“Unfortunately, right now, Scotland is being let down by two failing governments,” Anas Sarwar said today in his address on his party’s economic strategy for Scotland. Alas, Scotland is also being let down by the Labour Party — and it isn’t even in office yet. Sarwar’s speech, and his new ‘expert advisory board for economic growth’, shows Labour cannot and will not fix the unequal distribution of wealth and power in this country.
Three CEOs, four company directors and two company chairs are among prominent figures from big business and the financial sector now shaping Scottish Labour’s economic policy. The only member of Sarwar’s new council even remotely drawn from the trade union movement is Karen Whitefield, a former Labour MSP who chaired Sarwar’s leadership campaign; the Scottish Trades Union Congress is not represented, a red flag signalling that trade union demands and expectations will be taken lightly and discarded.
Far from demonstrating the “the energy, leadership and willpower to take the necessary action to get us through the crises we face”, Sarwar repeats simplistic talking points about growth, jobs and business opportunity (echoing the doomed approach Liz Truss took this time just under a year ago). This is not going to cut it. It’s not just a handful of clowns in the halls of government slowing down the Scottish economy, but the inability of political actors to get to grips with day-to-day systems which sap people of their ability to prosper and grow. The lifeblood of any economy is the condition of its working people.
Tenants, the unemployed, students, low-paid, temporary, insecure workers, environmentalists, even large parts of the third sector, have never been so directly isolated from the already narrow, tiny-minded economic debate present in Scotland. The “extraordinary array of talent” Scottish Labour wants to bring to its economic strategy is purely technocratic, in no way connected to more common livelihoods. The notion that it is unbiased or impartial as Sarwar would have us believe also clearly falls because of this.
Like the rest of the UK, Scotland needs to have a debate about the root causes of income and wealth inequality, both in the national and international spheres, and how we can democratically use that wealth to improve the material lives of people and the environment around us. That isn’t an easy challenge — but Scottish Labour clearly takes a failing approach. Growth means nothing if it isn’t distributed fairly to those who need it. Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour has already ruled out redistributive taxes as part of its pitch to the wider UK.
Pressure has to be brought from below to challenge the reductionism and dumbing-down of economic policy-making by Labour and the Tories — from trade unions, local communities and even within parties. The evidence for materially sustainable, ecological, distributive growth exists and must be able to enter the debate. It currently doesn’t in the Labour Party.
Owen Wright is a former Labour member who ran as the party’s candidate in Dundee City East in the 2021 Holyrood elections.