
With the Tories finally deciding that they need to come up with some policies for a change and with them settling on housing for their first idea, it’s heartening to see the Scottish Government also looking into housing with fresh eyes. Commitments to end homelessness, end fuel poverty and increase availability are welcome but housing is a huge topic. We also need to explore everything from materials and design, architecture and function, planning of not just the housing but the towns around them, amenities, services and jobs, transport, funding, and a thousand other things.
As Nye Bevan once said, the house is just about the end product. First you have to fix everything else.
To do that, Common Weal announced today that we’re holding an event – Housekeeping Scotland – on the 7th of October (the day before the SNP conference if you’re a delegate and want to come to both). We’re bringing in people from all across the field to discuss as many issues as we can. You can get tickets here.
Several other ideas will also be explored over the course of the session, including a Land Value Tax, deeper discussion about income tax, and a commitment from the government continue working with the TIE campaign with whom we’ve collaborated.
Brexit is another great red-white-and-blue elephant in the room and the First Minister’s growing frustration with Westminster’s attempted power grab over what should be devolved powers is palpable (though the speech today was also the first time I recall the FM admitting that the course of things as they stand will mean that Scotland is leaving the EU no matter what we do about it after that). The FM does not support the Brexit Repeal Bill in its current form and has went so far as to say that if the Bill as passed is still insufficient for Scotland’s needs then the Scottish Parliament will bring its own repeal bill forward. That’s fightin’ talk, that. Will be quite interesting to see how that plays out if it happens.
All in, this is shaping up to be an exciting time in Scottish politics and it’s great to be seeing these ideas, which have been echoing around many sectors in Scotland, starting to get some traction.
It’ll also be interesting to see how the other parties react to this. The Tories are already tying themselves in knots to dismiss things like UBI despite their own MSPs voicing support for it and Labour, currently undergoing its own internal leadership battle, will need to work out where it is going as a party before it can decide where it wants to take Scotland as a country. One thing is clear though. Neither party can be allowed to fall back to their old patterns of sneer, snipe and single-issue moaning. Time to put up, or shut up. Present your vision, your policies. Demand the same scrutiny of them as you do of the policies of others and don’t go running from the press at the slightest hint of trouble.
Maybe then, we’ll get some politics done.
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