12 October 2019

Fellow co-operators,

I bring you greetings from the Scottish Labour Party.

A Scottish Labour Party that wants to rekindle the co-operative flame and the radical tradition which it embodies.

Because why shouldn’t the place where Robert Owen made his home, where he wrote of his dream of a co-operative commonwealth.

Where the Fenwick weavers before him established the first co-operative society in 1761.

This city where we meet where the first ever co-operative society women’s guild in Scotland was established, established to promote those core socialist values of mutual aid and internationalism of peace and co-operation.Established to provide a political education which gave so many inspiring women like Mary Barbour a springboard into the ILP, into this co-operative party and the Labour Party.

So with these radical traditions with this rich inheritance with these co-operative ideals I say: Let us have a vision of our own, let this generation of co-operators, have a vision for this century, a vision of hope, which tells people not just what we are against but what we are for.

A Scotland that could become a new centre for co-operative development as part of the green industrial revolution.

I have been speaking and writing for twenty years of turning Scotland into the “Mondragon of the north”.

So as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party let me give you this pledge that which we speak and write of in opposition we will enact and implement in Government.

The last Scottish Labour-led Government established the co-operative development agency Co-operative Development Scotland in 2006.

But under the SNP: their economic strategy based on foreign direct investment and little else it has floundered.

Over the last year it has been buried even deeper in Scottish Enterprise with less than 0.7 per cent of the combined budget of Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise spent on its work on the co-operative sector in Scotland.

So I can announce today that the next Scottish Labour Government will rescue Co-operative Development Scotland from Scottish Enterprise.

We will establish it on a statutory footing in its own right.

We will vest in it the authority of a democratically constituted board.

We will arm it with the instruments of investment that it demands.

The technical assistance and the expertise that it needs.

And we will give it new legal powers to intervene in the economy.

So we will introduce an Industrial Reform and Common Ownership Act: a Marcora Law for Scotland to give workers a new legal right to buy an enterprise when it is put up for sale or facing closure.

So a new right to convert it into a co-operative or employee-owned business.

Because why on earth shouldn’t the creators of the wealth own the wealth that they create, and why shouldn’t we have a system of economic governance based on one member one vote instead of one share one vote.

It would mean that never again do we see working women and men like those 180 workers at the Caledonian Railway Works in this city let down in their hour of need.

Let down by an SNP Government which in the end has neither courage nor conviction.

Instead under our proposal we would put power in the hands of the workers themselves to decide their own future and so make their own history not leave it in the hands of absentee directors in faraway boardrooms.

And I tell you that if democratic socialism means anything, above all else it is surely the extension of democracy into the economy.

So for me co-operative ownership by working people of the enterprises in which they work is one of the most enduring examples of practical socialism.

Which is why we don’t want co-operatives on the margins but playing a significant role at the centre of the new economy we must build, leading the green industrial revolution we must spark.

In Scotland today under the SNP’s watch only eighteen per cent of large companies are now Scottish owned.

Forty two per cent are part of UK wide companies, forty per cent are subsidiaries of overseas owned multinational corporations.

One driver of this has been the privatisation of public assets and their subsequent acquisition by overseas interests: from our railways to our energy suppliers, from our airports to our steel industry.

And when the SNP had a chance just ten days ago in the Scottish Parliament to end the Abellio franchise of Scotrail.

They joined forces with the Tories and voted it down.

That is not standing up for Scotland. That is bowing down to the economics of the free market.

Which is why I say that the only way to elect a Labour Government is to elect Scottish Labour MPs.

That is the only way for the avoidance of doubt there is no short cut to a Jeremy Corbyn Government through the SNP.

That is why only Labour is offering people hope out of despair.

By speaking again about democratic renewal, by planning again a redistribution of not just wealth but power.

And we mean sovereignty not just for the nation but for its people.

And this democratic renewal this redistribution of power we seek this is not simply about Parliaments and the Members elected to them.

It is about strong local government – not local administration – local government.

It is about redressing the imbalance of power.

Between tenant and landlord, between citizen and state between the poorest developing nations in the South and the richest developed economies in the North.

Between women and men, between worker and owner and so shifting the balance of power must not be simply a part of Labour’s political strategy in Government, it must be its very essence.

We have an economy where too much power rests in too few hands.

Where there is a growing concentration of power.

And that is why the new wave of co-operative development which we want to usher in is founded not on a switch from public ownership to cooperative ownership, but on a switch from private ownership to democratic co-operative ownership.

That’s the shift we need to make.

So we have radical plans for housing unveiled just this week that will encourage more housing co-operatives like the Forgewood Housing Co-operative in Motherwell which I visited in the summer.

We will give them and other housing co-ops the right to buy land at existing use-value and so we will abolish the notion of planning gain altogether.

In Scotland today 342 individuals and families own fifty per cent of all private land.

And so the next phase of land reform legislation which we will introduce will consider maximum ownership levels.

It will consider requirements for residency to discourage absentee landlordism – even if you happen to be the forty fifth President of the United States of America.

For us it is about giving democratic community ownership a new impetus.

Because if we are serious about a redistribution of wealth and power then the reform of Scotland’s pattern of land ownership will be a litmus test of that.

Because we are the Labour Party. We are not the Party of market forces and excessive wealth accumulation.

We are the Party of people before profit and the more equal society. That is who we are and that is what we always should have been.

Out in the country, there is widespread discontent but a renewed rising determination everywhere.

That the people need more of a say, more democracy.

The challenge is how do we extend democracy so that it is not a spectator sport.

It means that when we talk of public ownership, we mean a mosaic not a monolith.

Not uniformity imposed from above, but initiative from below with worker involvement and community involvement.

So it is not just about state monopoly in the old style, it is also about municipal ownership and co-operative ownership.

Because we need a libertarian vision of a democratic socialism which is neither of the managerial right nor of the authoritarian left.

We must inspire hope and enthusiasm if we are to win the battle of hearts and minds.

We must be positive and radical.Offering people a real sense of the difference we will make to their lives.

By offering a distinctive labour vision with a clear alternative to our political opponents, by reaffirming our commitment to socialism and to democracy.

By sticking to our principles rooted in a collective view of society based on co-operative ideals rather than an aggressive individualism.

Which recognises that people are not simply consumers they are citizens.

By looking to the future without denying our past.

Because our causes are as great as they always were and the election of a truly radical transformative Labour Government is within our grasp.

A transformative Labour Government that will shift the balance of wealth and power in our society and in our economy that will shift power back to the people.

And so my final message is that a socialist Britain will do far more to improve the lives of the people than a separate Scotland ever could.

So let’s keep the faith.

Let’s have faith in ourselves.

Let’s show people the division and insufficiency of nationalism in all its forms.

Show that the answers are to be found in our labour and our co-operative ideas and ideals and in our internationalist outlook.

Let us be confident in our democratic tradition, that radical tradition which we inherit.

And let us stand up for the labour and co-operative cause that stirred us into joining this movement in the first place.

If we do that we will not only win the next election whenever it comes, we will deserve to win it.

Thank you.
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