In April I wrote about the longer-term lessons to be learned from the pandemic and the importance of thinking about these now, rather than allowing others to capture the narrative - as they did after 2008 with austerity economics. Under the broad 'Build Back Better' banner, there have been encouraging contributions to this debate in Scotland.
This has not gone unnoticed. As the BBC Business Editor, Douglas Fraser noted recently, “The battle has begun for the post-Covid legacy, deciding what's going to change. The left and progressives are first to engage. Think tanks are on manoeuvres.”
First up there is the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s, ‘Reconstructing Scotland after the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis: learning the lessons of the pandemic’. This is a series of contributions covering Universal Basic Income, public transport, climate change, education, Freedom of Information and valuing civil servants. I wrote the section on health and social care, in which I set out how the ‘new normal’ must effectively tackle health inequalities with radical action on income support, household debt, social security, housing, public services and the environment. In addition, the need to reform social care is now obvious to all, starting with valuing those who deliver our health and care services.
The importance of tackling health inequalities is reinforced by Dr Gerry McCartney. Writing for the Poverty Alliance, he said, “As we discuss the policies to protect and improve the nations’ health post-pandemic, equity will be at the heart of it. We have the opportunity to build the economy back better for everyone, to ensure we all have the income we need to live to a decent standard and reduce inequalities for the future.”
Common Weal is championing ‘Resilience Economics’ – arguing the answer is not more ‘greed and acquisition’, but rather ‘sufficiency and security’. I think there is much to welcome in this approach and said so in a post on their news analysis site. In particular, putting the climate emergency at the core of the recovery. This concept also stresses the importance of wellbeing and foundational economics, which should emphasise decentralisation and stronger communities.
The STUC has published provisional research from Transition Economics which shows how a £13bn stimulus package could deliver a green recovery. Their analysis shows that almost 150,000 good quality jobs could be created at the same time as making a real impact on emissions and strengthening Scotland’s renewables supply chain.
The importance of climate change has been highlighted by business leaders in a letter to the PM calling for a green recovery from the pandemic. Meryam Omi from Legal & General warned: “The government is understandably focusing on the present crisis, but they must heed the dangers of reacting too late to threats and remember one of the gravest in the world - the climate emergency.”
More broadly, a coalition of 80 organisations including charities, unions and churches has written to the First Minister calling for a radical economic recovery programme that prioritises people and planet over profit. They are asking for the Scottish Government to prioritise essential public services and claims national policies should promote more equal wealth distribution, with minimum income guarantees.
There isn’t one magic idea that underpins ‘Build Back Better’, but there are recognised approaches that can guide us. These approaches have to be relevant to lessons learned during the pandemic and be based on progressive values. The response to the last crisis was a disaster for Scotland. There are at least some positive signs that we have the ideas to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes again.