By Lauren Gilmore, Scottish Labour Young Socialists Executive Member.
Around 300 people gathered at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on Saturday, for what was the first ever “New Economics” conference in Scotland. The conference included many positive contributions from politicians, economists, and ordinary members alike. The “New Economics” series of conferences across the country are intended to bring ordinary people into the discussion about the economy.
Saturday’s conference was seen as essential in Scotland, given the current state of the Scottish economy and the inward looking crisis management we are seeing from the SNP, rather than the outward looking industrial strategy we need.
The first plenary was addressed by Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell and Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Alex Rowley. McDonnell started by slamming the Tories’ poor record on making the rich pay their fair share of taxes whilst failing to fund the NHS properly. He condemned their national insurance hike for self employed people and their cuts to corporation tax. McDonnell proposed a radical alternative for the Labour Party to follow including increased federal powers to Scotland, Wales and the English regions; looking at community and co-operative ownership models; regional development banks and worker-owned takeover plans. McDonnell has also committed the party to a £10 an hour ‘real’ living wage and investment in jobs and skills.
Rowley launched a scathing critique on the Scottish Government and clearly laid out the plan for jobs and the economy from Scottish Labour. He slammed them for their views on passing power back to Brussels, if Scotland became independent and re-joined the EU.
After the rabble rousing speeches from McDonnell and Rowley, we went into workshops. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” was chaired by new Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. This workshop was addressed by Richard Leonard MSP for Central Scotland and Bryan Buchan from Scottish Engineering and looked at the digitalisation and automation of industry. Buchan was not terribly inspiring and his response to a question about skills development – particularly for young women – was used as an opportunity to have an inane tirade about gender balanced boards and how people should be on them according to merit. Perhaps a Labour Party event with an audience full of feminists and socialists wasn’t the best place to air his archaic views. Leonard performed far better and had a radical speech prepared, condemning both the Scottish and UK government for their lack of industrial strategy.
The second set of workshops were better received. “Local and Regional Economy” was chaired by Frank McAveety. We heard from Neil McInroy from CLES and Lesley Brennan who is an economist and a councillor on Dundee City Council about innovative solutions to change and improve local economies. Neil McInroy spoke about solutions such as Community Wealth Building, co-operatives, public banking, use of pension funds for local investment and community land trusts to name a few, from CLES. Lesley Brennan painted a picture of what would have happened if 2010/11 budget levels had been maintained at a local level and at a Scottish level. Glasgow City Council would have seen an extra £1 billion over the last six years.
The day ended with socialist feminist economist Ann Pettifor who gave us all food for thought by showing how surplus wealth in the UK economy was channelled into rent seeking, rather than genuine economic change. The last speech of the day was from Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn who performed well. When Corbyn discusses economic inequality, it is from a place of genuine anger.
The turnout and enthusiasm of participants was testament to a party leadership who are listening to its membership and who genuinely want to hear their ideas. Jeremy and John were present for most of the day and tried to get along to all of the workshops. There was, as one delegate commented, a very different mood at this conference than at the Scottish Labour a few weeks previously. People wanted to be there and wanted to discuss the economy and how we can make it work in a new and radical way for ordinary people.
The key theme that emerged from the day was that the UK Government and Scottish Government do not have an industrial strategy and are more interested in crisis management than they are in developing one. Labour is attempting to change this by holding New Economics conferences and holding summits with industry leaders and trade unions to agree a better way moving forward. An industrial strategy brings an overarching benefit to the economy. By investing in infrastructure and manufacturing we will then see this extrapolating to jobs and skills development.
Saturday’s conference has paved the way for a further discussion about the economy in Scotland. It has enthused me to read more about economics and has made me more confident about discussing and debating it. The New Economics conference has ensured that the people who have been left out of making decisions and observations about the economy, have their voices heard.