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07/02/2020 | View in browser
When words lose their meaning

Confucius said: "When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom". This may be over-doing it a little, but I know what he meant. Words is how we express the meaning in life, but if those words are degraded to the point that they don't describe anything meaningful, then how do we express the truth? Language becomes a mask, rather than a genuine description, of what is real. We live in a time where just about everyone, even the oil & gas industry, now present themselves as greener than green. Where taking the knee has suddenly moved from being a protest against authority to a marketing tool for the Premier League and Rupert Murdoch's Sky Sports. The language of protest, whether it be Black Lives Matter or the Climate Emergency movement, is quickly absorbed by the powerful, and re-produced as something tame to protect its power.

I am afraid to say I have much the same feeling about "Towards a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland", the report of the Scottish Government's Economic Advisory Group published yesterday, led by the chief executive of Buccleuch Estates, Benny Higgins. There should be a rule for policy reports: if you want to use a descriptive word, you have to use at least one policy example of what that means, and one policy example of what it doesn't mean. The word "resilience", for instance, has been widely used in the context of the Covid-19 crisis to describe a policy response to reduce exposure to globalisation, with internationalised supply chains and foreign ownership putting foundational parts of Scotland's economy, like food, at risk in a crisis that threatens to derail global trade. But in The Group's report, it finds that "there is scope to gear up our internationalisation agenda" and "we do not see a conflict between openness to trade and a robust and resilient wellbeing economy." So what does the word "resilient" actually mean here, if what The Group really wants is more globalisation?

Or another example: one of the headline policies in the report is a "business-led jobs guarantee scheme". A jobs guarantee scheme has been advocated by the SNP Common Weal Group, for instance, so this sounds like good news. But it's absolutely impossible to decipher from the report where the "guarantee" of a job is in The Group's proposal. They advocate two-year contracts for 16-25 year old's, but it's not clear whether this is proposed as a right or a wish, whether it should be supported by government funding or by businesses simply taking it upon themselves to hire more young people. It looks like more linguistic co-option.

Where there are concrete measures proposed, it is usually tax cuts for businesses, or new fora to increase the voice of business in government. Indeed, 'Scottish business' is presented as a homogenous block, as if there is not differential and diverging interests within that group. While one positive is that conditionality is proposed on public-funding of businesses, including the need for companies to apply fair work principles, it is unclear whether this will be applied systematically to all parts of public funding, including procurement and infrastructure spending. There were plenty of warm words for care workers and unpaid carers, but nothing by way of concrete measures to tackle poverty pay and poor conditions. And while the report claims it is "not just a shopping list", that is exactly what it reads like, as there are no proposals for anything to be de-prioritised or for any taxes to be raised or new taxes created. Of course it proposes increased borrowing powers for the Scottish Government, but this is neither new nor sufficient on its own without major economic re-structuring.

This is a crisis like none any of us have seen, but beneath the progressive buzz-words there is a startling lack of bold ideas in this report. I
have to agree with Caroline Rance of Friends of the Earth Scotland, who said the report "offers little in the way of new thinking or concrete measures that will challenge the inequalities, poverty and climate pollution in Scotland." I'd add that neither does it offer new thinking or concrete measures for job creation, infrastructure investment or high street renewal. In fact, there is little by way of new thinking full stop.

On one level you could say it is a good thing that everyone now seems to agree that we should have a "resilient wellbeing economy", with GDP growth clearly de-emphasised in this report. But what does it really mean without any clarity about what that means nor plan for how to get there? If we can agree that mass unemployment and rising poverty makes us neither resilient nor provides wellbeing, where is the specific measures to stop us hurtling towards this disastrous outcome, as Scotland is currently? Why is there not one proposal here for those with plenty of wealth in Scotland to give a little bit more back to support those without? Where are the public works schemes; specific industry plans to de-carbonise heating systems and to deliver a modal shift in transport? We need an economic plan commensurate to the scale of the crisis we face - this is not it.
Ben Wray, Source Direct
Top Story

The Scottish Government's economic advisory group has submitted its report, with a headline policy advocating a "business-led jobs guarantee scheme" for 16-25 year old's.

The report, led by former Tesco Bank CEO and current Chief Executive of Buccleuch Estates Benny Higgins, proposed that young people are offered "secure employment" for two years, to prevent the "long term scarring" that would come from years of young people being unemployed.

It also proposes a rapid overhaul of the Fiscal Framework, so that the Scottish Government has increased public borrowing capacity.

The report can be read in full here.

The Scottish government said it would "develop a detailed response to the report which will be published before the end of July".

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the job guarantee proposal was "potentially very significant as we seek to ensure young people get the opportunities they deserve".

Economy Minister Fiona Hyslop said: "We wanted the report to be ambitious and far-reaching, and with this strong and comprehensive set of recommendations this has certainly been achieved."

Scottish Labour backed the idea of a jobs guarantee in the report, the Scottish Greens said the report did not show enough urgency, while the Lib Dems said there was "a disappointing lack of ambition".

Common Weal's response to the report can be read here.




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Other news

  • Pollster Mark Diffley has said a new poll showing 54 per cent back Scottish independence also shows that social class is less important now in determining independence support than in the 2014 referendum, with 49 per cent of 'middle class' voters now backing independence. Diffley said this was a "pretty significant shift", also pointing out that while 9 per cent of those who voted Yes in 2014 would vote No now, 23 per cent who said they voted No would now vote Yes. (The National)
  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she would "pay attention" to any move in England to ease the two metre rule on social distancing. Sturgeon, who faces pressure from the tourism and hospitality sector to ease the rule in Scotland, was responding to a question about the UK Government's review of the rule, which is set to report at the end of this month. The First Minister said her own review, which is due to report mid-July, would "not be far behind", but that she would consider the evidence presented from elsewhere in the UK on the issue. (The Scotsman)
  • Witnesses who lie when giving evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of complaints against Alex Salmond could face criminal prosecution, under plans to strengthen the inquiry's remit. The inquiry, which began on Monday, will take evidence from the Scottish Government's chief civil servant Leslie Evans, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Salmond, among others. (The Times)
  • Nearly 40 groups have signed an open letter calling on Scotland's political parties to select more Muslim candidates in winnable seats at next year's Scottish elections. A University study has found that Islamophobia is a deterrent for Muslims to get involved in Scottish politics. Of the 129 current MSPs, just two - Anas Sarwar and Humza Yousaf - are from Muslim backgrounds. (Daily Record)
  • Bars and restaurants asking for the names and contact details of customers is being considered by the Scottish Government "very firmly", according to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The proposal would allow those attending hospitality venues to be contact at a later date if a Covid-19 outbreak is traced back to that venue. Sturgeon said there was "very strong evidence emerging" that that pubs and restaurants could be sites of "super spreading", and that therefore the proposal was "under consideration". (STV)
  • Johann Lamont MSP has lodged a bill to ensure every young person with an impairment or long-term health condition has a transition plan to adulthood. The bill also proposes a minister with special responsibility for transitions, with no current statutory measures in place on the issue. In announcing the lodging of the bill, Lamont pointed out that the per centage of Scottish disabled people in work has fallen since 2008. (Third Force News)
 
New on Source
 
Around and about the Scottish media
- Scottish Labour for Radical Democracy publish a statement on the right to Indyref (Bella Caledonia)

- Debt, debt relief and debt mutualisation -  a history (The Economic History Podcast)
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