THE publication of the Economic Recovery Advisory Group report appears to be long on vision, but in tone reminds me of the Growth Commission. It relies on cooperation between the Scottish Government and the UK Government (which is not happening so far on much) to bring “flexibility to allow different priorities to be pursued”.

Different from what? From what has been done in the past or from what the UK is doing? Does it mean Scotland could prioritise small and medium-sized enterprises rather than mega corporations? It asks for greater autonomy for Scotland. That’s going to happen, isn’t it?

What sort of “targeted fiscal measures” would “stimulate demand or incentivise behavioural change”? Is that aimed at consumers, companies or who? How to stimulate demand? Lower interest rates? Not possible. Give out more loans via the banks? Good luck with that. Or a direct payment to people, like a form of UBI?

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On first blush the jobs guarantee looks okay, but how do you prevent employers just using the system as a revolving door for relatively cheap labour? It can become just a means of government subsidising private employers. Taking a stake in businesses left struggling by coronavirus is laudable, but then what? Do we just hand that stake back when times are better? We are constantly told that public ownership is inefficient, and private enterprise is king, until it all goes pear-shaped. Maybe we should hang on to any stakes we take in companies, not even sell them back.

The proposal for the National Arts Force is good, but limited. Why do we not fully support the creative arts by having a system like France which specifically supports those workers “between jobs” at a realistic level, rather than the system the UK has, the arts being predominantly the preserve of the upper classes who do not have to take any old job just to keep going? We could also take a leaf out of Germany’s book and have dedicated job centres for different sectors, ensuring that people’s skills are actually employed after graduation or training.

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There is little revolutionary in the proposals. It wants Scotland to have vastly increased borrowing powers, but I do not believe this is what we need. What we need is independence, when Scotland would be a lot richer anyway. As it is, we are constantly saying Scotland has no debt because we have no borrowing powers, so the ability to borrow more than the nominal £450 million would cancel one of the main arguments we have against the GERS figures, so boosting Unionist arguments.

If a devolved Scottish Government took on a whole load of debt via the banks, then the banks would end up running our economy, the way they run the UK economy, and keep millions of people just paying debts in the form of credit cards and mortgages, thus having less or perhaps nothing to spend in the real economy. We can have any attitude to debt we want once we are independent, but it will then be on our terms as a rich independent nation, not an impoverished region.

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I suppose in back of it all I have a problem with the group being chaired by Benny Higgins, notably associated with Buccleuch Estates, not known for their philanthropy or social conscience. The report has warm words about a resilient wellbeing economy demonstrating strong economic growth (that focus on growth again), job creation and the climate, but a wellbeing economy is at odds with economic growth as it is currently designated (an obsession with GDP).

What we need going forward is a total rethinking of the economy, not tinkering with the existing system. We need banks which are cooperatives, governments which don’t allow banks to be in charge of the economy, a resetting of values which puts people at the heart of the economy, not just obedient taxpayers. In short, much of what the Common Weal has said since its inception, which I believe resonates much more strongly with the majority of the people of Scotland.

Julia Pannell
Friockheim, Tayside