Twenty-five years ago I campaigned for a Scottish Parliament to defend and advance the interests of working people in Scotland. We had experienced an unpopular Conservative Government that was imposing austerity on working-class people across the UK. We knew we could protect those very people in Scotland if we established a Parliament that could legislate to protect and promote the interests of working class people in Scotland. That Parliament was duly established and first signs were good. The Labour-led Scottish Executive legislated in land reform, giving communities the right to buy the land they lived on and it created Co-operative Development Scotland to promote the development of co-operatives. I want to take that further.
The first act I took as a Member of the Scottish Parliament was to lead a group of individuals with an interest in reshaping the economy to produce ‘An Industrial Strategy for Scotland.’ This strategy has at its centre the need reconfigure ownership and control in the economy. As John McDonnell says “Ours will only become an economy for the many if we significantly broaden ownership. That means supporting entrepreneurs, small businesses, the genuinely self-employed and massively expanding worker control and the co-operative sector.” Only last week (28 September 2017) I led a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the importance, need and benefits of worker ownership and control.
Our approach to the economy must be to promote and encourage greater industrial democracy, with those who create the wealth having greater influence and control over that wealth. That encouragement cannot simply be warm words – we need to give workers the first right of refusal (similar to that contained in the Land Reform Act) to buy the company they work in. We need to create a properly-resourced Scottish Investment Bank and put in place preferential finance for workers to support worker control. We need to review Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), put it on a statutory footing and give it the instruments of investment needed to grow the co-operative sector. We need to look at our procurement rules and regulations, and assess how these can be used to help support and grow co-operatives and worker-owned companies.
However we cannot wait until 2021 and a Labour Scottish Government – we must do all we can now to advance worker ownership and control. That is why I am preparing a Members Bill based on the ‘Marcora Law’ that will give workers the first right of refusal to buy their company when it is put up for sale or facing closure. We must take every opportunity we have to build both the spirit and the structures of co-operatives and co-operation. That is why that bill will go forward whether I win the leadership race or not.
History – both recent and long past – tell us we can do so much more to develop and restructure Scottish society in favour of the many and not the few if we stand on a bold and radical platform. We must seize that opportunity.