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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Municipal socialism for modern Scotland

Municipal socialism is the basis for delivering a wide range of local services in local government across the world.

Today, I was in the Scottish Parliament introducing my latest paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation 'Municipal Socialism for a Modern Scotland'. I am grateful to Scottish Labour Party Leader, Richard Leonard MSP, for his introduction.

The paper sets out the historical context, which runs from the 19th century Liberals who addressed the appalling conditions in our cities by introducing municipal water, gas and other utilities. Keir Hardie devoted a chapter to municipal socialism in his book 'From Serfdom to Socialism'. The cause was taken up in the USA by the 'sewer socialists' whose efforts can be seen even today in the wide range of public services delivered by public authorities in the USA.

Scottish Local Government today has taken the brunt of austerity and services have been centralised. 

The case for municipal socialism is based on a very different approach. It recognises the benefits of collective provision, not just because it is a more effective way of delivering services, or even for the revenues it would generate, but as a key element of a strategy to reduce inequality - Scotland's main 21st century challenge.

The paper outlines eleven services that would benefit from municipal socialism. It is not an exhaustive list, but it shows the range of opportunities available to councils that are willing to grasp the challenge. 

Some are familiar services like housing, social care and early years provision. Others like energy, transport, broadband and water are commonly delivered by local government across the world, but rarely in Scotland. The final group of services are aimed at strengthening the local economy; including banking, IT, new forms of public finance and supporting the foundational economy.

Just transferring or creating new services to a weak local state is not enough. It requires new forms of participative democracy that fully engage citizens in local government. 

Taking this agenda forward requires bold leadership from councils. I have argued elsewhere that local government in Scotland must move away from being the passive administrators of austerity, to become the political leadership of their communities. I hope this paper provides a template for radical councils to grasp the opportunities that municipal socialism offers.

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