Does the SNP have the economic answers for tough times?

A mining tragedy reminds us, in an employment world increasingly office based and white collar, that some folk do still go out to work never to return.

Such tragedies also remind us to think carefully when shaping our own economy.  Underground Scotland is no doubt rich in minerals – we could have a highly successful and profitable mining industry if we wanted to invest in setting it up.  But it would involve destruction of large tracts of our overground environment and provide a fossil-faced future approach for industry, rather than one focused on harnessing new technologies and opportunities through renewables.  And it would involve accepting that danger and death are prices worth paying by some communities for our collective economic benefit.

We are fortunate that Scotland’s abundance enables us to make different choices.  Future generations will surely benefit, but recent unemployment figures suggest we are indeed at risk of creating a lost generation, with nearly one million young adults across the UK now out of work.  And while Scotland continues to buck the trend by reducing unemployment against rising joblessness for the whole of the UK, the number of young Scots out of work is at its highest for a decade – and rising.

The Scottish Government is not oblivious, thankfully.  Its economic strategy, published last week, includes the ambition to create Opportunities for All and ensure that every young person is in some form of education or training.  The election commitment to create 25,000 modern apprenticeships every year will help, as will other measures like the strategic priority to move to a low carbon economy, opening up new trades and career choices.  It is one reason why the restructuring of further and higher education is so necessary, for we are currently not teaching the sort of courses and skills that will be required in the future.  This is clearly a government capable of joined-up thinking.

Indeed, the strategy has a confident flourish symptomatic of a Cabinet Secretary in John Swinney at the top of his game:  he does not shift wholesale from priorities or objectives of the last four years but recalibrates the focus to take account of very different economic circumstances.  The fundamentals remain the same:  the Purpose is “to focus the Government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.”

Simples huh?  And therein lies the nagging doubt.  The strategy reads simply, there is an unerring faith in the linkability of its objectives and proposals.  If we do x and y, z will follow.  But I’m not so sure some of it is that simple.

For example, the strategy asserts that “by building a more dynamic and faster growing economy we will increase prosperity, be better placed to tackle Scotland’s health and social challenges, and establish a fairer and more equal society.”  Yet, history supports the contention that dynamic economic growth by itself cannot establish a fairer and more equal society.  Indeed, one only needs to look back on the last decade to see how Gordon Brown’s failed attempt to end boom and bust has resulted in greater levels of inequality than ever before.  The rich benefited from the boom more than the poor, yet are able to ride out the current storm much more successfully than those on low incomes.

Thus, behind the bold intentions of the Opportunities for All initiative, one hopes there is some real thinking going on, to ensure that young people leaving care, or who are living with third generation unemployment, who are young parents, whose schools breathed a sigh of relief when they left at sixteen, who have complex and/or multiple disabilities – all the groups most likely not to be in education, employment or training right now – are able to take up those opportunities and for them to lead to decent, well paid employment that mean they get a decent shot at life.  Providing the initiative is one thing, ensuring the support is there that allows it to succeed is quite another.  And I would not recommend the Labour and now Conservative methodology of paying private firms by results as the way to fix some of the issues in young people’s lives.

The strategy does suggest a different approach will be taken through its strategic priorities of effective government and equity.  Both focus on prevention, meaning shifting away from crisis intervention in services eg someone moving into a care home to early intervention eg the support someone needs to stay living at home, in their community.  Everyone accepts this has to happen:  we all understand the why but what is missing – still – is the how and the what.  The hard decisions, in fact, in terms of public sector reform which local government has failed to date to make.

Moreover, the section on equity is muddy, and I’m sure a sociologist could deconstruct it more effectively than me (I’m open to guest post offers!) There is a thoughtful, linear approach to what to tackle and how but phrases like equity, equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are not interchangeable.  I am not totally certain the Scottish Government gets that, though it certainly comprehends the need to shift approach in addressing poverty from one that insists the state can fix it, to building resilience and capacity in individuals and communities to guide them through life.   The adoption and championing on the community development model is to be welcomed.

Overall, there is a sureness of touch at work here.  The strategy is bold, competent and entirely focused on Scotland’s strengths, weaknesses and circumstances:  an embodiment, then, of why people voted SNP in May.

And it is reassuring that the Scottish Government is prepared to lead from the front.  This is an SNP government which believes it has the answers: it knows where it wants to take Scotland and her people, and is sure it knows how to get there.  Let us hope, given the tough times we live in, and the tougher ones ahead, that it does.

12 thoughts on “Does the SNP have the economic answers for tough times?

  1. I have no idea where the Burd nests these days: it used to be the windswept extremities of Galloway where opportunities were few and local NEET was a rural variant of what blights the 3rd-generation unemployed of too many of our towns and cities.

    What she rather implies is that it’s all very well—and indeed refreshing—for Mr Swinney and his Government buddies to sing harmony on fiscal policy but is our local government delivery vehicle signed up to a capable of delivering such a revolutionary programme?

    The answer is ‘yes’.

    Whereas Scottish local government once revolved around an uneasy truce between Labour Ministers fixated on publicity (and entirely reliant on their mandarins to give them ideas) and dug-in Labour coonsuls from Greenock to Glenrothes, resentful of being told what to do (but without two ideas to rub together themselves), today is markedly different. Just look at how differently CoSLA now functions and the respect it has earned from all.

    Most Scottish councils have had a serious shakedown since 2007. ‘Parity of Esteem’ and Single Outcome Agreements have engaged them; public services are now talking to each other; Ministers are open to informed lobbying or are out in the field investigating new ideas and what progress they might bring.

    My own council of East Lothian is on track to improve cultural services by folding them into a more customer-focussed ALEO that already runs sports centres to positive acclaim from staff and users alike. ELC is looking at radical choices in education, including more community control and sharing back-room services with adjacent Midlothian. They are also on-track to provide 1,000 desperately needed affordable homes and have sustained many local businesses by budgeting their full programme of capital works.

    But, perhaps most relevant to the Burd’s concerns, East Lothian isn’t just doing this in liaison with our government; they are transforming towns once devastated by the loss of deep mining and treated to only handouts and pork-barrel projects by Labour since. More than burroo and community centres, Tranent and Prestonpans now boast new housing, better policing, youth facilities, community events and a social mix where local industrial units are all going flat out and trains to town fill with bright young people off to earn a living.

    There are certainly local authority dinosaurs still out there; anyone witnessing the recent filming visits of Brad Pitt or Halle Berry would not have had to go as far as Philadelphia to find one that still needs a huge rocket up its fractious bum. But next May ought to fix that.

  2. A simple comment Amen!

  3. Really interesting post and really interesting topic.

    You speak with real insight and passion about helping the young coming out of care and where there has been three generations of poverty. These are real priorites and I’m with you entirely in what you say.

    You also touch on something I care a lot about – adult education. In an age where companies rightly or wrongly chop and change and downsize the need for workers to remain adaptable throughout life is crucial. Similarly companies need to be open to hiring and training quality, energetic, experienced, wise and reliable workers in their 40s and 50s. Adult education in all sorts of skills is crucial to this and government can support access to availability of this as people retrain and modernise and develop their skills – as they need to stay fresh and be adaptable in such a changing environment.

    This subject is not talked about enough.

    You touch more widely on the SNP admin. You highlight some fine words which, to be honest, could be said by the other parties too. The thing is that the SNP are not in national government and they are not running the economy. What they have to do and the degree of difficulty and responsibility that they take is not as high as if they were in national government. They have an important role to play but – in terms of the economy – none of us have any real idea where they want to take Scotland or the UK and far less how they would do that.

    Criticism of national government for the ends of ultimate independence is the easy bit.

  4. Gordon Brown’s efforts were not aimed at defeating “boom and bust”. They were aimed at buying popularity by what amounted to acquiring revenue out of invented money for the Government to fling about .
    I have no idea where the notion that Gordon Brown was an economist comes from. He has no economic credentials and is in fact a journalist who worked for instance on STV in that capacity befiore he went into full time politics.

    • To be fair to Gordon he was Chancellor of the Exchequer for a decade and I think his credentials might have moved on a wee bit from being an STV journo🙂

  5. Provan Engineering went bust becuse of a design flaw which has stopped production .Not because they couldn’t sell turbines.
    Companies go bust all the time . They will come back stronger or another will replace them . That’s a dynamic economy. Could be worse Provan might never have existed.

    • They have gone bust because they didnt have the finance in place to continue to trade while the problem was addressed and re-designed.

      Companies all over Scotland, are suffering from teh same problems. What are the SNP doing about them? If our economy is to grow, we need to take action NOW.

  6. I’m not sure this Government does know where it wants to go. In the last few days, one of the worlds biggest manufacturers of small wind turbines has gone bust. This Government wants to have 100% of our electricity generated by renewables.

    The company was Scottish, and our Government just sat back and let it happen.

    Joined up thinking? I dont think so.

    • A very good article and as an SNP Party member I believe the goals set are aspirational and at the end of the day in a very simplistic sense there is a desire, and aspiration, to do better. I feel SNP are more ‘in touch’ with the electorate and not as detached as the main bigger party’s. Therefore I feel they have the ‘common mans touch’ for want of a better term.

      As for jruddy’s comment it has to be remembered that the SNP did the same with Johnnie Walker when it closed down in Kilmarnock with the loss of many jobs. Governments cant get involved in business dynamics because if they do they walk into a ‘minefield’. Why should they help one company but not another? Before long businesses are queuing up for financial aid which to be frank ‘joe public’ would not accept especially in these tight fiscal conditions. Its not that I believe they dont want to help but more they cant help. The days of business bailouts are gone pretty much ….unless your a bank of course.

      • Agree wholeheartedly with your first point about being more in touch with the electorate. But this Govt did get involved in Kilmarnock to try and save those jobs (even when they were going to anothe rpart of Scotland). And every time they award an RSA grant they are helping out with financial aid. I did a piece earlier about the rules in this area being bent when Amazon got a great big grant to set up a call centre in Edinburgh. So business bailouts/incentives still very much alive, especially as you poitn out for the banks.

    • I think the Government’s strategy talks the talk but I do acknowledge some uncertainty about it happening and it all seeming a little easy. The actual doing doesn’t yet match the rhetoric, as your example shows.

      • This is exactly my point. They talk the talk, but they dont walk the walk. In my work I talk to many companies in the renewable and energy efficiency sector. None of them have had any support from the Scottish Government. When they have had Government help, have had it from the UK Government – and that has decreased considerably over the last 12 months.

        I’m sorry, but this Government has to be more interventionist – whether thats by backing companies with loans, or helping with investment or training etc. The Johnny Walker situation was poor, because Scotland wasnt loosing jobs – just one part was loosing them to another. I got the sense that the SNP wanted to win votes in both places.

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