Cllr. Mark Ruskell speaking at Scottish Greens Conference in Edinburgh on Sunday. Image: SGP/Callum MacLellan

Mark Ruskell, Green Councillor in Stirling, gave this address to Scottish Greens Conference on Sunday.  It is a call for action to rebuild our economies – and our economics – to make a better society for all.

An economy as if people mattered.

I like this idea, it was one reason why I joined the Green Party rather than a single issue pressure group almost 20 years ago and speaking to many new members it seems like a top reason for joining today too.

It dares us to believe.

It dares us to believe that the economy and markets should serve people rather than the other way round.

It dares us to place values of respect, fairness, interdependence, and mutuality at the heart of our economy.

Where jobs are accessible and fulfilling, producing useful things rather than games of speculation.

Where wages support lives rather than an ever expanding chasm between the 1% and rest of us.

And it dares us to have an economy that is built on one planet’s worth of resources instead of two.

Radical? Daring to be grown up human beings rather than sociopaths.

Its fundamentally about building a more Human Scale economy built on strong local social foundations.

A lot of the discussions I had with people during the referendum campaign were about how great it would be live in a small nation state. A state which has global influence but where you can still have a chat with government ministers on the train.

But that’s also what we need our economy to be too, a globally competitive ‘Team Scotland’ which still has at its foundations a strong local economic base.

where the value of a pound spent locally multiplies as it gets continually re-invested in our communities, and where there is a real person at the end of a transaction.

One solid foundation block we have is the small business sector which encompasses 94% of our businesses in Scotland and supports over 40% of our employees.

Yet it is a sector that has been continually overlooked. My parents moved to Scotland in the mid 1980’s, my father brought with him the patent on a really innovative piece of construction equipment he invented. He actually wanted to manufacture the product here and create jobs at a time when manufacturing was being decimated and the middle classes had been sold this dream of a nation of entrepreneurs. But the reality was that the development agencies were dis-interested, far too busy chasing global corporate inward investment and what investment they did manage to secure left within a few short years.

We have to nurture these sparks of innovation rather let them fizzle out and finance is absolutely key.

The Sparkassen savings banks network for example in Germany is home grown financing, banks that are constitutionally required to turn all ‘local savings into local loans’ with a network that is larger than RBS. Imagine that Fred Goodwin..

The public sector is our social foundation block in the economy. It puts real wages in real pockets which gets spent locally and it delivers the infrastructure and services that actually keep us and the economy alive.

Which is why we need the power to protect public services from the multiple assaults it faces- the TTIP sale of a century,

Tory austerity cuts, and the cold comfort of the SNPs council tax freeze.

What was interesting to see this week though was Scottish Labour having an almost zombie Clause 4 moment over the Scotrail franchise. Warming up again to the idea of publicly owned services run to actually serve the public.

I guess my problem with Labour is I prefer their early work. Tom Johnston for example former Labour Secretary of State for Scotland after the War who brought electrification and the first renewables revolution to the glens. We still have state energy companies of course but they’re the state utilities of China, France, Sweden and Norway running the show.

Now let me turn to tax. Bob Crow – ‘you pay tax and you buy civilisation’  he was right, but tax is also a tool to mould kind of civilisation we want, whether that’s about creating favourable business rates to support town centres, creating subsidies and incentives for industries we need to support and removing them from ones we don’t.

We currently don’t even bother to collect over £1bn of tax revenue from the Scottish oil and gas sector. Enough to pay for 25 hours a week of free childcare for every 3 and 4 year old in Scotland or a massive investment in publicly owned renewables or 28,000 nurses.

Tax relief could be used to support the jobs and the economy we want to create. So instead of supplying tax rebates to companies like INEOS at Grangemouth for exploratory fracking we could be incentivising INEOS for R&D into new chemical products from oil instead of burning the stuff.

But we continue to see muddled ideological thinking from the ConDem government. They cut consumers energy bills by a few pence a week scaling back obligations on energy companies to invest in green energy and efficiency programmes, seemingly oblivious that this will mean more reliance on fossil fuels that will become cripplingly expensive over time resulting in.. you guessed it… higher bills.

In fact the more I think about it, we don’t just need an economy as if people mattered we need an economy as if the economy mattered.

Because where is the investment in the future economy coming from?  The FTSE 100 companies are currently sitting pretty on top of a £54bn mountain of cash, they’re not investing in real economy. Their influencing a political elite which is making the economy weak, failing to invest in research, failing to facilitate immigration into this country, and opposing green energy simply because……

That’s why we need to grab as many tools as we can in the few short months we have, full devolution on income tax, environmental and resources taxation and borrowing powers for our Parliament.

Let me turn to people again.

In my own community, I see neighbours daily who are struggling to afford a bus fare to Stirling which costs more than their first hour of paid work. Families weighing up childcare costs against poverty wages and zero hours contracts and realising work does not pay.

This is the reality which is stifling people and stifling our economy. An increasingly ageing population needs people who are willing and able to step up, work, broaden the base of taxation and create the wealth that allows us to re-invest back into the common good.

We need to make work pay and link pay to prosperity once again. A genuine Living Wage so people can thrive rather than barely survive with equality pay between men and women across all sectors, public, private and voluntary.

That’s why powers on employment legislation must come to Holyrood.

Conference, in the words of the new Glasgow member the Referendum had given us ‘permission to imagine a better country’ it’s also given us permission to finally deliver the economy where people do matter. Fair, social, innovative, resourceful, sustainable – a global outlook matched to a strong local foundation. Now let’s make it happen.

Ric Lander

About Ric Lander

Ric is Co-Editor of Bright Green and writes on economics, climate change and Scottish politics. His work based in Edinburgh supports grassroots campaigning against fossil fuels.