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UK needs a Green New Deal and the SNP can lead the way

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 04th Aug 2023

Tonight, I will be speaking at the first debate in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show - The Ayes Have It! The Ayes Have It! The motion is – “This House believes Scotland should be independent.”  Preparing my speech has provided a useful lens through which to view the news that has dominated this week’s political headlines. 

For it seems despite dire warnings to the contrary during the 2014 Independence referendum, Scotland’s oil and gas has not run out after all, and some unionist politicians are now terribly interested in exploiting what remains. At the same time in order to mask their cavalier attitude towards the climate crisis the Tories have finally ended 18 years of dither and delay with a commitment to the major carbon capture project at Peterhead. 

What remains lacking is the strategic vision needed to deliver the net zero targets to which the Tories continue to pay lip service. Kate Forbes column in this newspaper on Wednesday was an important contribution to the debate about how we achieve those targets.  I was pleased to read that Kate agrees with what I said last week about the importance of not letting the burden fall on those who can least afford it. However, we part company on how best to fund the transition. Whilst I agree with Kate that growing our economy and encouraging private investment is a good thing, I believe we also need to see the sort of state funding and leadership that we are seeing in the USA under Joe Biden. 

The move to net zero can only work if the state devises an industrial and economic strategy to make it happen using the levers it has at its disposal. Therefore, I favour a move away from neo-liberal economics to a “productivist” economic model where the state is actively involved in growing the economy in a strategic way. Productivism is the term used by Harvard Professor of International Political Economy, Dani Rodrik to describe a socio-economic approach which gives government and community organisations a greater role in shaping investment and production with a view to supporting the creation of well-paid jobs, climate transition and more secure resilient societies. 

This is the sort of thinking I would like to see the SNP adopt and take to the heart of government.  We are not there yet. However, a mission led policy approach to transformative change echoes the thinking of another economist, Professor Mariana Mazzucatao who has in the past had the ear of the Scottish government when it comes to getting public and private sectors to work together. 

While it is good for the Westminster SNP Group to fund policy development, Ian Blackford’s “Roadmap for a green industrial future for Scotland” published last month didn’t discuss the sort of state led step change I believe is needed. Rather it seemed to be a call for doing more of what we have done before but doing it better, which only takes us so far. I think what Scotland and indeed the UK needs is a Green New Deal. 

That phrase was first coined in the USA and advanced by politicians on the left of the Democratic party as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also tackling social problems like poverty and inequality. With this plan the path to net zero also involves the creation of well-paid jobs with government funded training and a focus on the communities where poverty and inequality most need to be tackled. 

It takes its inspiration from the New Deal launched by Roosevelt to help America recover from the Great Depression combining huge public works programs with financial reforms.

The Biden administration has gone some way to putting the Green New Deal into action with an industrial strategy involving the world’s most generous package of climate incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act which is the USA’s Climate Change Bill.   It is bold but it doesn’t go as far as the ambitious proposals of the Green New Deal and so it has been criticised by some on the Democrat left. But it’s a step in the right direction. 

Scotland does not share the USA’s fear of socialism so a New Green Deal here should be easier to sell. However, it needs a political party to commit to it. While the Scottish Greens seem strangely focused on individualistic and private sector solutions to climate change, there is real space on the left for the SNP to step into the role of delivering change collectively. 

The Common Weal policy think and do tank have produced some excellent work on what a Green New Deal would look like for Scotland so there is material there with which to work. During the pandemic they produced a Common Home Plan which you can read on their website. They described it as “a comprehensive Green New Deal for Scotland – a process of public planning, organised and implemented by public bodies and paid for out of the public purse. Just as the post-war governments across the West created whole new systems of welfare, healthcare, and infrastructure while also rebuilding Europe after the war, we will do the same for Scotland’s energy, agriculture and housing – with the same benefits of employment, prosperity, and skills. This is a plan not just for our environment, but for our economy and society as well.”