A plug for a new initiative post COP – a series of broadcasts hosted by Independence Live that look at key issues for the climate movement in Scotland. Episode 1 is concerned with perspectives for the movement following COP 26 while episode 2 looks at war and the cost of living.
This article by Scot.E3 activists Brian Parkin and Pete Cannell was first published in the newsletter of the Scottish United Left. United Left is a self funded organisation for UNITE members, with the principal aim of promoting a socialist agenda within the Union
For the better part of a century Scotland has been energy self-sufficient. Since the end of World War 2 an ‘energy mix’ of coal, hydro, natural gas and nuclear provided an embarrassment of riches as far as power generation was concerned. Not only was Scotland power generation self-sufficient but it was also a net exporter of power to England and Northern Ireland via inter-connecter cables. But over the past decade, the picture has been changing radically.
Firstly, much of Scotland’s ‘thermal’ power plant- coal and nuclear has been retired– and the one gas-fired plant at Peterhead has been down-loaded; and without the fitting of carbon capture plant- it too, will be closed by 2025. Also, by 2030 Scotland’s remaining nuclear station at Torness should have closed. And despite a considerable investment programme in wind turbine construction it is conceivable that Scotland will be unable to meet its peak winter demand at times.
The November COP 26 Climate summit in Glasgow will present evidence showing a worsening picture of runaway climate change due to the failure to control and reduce CO2 and other greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. But even before the summit begins, many scientists and environmental activists have expressed doubts about any targets on greenhouse gasses being met. This is bad news which suggest that fundamental political changes are required in order to bring the world economy in line in order to prevent a global catastrophe. But rather than just await a solution from upon high, it is essential that wherever possible, climate crisis abatement strategies are undertaken now.
Relative to much of the rest of Europe, Scotland is endowed with a combination of natural assets- which if harnessed responsibly- could turn the country into a showcase green energy economy. Scotland has one of the longest coastlines of any country in Europe- along with some of the most reliable wind resources- both on and off shore. Another exemplary energy resource is the Pentland Firth- the tidal stream straits between Northern Caithness and the Orkney Islands. It has been calculated that if a mere 20% of the straits energy could be captured then the power needs of Scotland could be met.
The social dimensions
Any radical shift in the economy is not possible without the jobs to achieve it and the democratic consensus to make it possible. But no such programme is possible unless there is a clear understanding that the status quo can no longer prevail. It is a status quo that is driven by a profit motive that denies both environmental responsibility and social justice. So while the planet overheats, the elderly and poor shiver. Therefore, we will need a Just Transition that will transfer and retrain workers from old sectors into building and maintaining the various component sectors of the green economy. There will be houses to upgrade to new thermal standards and new houses to build that incorporate those standards. New smart power distribution and supply systems will have to be built and maintained. Also the design and manufacture of new wind, tidal, wave technologies and supply systems will require a new generation of workers.
A truly green economy must also take into account the wider built environment- issues like clean free public transport and the redesign of energy efficient public amenities and enhanced cultural facilities. And Scotland which beyond its central belt has a dispersed population dependent on road transport- which raises the prospect of non-fossil fuel powered vehicles.
These and many other issues will present themselves as the transition towards a green energy economy nears. But it is essential that every stage of these transitions are the subject of truly democratic discussion that will at each stage raise the question of whether Scotland will remain part of a dire global problem- or a leading part of its solution.
Brian Parkin and Pete Cannell for Scot.E3
An opinion piece by Mike Downham that looks at the twin challenges of Covid and Climate and the role of the big corporations. A version of this article is also published in the the Scottish Socialist Voice newspaper.
It’s been said before but let me say it again: COVID IS NOT OVER!
This bears repeating because we’ve fallen into a deep pit of thinking that there’s no viable alternative – that our daily lives have to be like this – and taking at face value what those in power tell us. We keep falling back on trying to persuade and negotiate with them. This is a trap deliberately set for us by those who have the power at this point in history – the big corporations, served by their political lackeys in governments across the world, particularly in the Global North.
The corporations are a consequence and integral part of the capitalist economy, which is, as encapsulated by Asbjorn Wahl:
A system which is geared towards making profits rather than producing use value; dependent on economic growth; a system exploiting workers and over-exploiting natural resources – one that is also about to destroy planet earth as a place to live for future generations.
This week’s IPCC report says that the impacts of this destruction – floods, fires, droughts, heat which humans can’t survive – are now being experienced in every region of the world. Glasgow experienced unprecedented flooding on the same day the report was published.
The report concludes that we are set to overshoot the critical 1.5 degree rise around 2030 – a decade earlier than their previous prediction. Only a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 10 years can save us.
In relation to the pandemic, the pharmaceutical companies want us to rely solely on their vaccines to stop the pandemic. No pandemic in human history has been stopped by vaccines alone – simple public health measures to cut down the spread of infection have always been necessary. But social distancing isn’t a source of profit, and ventilating buildings doesn’t need new technology.
In relation to global warming, which is now set to kill 100s of millions of us (the global death count for the virus is ‘only’ 4+ million so far), the Oil and Gas companies want us to go on burning fossil fuels down to the last drop, while they prepare to replace or compensate for these fuels with energy sources and technologies which will be equally profitable and every bit as exploitative
Trapped as we’ve been, we keep trying to negotiate with these companies and with the governments who serve them. Given the huge current imbalance of power between them and us, this amounts to inaudible whispering down the barrel of a gun.
The Zero Covid Scotland campaign has drawn a line under its attempts to negotiate with the Scottish Government. Just as the only way to avoid catastrophic climate change is to slash emissions, the only way to prevent more deaths and more suffering from Covid is to eliminate the virus. Slashing emissions and eliminating the virus are both entirely possible.
Jonathan Neale (his book Fight the Fire published in February can be downloaded free from The Ecologist website) said at an event in Scotland last week that when you are faced with catastrophe the only way out is to build a mass movement of those most threatened by that catastrophe – a movement which starts by focussing on keeping each other alive.
The Zero Covid Scotland Campaign is planning to contribute in a small way to a movement to keep each other alive from Covid infection by inviting a range of people who have been most impacted by Covid to give evidence at a Public Hearing on Saturday 4th September, staring at 11.00am. You can register in advance for this event here.
After registering, you’ll receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
In the same way that eliminating the virus is the way of keeping each other alive from Covid, the way of keeping each other alive from global warming is climate jobs. This isn’t a new idea – thanks mainly to Jonathan Neale through the Campaign Against Climate Change it’s been around for more than ten years. But it’s been considerably developed through research in terms of how it would work, what kinds of jobs we are talking about (above all good, secure jobs), how many jobs (latest calculations for Scotland come to more than 100,000), and what training would be necessary. Climate jobs are the solution because they are the only way we can simultaneously and quickly slash emissions and keep our economy going so that we don’t have to drop our standard of living.
There’s a third specific catastrophe facing many people in Scotland – the loss of huge numbers of jobs in the North Sea Oil and Gas industry. There’s a sort of “offshore-so-not-affecting-most-of-us’ blind eye being turned on this by people in Scotland, led astray by our governments. But it’s already a reality for around 30,000 redundant workers, their families, and their communities. Unless something is done quickly it will affect at least 100,000. If you add this number of redundant workers to a society the size of Scotland’s which already features inadequate services, inadequate housing, and inadequate income support, in the middle of a lethal pandemic, to speak of keeping each other alive isn’t an exaggeration. Moreover, at the end of September, on the verge of winter and with the Covid epidemic still raging, the UK Government is set to terminate furlough, reduce Universal Credit back to its insulting pre-pandemic level and increase the cap on energy prices to an unprecedented figure. This amounts to a perfect storm for less well-off people.
The solution to the catastrophe facing offshore workers also lies again in climate jobs, specifically in the sectors of renewable energy, public transport, and heating efficiency, where a majority of offshore workers already have the right skills and experience. We can’t achieve energy transition in the short time we have available without the skills and experience of offshore workers.
Unfortunately, there’s an elephant in the room in relation to climate jobs and a transition to them. Just as we need to go on (to every one we meet regardless of their politics) about Covid and elimination and about climate change and climate jobs, we also need to speak of this elephant, which is the trade unions.
As Wahl points out it’s entirely understandable how the trade unions have got into the fix that they now find themselves in. 70 or so years ago they had a place at the bargaining table with employers and governments because they had shown how they could disrupt the capitalist economy by withdrawing their labour. But the balance of power today is such that they don’t have a place at the table any longer. To win it back they need to demonstrate again that they are prepared to stop the train in its tracks. Unless the unions shift their perspective, the workers will leave them and set up their own collective arrangements
We mustn’t be fooled. The corporations which hold the power have no motivation to make concessions at this critical point in history. They are prepared to accept whatever number of deaths and however much suffering it takes to remain profitable. They are fatally hooked on the system they’ve created.
Brian Parkin takes look at the past, present and possible futures of nuclear power in Scotland. If you want to read more on this topic do try the excellent paper by Simon Butler on ten reasons why nuclear is not the answer.
A MURKY MYSTERY
On a per head of population, Scotland has the highest concentration of nuclear installations in the world. Apart from the Advanced Gas Reactor stations (AGR’s) at Hunterston B, (Ayrshire) and Torness (East Lothian), both owned and operated by eDF, the other nuclear sites in Scotland are where nuclear power generation has ceased- but where licences remain for the continuation of nuclear power generation in the future. In total the number of nuclear sites in Scotland is five- the 2 operating reactors plus Chapelcross, Hunterston A and Dounreay in Caithness. In addition to the civilian generating sites, there are military related sites at Faslane on the Clyde, Vulcan in Caithness and Rosyth near Edinburgh. (See map).
The Chapelcross and Hunterston A stations are the now decommissioning Magnox-type reactors, ten of which formed the UK’s entrance into the world’s nuclear power race. The Magnoxs were developed over a number of years and so shared little in design and operational characteristics- but what they all shared was a graphite (carbon) core which was gas (CO2cooled) and which moderated (controlled) the speed of the Uranium235 fission- which in turn provided the heat for the steam that drove the electric turbines. All Magnox reactors are currently in the hands of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority with the intention to render the sites decontaminated and safe- a process for which the technology is yet to be developed and the costs unknown.
The Dounreay site is the home to that ultimate nuclear fission fantasy- the Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR). The two FBR plants were intended to reproduce their own Plutonium fuel during operation- but in actual fact produced less power than consumed by their works canteens(!). The Dounreay plants present the greater decommissioning challenges due to the extremely high and extended half-life of their Plutonium fuel rods and the extreme levels of site irradiation.
GOING, GOING, GONE?
The remaining AGRs at Hunterston B and Torness, along with the other six such stations in the UK, both share a generic design fault in the form of micro and hairline cracks in their moderator block graphite cores. This has brought forward the AGR closure programme with the problem so acute that the Hunterston B station is due, on a 40% load to shut-down within the next 4 years. This will leave Scotland with the remaining Torness AGR at a 1360 MWe rating on declining load factor. According to current plans Scotland will have ceased to have any nuclear generated electricity within its borders by 2031.
But even after some 60 years of nuclear failure it might be premature to read the funeral rites.
From its very inception, nuclear power has been beset by problems. Its capital costs have historically been prone to going through the roof. Also, recurring safety issues have led to operational caution in the form of low load-factors with down-time and unscheduled outages leading to negative revenues from unreliability- all of which have made nuclear power the most expensive and unreliable on the system.
But in order to disguise the real cost of nuclear power, it has always been given a ‘first on the system/must run’ status to which in addition it has been covered by transferred subsidies from other forms of generation. In other words, nuclear power has historically inflated the overall cost of electricity to the disbenefit of the consumer. Nuclear power has been one of the biggest aggravating factors in the persistence of fuel poverty.
Also, despite a continuous torrent of glossy promotions, the nuclear industry has always hidden the cost and environmental hazards of the back-end matter of waste ‘management’; how to safely treat ‘spent’ fuel rods that represent a lethal radiological threat, plus hundreds of tonnes of reactor core material which must be ‘managed’- kept out of harms way in sealed containment for an incalculable number of years. At no stage in the planning and design of any reactor have such technological and economic challenges been factored in.
ECONOMIES OF SCALE 1: BIGGER IS BETTER
The continual economic failure of nuclear power has given rise to an enduring industry fantasy- basically by building bigger reactors with higher power densities and outputs, an ideal reactor design will become a generic model with large run replication and better reactor efficiencies. Hence some thirty years of shift-shaping a Pressurised Water Reactor of around 1,400 Megawatts output in the hope of a tooth fairy. So around the year 2000, optimum size thinking settled on the 1,600 MWe European Pressurised Water Reactor of the type now being constructed at Hinkley in Somerset- a sister of the Normandy and Finnish massive over-run and over-cost failures. So instead:
ECONOMIES OF SCALE 2: SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: THE SMALL MODULAR REACTOR (SMR)
This is the obverse; a Small is Beautiful alternative to the Bigger is Better doctrine. The big sell of the SMR is a reactor that it is small, therefore requiring a smaller site footprint. It is also a modular plant that can be factory assembled and delivered with each unit- the reactor, plus cooling system components, steam turbine, pressure vessels and steam generator that when assembled form a single module that just requires being bolted into an outer shell and utility services like an Ikea kitchen flat-pack- or so the promotional goes. Also, once assembled, the reactor core can be loaded with fuel and control rods- all without the need for refuelling during the lifetime of the plant- about 40 years. The concept of the SMR is derived from earlier military Pressurised (Light) Water Reactors that were developed during the 1950-60’s to power nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. Typically, such a reactor would be rated at around 30MW electrical output- and in the US and Russia such ‘mini’ SMR’s have been undergoing operational trials.But in many ways, the SMR is pretty well a conventional reactor sub-species in that its produced energy is derived from nuclear fission with Uranium235 as the fuel.
However, in the UK Rolls Royce have been scaling up their SMR designs to much bigger out-puts to more conventional power station ‘set’ sizes of 330-440MWe. Initially, this would seem to contradict the aim of the objective of compact size units- which to some degree is illustrated with the image of a SMR reactor encased in primary containment shell on the back of a low-loader truck. Also, the slender diameter of the reactor primary containment promotes the impression of technical simplicity-an impression dispensed by the cutaway illustration- added to which is the reality of the most demanding of shell pressures and an internal temperature hotter than the sun.
Initially, the sales spiel regarding the relative simplicity of the SMR is based on a claimed design and operational simplicity and flexibility of operation- along with claimed low capital costs of some 30% less than ‘conventional’ Pressurised Water Reactors. And it is here that SMR is now being projected as the answer to the need for a‘baseload’ component in a mainly renewables- but largely intermittent generating capacity. And with outgoing AGR nuclear stations at Hunterston and Torness- plus declining output from the gas-fired station at Peterhead, a smaller, lower cost and flexible SMR has some attraction.
Scotland; now virtually at the end of its fossil power generation history faces a future of almost unlimited renewable energy power generation technologies. Wind, wave, tidal, hydro, geo-thermal and solar power has recently begun to combine in powering Scotland for whole days without fossil or nuclear inputs. That is the future; not with a nuclear component that as ever offers jam tomorrow- but in the present offers the highest cost and most dangerous energy on the planet.
Dr Brian Parkin. July 2021.
A report released today, written by Transition Economics for the STUC shows how the transition to a low or Zero carbon economy could create a large number of new jobs. The report’s findings underline the need for planning, public investment and public control and consequences if these steps are not taken.
New STUC report shows the potential for up to 367,000 green jobs in Scotland. However poor policy choices could see less than 131,000 jobs being created.
Written by Transition Economics, “Green Jobs In Scotland” looks at how energy, buildings, transport, manufacturing, waste, agriculture and land-use need to be decarbonised, and sets out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, as well as fair work and effective worker voice in these jobs. It finds:
- Energy: The transition to zero-carbon energy could see 30,000 – 95,000 jobs created over 15+years. However, this will require a national energy generation company, local content rules, and upgrades to ports and manufacturing sites. Without policies like this we could see less than 16,000.
- Buildings: Decarbonising buildings & broadband could see 61,000 – 136,000 jobs created over 10+years, plus a further 22,000 – 37,000 jobs over 3 years in building new social housing. This area holds the greatest potential for job creation but requires billions of investment – including in a street-by-street retrofitting programme run directly by Local Authorities.
- Transport: Upgrading and expanding transport could see 26,000 – 60,000 jobs over 10+ years with a further 11,000-13,000 ongoing jobs in operations. However, this will require significant investment in municipally run electric buses, railways, shipping, cycle and walking infrastructure etc.
- Manufacturing and Industry: Heavy industry is particularly hard to decarbonise but 5,000 – 9,000 jobs could be created in steel, CCS and re-manufacturing, while existing employment numbers in chemicals and refining could be protected. However, even achieving this will require investment in plant conversions and an industrial strategy to promote domestic manufacturing.
- Waste: The circular economy and waste management could provide 17,000 – 23,500 jobs. But this needs policies to boost recycling capacity, improve waste collection, scale up the deposit and return scheme, develop tool libraries, expand reverse logistics services, and expand remanufacturing.
- Land-Use and Agriculture: Greening land-use and agriculture could create 17,000 – 43,000 jobs over 12+ years. But this requires significant investment in reforestation and rewilding, alongside support for local organic farming and stronger enforcement of labour standards in Scottish agriculture.
The recommendations in the report span UK, Scottish and Local Government, with the scale of public investment required to meet climate targets and potential job levels exceeding what the Scottish Government alone can access under the current financial settlement. However, calls for a more active industrial strategy, far greater levels of public ownership and significant public investment noting that employment in Scotland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy decreased in 2019.
You can read the full report here.
Ex North Sea oil worker Neil Rothnie asks why the Scottish Government’s updated climate plan is so quiet on North Sea oil and gas. This piece was published as a letter in the Herald newspaper on 30th December 2020
SCOTTISH Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, has been giving her opinion on the Government’s updated Climate Change Plan. But nowhere in her Herald on Sunday article (“‘COP26 is a chance for us all to play our part in debate’”, December 20), or even in the plan itself, do we get a glimpse of the reality of climate change.
Climate change is increasingly experienced by people across the globe as extreme weather events that are already destroying lives. It’s experienced by the natural world as rising temperatures, the melting of ice and the destruction of habitats and the threat of species extinctions.
There’s no sense of this in the report. The term “climate change” is scattered throughout it like punctuation marks, and carries about as much meaning as a comma.
There is scientific consensus about climate change. It’s caused by burning fossil fuels which give rise to greenhouse gases (carbon emissions) that cause the atmosphere to heat, and progressively destabilise global climates.
The oil industry, and the North Sea where 75 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions originate, have been “disappeared” from the Government’s plan. It’s one area where the UK and Scottish governments are completely in step. Their plan for the North Sea is “Maximising Economic Recovery”. And if that isn’t clear enough, just think, “business as usual”.
Maybe you thought that a climate change plan might concentrate on how we might replace fossil fuel production with renewable energy production in a planned way, that protects the workers, their families and communities by helping them transition to work in a sustainable industry.
But no. Oil and gas must stay, and stay in the hands of the giant corporations, and suffer the vagaries of a basket case of an oil market that gives us periodic price collapses and catapults thousands of workers onto the dole. Twelve thousand have gone so far this time. Another 18,000 or so expected to go soon.
Now it seems, our new future best friends are to be “hydrogen” and “carbon capture”. We’re to continue sucking the hydrocarbons from under the North Sea, then spend a fortune taking the carbon out, leaving hydrogen. Then we’ll pump the carbon back under the North Sea. Is this feasible at scale? Globally?
A third of North Sea gas comes ashore at St Fergus where by 2024 we “could” be able to remove 340,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year – a measly one 800th of the 280 million tons of greenhouse gasses that were produced by burning North Sea oil and gas last year.
Is Ms Cunningham going to be standing alongside UK Minister Alok Sharma to welcome the COP26 circus to Glasgow this coming year? If so, what leadership is she going to be showing Saudi, Russian, US and Nigerian delegates? Should they follow our lead and maximise economic recovery of their own oil and gas resources? And hope to decarbonise it and pump the carbon back underground?
The updated Climate Change Plan does not look like the Government has the measure of carbon emissions or the oil and gas industry. They all need public scrutiny.
Yesterday the Scottish Parliament Voted by 61 Votes to 60 to condemn the government’s failure to save BiFaband calling for specific actions to save the yards. The motion is reproduced below. Today the firm was put into administration.
A joint statement by trade unions GMB Scotland and Unite said BiFab’s administration exposed the “myth of Scotland’s renewables revolution as well as a decade of political hypocrisy and failure, in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith and Unite Scotland secretary Pat Rafferty added that the workers and communities dependent on the yards had “fought so hard for a future”.
The Scottish Parliament vote calls on the government to take a number of actions – including that the government produces a report by January that sets out steps to ensure future renewable work comes to Scottish fabrication yards. If BiFab is lost it’s a tragedy for the workforce and for workers in the sector more generally. It’s also a major setback on the path to a sustainable economy. Transition requires skilled workers and infrastructure. BiFab should be part of that.
Scot.E3 has argued consistently that the only effective way to develop a serious plan for transition is through public planning and public control. Taking BiFab into public ownership could be a first step. One thing is clear that to get the Scottish Government to take this seriously and to respond to the motion extra parliamentary pressure is required. A new UN report shows how the big energy companies are doubling down on fossil fuel extraction. It’s time to turn the tide – if not now when!
That the Parliament believes that Scotland has the potential to lead Europe’s green energy revolution over the coming decades; further believes that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and job losses, green jobs will be central to creating new employment and training opportunities across Scotland; considers that, with the support of the workforce and their trades unions, the maximum effort has to be made to secure wind farm contracts for Scottish manufacturing companies; notes that, in open competition, BiFab won a £30 million contract to build turbine jackets for the NnG North Sea wind farm, work that could have started in January 2021, but has been prevented from going ahead with this; condemns the Scottish Government’s decision to withdraw the financial guarantee that was needed to enable this work to go ahead, thus risking Scotland’s reputation as a new green investment hub, and further condemns the Scottish Government’s failure to produce any legal opinion to justify its claim that support for BiFab was against the law; calls on it to act now to secure the future of the Burntisland Methil and Arnish yards, and the jobs that depend on them; further calls on it to talk to the workforce’s representatives and to ask for the help of the UK Government through the joint working party to urgently negotiate with EDF and Saipem to find a solution that ensures that the NnG contract for eight wind turbine platforms is carried out in the yards, and, with Glasgow being the venue of the COP26 summit in December 2021, calls for a concrete plan to be published in January by the Scottish Government that ensures that future work on renewables comes to Scottish yards, and further calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that these policy commitments on renewables are part of a coherent industrial strategy for the post-COVID-19 era.
Yesterday we published Scot.E3’s case for immediate and radical action on climate and social justice. We contrasted our proposals with the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Economic Advisory Group (EAG), which were published on Monday. Here two regular contributors to this blog give their personal reactions to the EAG report. In the coming days and weeks we want o publish more on this topic, but not just on policies and plans, we need to discuss movement building so that we can apply the kind of pressure that is required to achieve the system change we need.
Mike Downham writes of the EAG report:
77 pages of neoliberal propaganda, with passing references to climate change, inequality and racism to soothe the voters – all empty rhetoric, devoid of any proposals on how to address these social injustices other than through increased, top-down private sector activity.
But what else did we expect from a group of eight people hand-picked by a Government wedded to ‘Sustainable’ Growth (sustainable for capitalists) and to extracting the last drops of oil and gas from the North Sea, and which put profit before people’s lives by obsequiously following the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic? 4,878 people have died in Scotland as a result of the epidemic at the last count on 16th June. People are still dying as the report is published.
That Graham Smith, previously General Secretary of the Scottish trade Unions Conference, which represents more than 500,000 workers, has put his name to this report is an ultimate manifestation of the successful co-option by neoliberal governments of the trade union bureaucracy.
On Just Transition we’re given “There is the jeopardy, as well as the opportunity, of the transition associated with climate change”, along with carbon capture and storage in the North Sea, and “positive behavioural change”.
This is not the time to “recast a new model”, or to follow “abstract arguments around the creation of new institutions”. By which the Group presumably means a National Climate Service, consisting of the National Investment Bank, a publicly owned Energy Company, and the creation of 100,000 carbon saving or carbon neutral jobs essential for improving the quality of life for people across Scotland, with training opportunities for all those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, the many more who will soon lose their jobs as the recession bites, and those who didn’t have a job to start with.
Instead we should rely on the “might of the private sector” to create more jobs, because (logically?) that’s where 79% of jobs currently are. The “backdrop” is “constrained public sector resources”, which we know is nonsense.
This has to be based, the Report says, on “transforming some aspects of the relationship between business and the Scottish Government” a relationship which is working “reasonably well for financial services, agriculture and renewables”, but not well enough in other sectors. “If one party in a relationship says it’s not working, it isn’t. This could be “an opportunity for the Government to draw on businesses to second senior executives”. The Group reminds the Government that an election isn’t far away, so it had better get on with improving its relationship with business if it doesn’t want to lose its voters. The tone is overbearing, arrogant and amounts to bullying.
Apart from the pressure of elections, and the need to create more private sector jobs fast, there’s no hurry. Change will take time and will rely on “patient capital”. We need to build an attractive prospectus for inward investment. We also need to develop a new “pragmatic approach to regulation and planning”, for which read privatisation.
Overall, “recovery” is taken to mean recovering growth, sticking to the 2015 Scottish Economy Strategy with its ambition for Scotland to reach the top quartile of OECD countries, as measured by GDP.
There is much further detail in the Report but given that the principles are set in the four pages of the Foreword, it’s questionable whether it’s helpful to study the proposals further.
The underbelly of the report which we can focus on is the triad of trusting the private sector to alleviate social injustice, which history has demonstrated time and again fails; the lack of urgency in relationship to global warming; and a top-down approach as opposed to grassroots leadership, which history has plenty to say about too.
So here, in the flesh, is the “madness”, that ScotE3 and many others have warned against. If we allow these recommendations to fool us, and don’t promote alternative, coherent and more attractive recommendations quickly, we will have lost any possibility of slowing down global warming, and of effectively addressing poverty, inequality and social justice in general. We know, already knew, that only a mass movement will save us against significant attacks from capitalism, of which this Report is the latest.
Matthew Crighton’s view of the report: Green Recovery – what a disappointment
Yesterday started with hearing on Radio 4 the Pope say that the recovery must be ‘just and equitable’. He called for integrity not hypocrisy from politicians. Then came Mark Carney on how getting to net zero is part of the solution to the crisis, for companies as well as countries. He reminded us that net zero is ‘the law of the land’. Would these two be the warm-up acts to the revelation of truly transformative recommendations from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery?
What a let down, then, to hear at lunchtime from ex-banker Benny Higgins who chaired the Group, set up “to advise the government on actions for economy recovery but also to build a fairer, greener and more equal society”(Nicola Sturgeon 17 April). There were lots of words from him and Nicola, but little useful content that I could find.
There are mentions of inequality in this report – but not one of them comes in the Recommendations! Nothing here for the Pope.
There is a section on prioritisation and delivery of green investments. It reads quite well – but it stands on its own and doesn’t permeate into any of the other recommendations. This is ticking the green box, not delivering a green recovery. The authors haven’t grasped the zero carbon imperative which Carney reminded us of. Instead of using the recovery to drive urgent decarbonisation action, they want to use green investments to boost the economic recovery which is the subject of the other 23 recommendations.
Left to Benny Higgins and his crew, that would be a very conventional recovery. One good thing is that it does call for a boost to investment levels, but it has no suggestions about how to do that apart from asking Westminster for more funds or borrowing powers. No plan for Scottish Green Bonds here, no call for a massive increase in the capitalisation of the Scottish National Investment Bank, just a suggestion that it should invest in housing – which looks dangerously like a dilution of its commitment to funding a Just Transition.
It’s a set of headings taken from the conventional economic development text book which has brought us to the dire state our economy was in before Coronavirus. Why set up an Advisory Group when you have Scottish Enterprise to write this stuff, and do a better job? It’s as if a Green New Deal had never been proposed!
One idea which got some attention is a business-led Scottish Jobs Guarantee scheme which would offer employment for at least 2 years to 16-25 year olds. This is a worthy objective but it misunderstands the challenge. It’s based on the Edinburgh Guarantee, an excellent initiative to address problems of a relatively small layer of young people not in education, employment or training at a time when unemployment was relatively low. We are, however, facing a scenario in which businesses of all sizes will be struggling to retain existing employees, let alone take on new youngsters.
The reference point has to be the mass unemployment of the 1980s and 1990s and the appropriate responses have to include a publicly-led intermediate labour market programme – a Future Green Jobs programme which funds rate-for-the-job employment in green projects to give people skills needed in decarbonising the economy. Not just for young people, there must be a clear offer to the adults who lose their jobs as recession bites. Apart from the expansion of PACE services, which support people facing redundancies, and platitudes about skills and lifelong learning this report offers nothing to them. The Advisory Group doesn’t even want to try a Universal Basic Income.
Disappointed doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this report! Instead of being the climax of a gig with the Pope and Mark Carney as warm-up acts, this was like an embarrassing local band trying to sound like they could share a stage with the stars but fumbling their words and striking some discordant notes as well.
Now that this report has come, and will probably sink without trace, we need to look forward to something sharper and more radical from the Just Transition Commission (it’s Call for Evidence is open until 30 June). And we need to continue to press for the Scottish Government to come forward with a list of specific programmes and policies which can make a difference, like a massive energy efficiency programme for our cold and draughty homes. Nicola Sturgeon can still bring on policies for a just and green recovery but she won’t find much in this report to help her.
Scot.E3 is one of more than 70 Scottish organisations that have added their names to a letter to the Scottish Government calling for a Just and Green Recovery. The letter was initiated by Friends of the Earth Scotland. You can sign the linked petition here. The five points that are central to the letter are:
- Provide essential public services for people, not profit. Expand public ownership of public services and boost investment, including in social care, strengthen the NHS and cradle-to-grave education, and create zero-carbon social and cooperative housing instead of buy-to-let.
- Protect marginalised people and those on low incomes by redistributing wealth. Provide adequate incomes for all instead of bailouts for shareholders, significantly raise taxes on the wealthy, ensure all public workers receive at least the real Living Wage and strengthen health, safety and workers’ rights, including access to flexible home working. Investigate and mitigate the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing on women, children and young people, disabled people, LGBTI people, people of colour, key workers, unpaid carers, private renters, and those on lower incomes.
- Provide new funds to transform our society and economy to meet Scotland’s Fair Share of climate emissions cuts and greatly enhance biodiversity. Create and protect jobs in sustainable travel, renewable heat, affordable local food and energy efficiency, with ambitious green employment opportunities for young people and support for retraining where whole industries are affected. Put measures in place to ensure all government programmes tackle inequality, public health and the just transition away from fossil fuels, excluding rogue employers, tax avoiders, major polluters and arms manufacturers from bailouts.
- Strengthen democracy and human rights during these crises. Withdraw new police powers, surveillance measures and restrictions on protest as soon as possible. Enable full scrutiny of planning and policy decisions. Create an independent Recovery Commission founded on participatory democracy to engage and empower communities, trade unions and civil society. Introduce fundamental human rights into Scots law so that safety nets are always in place for the most vulnerable.
- Offer solidarity across borders by proactively supporting an international Coronavirus and climate emergency response that challenges the scapegoating ofmigrants, centres on the worst affected, bolsters global public health, development and environmental bodies, and ensures equitable access to COVID-19 treatment. Use the UN climate talks in Glasgow to push for robust implementation of the Paris deal, platforming the voices of indigenous and frontline communities and advancing climate finance and global debt cancellation. Ensure coherence between all domestic policy and global sustainable development outcomes.
Decisions made in times of crisis have long-lasting consequences. After the 2008 financialcrisis, inequality grew and climate emissions spiralled. We want to see this moment seized for the common good, not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland are carrying out a survey to gather information on the effect of the oil crisis and COVID-19 on job security and work conditions and to understand how the campaign for a ‘Just Transition’ is perceived by oil and gas workers and what kinds of demands workers would like to see addressed by a transition to net-zero.
The survey is directed at people employed in
- The oil and gas industry
- The supply chain (such as aviation, transport, car manufacturing and service industries)
- Public bodies, unions or community organisations who regularly interact with the oil and gas industry and supply chain
If you fall in to one of these categories do take the time to complete the survey.