The closure of Ravenscraig, the coal mines, the collapse of silicone glen, the fight for the shipyards, we’ve seen in Scotland what happens when we don’t build a new future for people.
Taking a long-term view to ensure people’s future is what the Scottish Green New Deal (GND), which we launched this week, is all about.
As I reflect on a career as a police officer and an elected representative since 2007, it seems a long-term view is needed more than ever.
When the Scottish Greens pushed for governments to recognise the climate emergency, we were initially told that ‘turning off the tap’ of oil and gas would leave a workforce on the scrapheap. What nonsense. No one is talking about ‘turning off the tap’. What the Greens are proposing is a just transition that looks after all of our future.
The reliance on oil and gas in the North East was exposed after the oil price crash of 2014. Some managed to get jobs in other industries, others were not so lucky. That should have been a warning, a glimpse into a future which relies on non-renewable resources.
Those working in oil and gas are not the problem. The climate emergency is the problem. That’s why we owe it those people to secure new low-carbon jobs for them now, not wait until the limited resources that are damaging our planet runs out. That really would be leaving them on the scrapheap.
But a just transition can’t just be about diverting huge resources from one industry into another. The UN has given us just a decade to turn our economy around to keep global warming down to a safe level. If we are going to move at the speed and scale required, we need to align the Scottish Government’s resources and the public sector behind the effort.
That’s why the heart of the Scottish Green New Deal is about public ownership and unionised labour.
Successive Tory and Labour governments at Westminster have eroded and sold off our public sector, and the SNP has lacked the political will to reclaim it, but if we are to build a fair and sustainable Scotland quickly, we need the state to act.
The Scottish Government did declare a climate emergency, but its funding, channelled through all the competing public agencies, has yet to align behind the idea.
We can’t keep pursuing a failed economics which throws money and tax breaks at big business and expects it to look after people.
Publicly owned banks, energy companies and other institutions could play a big and direct role in building a green economy.
And yes, eventually that means independence for Scotland. To deliver a comprehensive Scottish GND we would need access to reserved powers over monetary and energy powers. It’s why we campaign for independence.
But the truth is the climate emergency won’t wait for independence. It is an emergency and requires an emergency response. That’s why our initial document this week focuses on what the Scottish Government could do now.
Using the powers we have, we could set Scotland on a very different path to the UK. Other European countries that kept their key industries in public hands are now using these to take on the climate challenge while retaining and expanding industrial jobs.
Ironically, some of those publicly-owned companies now provide services in Scotland. With similar commitment to public ownership, the Scottish Government could play a direct role in tackling the climate emergency and securing sustainable jobs for the future.
It has been good to see commitment from the Scottish Government for a publicly-owned national bank and energy company. These need to be brought forward and added to.
Imagine, for example, an integrated bus and rail network that would serve communities rather than private shareholders? This would allow us to Invest in the strategic growth and decarbonisation of Scotland’s railway network.
Imagine if the entire public sector estate used its huge procurement power to support low carbon industry and renewable energy, with a focus on projects and companies that are investing in Scottish jobs and the Scottish supply line.
Imagine if every part of Scotland had a localised green industrial strategy which could align public agencies and businesses behind a single goal, securing a sustainable future.
After all, this is about building a future for our people and their children. Yes, it is radical, but the situation we are in demands a radical response.
And the Scottish Greens are not alone. Across Europe progressive politicians and organisations are calling for Green New Deals. With all the natural resources and a skilled workforce that Scotland has, we have an opportunity to lead the way. I hope we have the courage to grasp it.
*First published in The National on 30th August 2019