Johann Lamont MSP has called on the Scottish Government to be more proactive in supporting the development of co-operatives in Scotland, expressing concerns that too often a co-operative approach is treated as a ‘last resort’ after other models have failed.
At a meeting of the Economy, Energy, and Tourism Committee earlier this month, the Scottish Labour and Co-operative MSP highlighted the ways in which the development of new co-operatives could drive the regeneration of communities across Scotland, delivering in ways that the market could not:
It would annoy me if co-operatives were regarded as a place of last resort when nothing else has worked, because co-operatives can be important in rural areas and in urban areas where there has been a lack of regeneration to create opportunities for people. I understand what you are saying, but I think that something… goes on when a community co-operative identifies need and a model to deliver what is needed, which the market would not provide.
Johann Lamont specifically questioned the SNP’s lack of ambition for co-operative housing, calling on it to drive the development of new housing co-operatives in the rental sector, rather than simply treating co-operatives as a means of transferring old council housing stock.
It is not just about housing co-operatives taking over local council housing; housing co-operatives could address the challenges that are faced by young people who rent before they are ready to own a home. I do not know where such an initiative would come from now.
As a result of the work of Johann Lamont and other co-operative supporting MSPs, the Committee has now written to the Deputy First Minister, calling on John Swinney to put co-operative approaches at the heart of the Land Reform Bill and the implementation of the Community Empowerment Act, which seek to give local people new rights over common land and other shared assets in their community.
Lamont’s intervention is a clear illustration of the gap between the SNP government’s stated support for co-operatives, and its lack of ambition and support for the sector. Warm words aren’t enough – championing the co-operative movement requires proactivity, genuine commitment and the kind of deep understanding of the practical barriers faced by the sector that we’ve seen in Wales and in local government across the UK.
And with May’s Scottish elections fast approaching, co-operatives in Scotland deserve people in Holyrood who get it. Co-operative MSP candidates like Johann with first-hand experience in the movement, and a background of involvement in co-operatives. People who understand co-operation not just as a passing trend or a political buzzword or a last resort, but an opportunity for all of Scotland that must be nurtured and championed.