While political structures are important, what really matters is the distribution of wealth and power.
The Scottish Labour Party conference tomorrow will debate a motion on federalism that takes Labour much further than it has ever gone before in devolving political power away from London. The Scottish Government may soon fire the starting pistol for another referendum on independence. Both of these developments are obviously important, but they mean little if we don’t also address economic structures.
The UK constitutional convention called for in the motion to the Scottish Labour Party conference is the brain child of Jon Trickett MP. He was in Glasgow last Friday, addressing trade unions on how he wants to take the convention forward, drawing his inspiration from the constitutional convention that drove the devolution agenda in Scotland, rather the more usual government commission. He said:
“In my mind, our socialism requires three things:
- a federal solution for Britain which breaks up the centralised power of the British Westminster elite and hands decision making about local matters to local people;
- redistribution of wealth and power so that we can rebuild a socially just country based on a strong economy in every region and nation and not just in a few affluent areas;
3. the cooperation and solidarity between all the parts of the country which will mean the pooling of common resources to make sure that there is more equity.
So this is why the Labour Party is committed to a constitutional convention. It’s because the political structures aren’t working any more. Instead, they have been a primary factor in the long-term decline of areas outside of London and the South.”
However, his key point comes in this paragraph:
“Political reform is necessary. But it is not sufficient to solve our problems. As I’ve said, it does not change the economic structures which have allowed our regions and nations to be left behind. We cannot solve this problem with just more devolution of political power on its own because we also need fundamental change to the way our economy works.”
The Red Paper Collective has expanded on these themes in their latest publication on Progressive Federalism. Jon’s introductory chapter builds on his theme of addressing economic power. My chapter ‘Scotland is not our local’ makes the case for double devolution of power from Westminster to local communities, something Jon Trickett reinforced in his Glasgow speech. John Foster shows just how little economic power resides in Scotland. Even the small foothold we had has largely disappeared since 2005 as the table below shows.
Other authors show how much more we could achieve if we focused on taking democratic control of our economy, developing a real industrial strategy, including energy and renewables. Using taxation powers to build a better education system and other public services. And finally, using the powers that should be devolved post-Brexit as an opportunity for radical reform.
The bottom line is when we focus simply on political structures, we are missing the bigger picture. Unless we challenge the economic structures that control Scotland’s economy – political structures; independence, federalism or unionism, will count for very little. That’s why a wider look at power through a constitutional convention is a meaningful initiative.
You can discuss these issues at the Revitalise/Red Paper conference fringe meeting on Saturday 25th February at The Royal George Hotel, Perth, starting at 12:30pm.