THE tragic and stark realities of Covid-19 form a core argument for Scotland’s handling of this terrible pandemic as an independent country. Michael Gove’s “Privilege of Public Service” Ditchley Lecture on Saturday, June 27, called for “The re-orientation of Government to help the Forgotten Man”.

But despite its elegant phraseology, it still sounded like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. To loosen the wrench-like grip of the Johnson, Cummings and Gove trilogy, there is so much more that a Scottish Government can do under existing powers. It’s time to get serious about Scotland.

This lack of seriousness is typified by Benny Higgins’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery and its tepid “Towards a Robust, Resilient, Wellbeing Economy” report, much of which sounded like diagnoses for the problems of Merseyside in the 1980s and the West Midlands in the 2000s.

Some of Higgins’s report is plain inaccurate. Page 34 says that Scotland’s block grant is based on the Barnett formula. But it’s not.

The House of Commons Library Briefing makes it clear that “the Barnett formula calculates the annual change in the block grant. The formula doesn’t determine the total size of the block grant, just the yearly change”.

The report also gets City Deals wrong. On page 37, it suggests that Scotland should “pivot to a more regionally focused model … tasked to drive delivery of place-based and regional solutions, especially the City-Region Growth Deals”. But this misunderstands that the purpose of London’s funding for City Deals is to deliver UK Government policy across Scotland.

Although Audit Scotland’s January 2020 report showed £1.42 billion of UK Government funding, to ensure the UK Government’s objectives are pursued, accountability to Scotland and its elected representatives is deliberately minimised. As Audit Scotland says: “It remains untested how accountability will work in practice.” It is frankly fanciful for Higgins’s report to countenance that Dominic Cummings’s special advisers (SpAds) across Government departments will relinquish control over City Deals to Scotland.

Similarly, page 35 doesn’t seem to understand the UK Government’s proposed Shared Prosperity Fund to replace the £780 million allocated to Scotland in European Union Structural and Investment Funds during the current 2014 to 2020 Programme. Scotland received £4bn between 1975 and 2006, and £820m under the 2007-13 programme.

Scotland’s “levelling up”, especially in the Highlands and Islands, has only been possible through these EU funds. None of this is mentioned in the report.

Equally ephemeral is the report’s treatment of Scotland’s key workers who are martyrs to the slaughter of Covid-19. Each monthly report from National Registers of Scotland confirms that Covid-19 deaths for lower-paid key workers are twice as high. From March until May, deaths were 25.7 per 100,000 for transport and mobile machine drivers and operators (including bus and taxi drivers); 25.5 for process plant and machine operators; and 13.6 for social workers, compared to 9.9 for all occupations.

The Higgins report’s page 55 recommendation for a Centre for Workplace Transformation and for Fair Work Agreements is an insult to these martyrs who too often sacrifice their own lives.

The Report’s Job Guarantee Fund is reminiscent of Temporary Employment Subsidy and Manpower Services Commission Schemes from the 1970s and 1980s, which were summed up by Ray Hudson at the University of Durham: “It became increasingly appropriate to think of people permanently surplus to the labour power requirements of capital rather than of unemployed people who at some point would become re-employed in the formal labour market.” Just like these 1980s programmes, those in the Higgins report do nothing to tackle the basic causes of unemployment.

For Scotland, Common Weal’s “Resilience Economics: An Economic Model” and “Resilient Scotland Parts One and Two”, charting a programme till 2025, are far more relevant and informative. Common Weal shows the desperate priority of the care homes crisis, typified by Home Farm on the Isle of Skye in Nick Kempe’s “Predictable Crisis” report. Kempe describes Covid-19 in Scottish care homes as the “single greatest failure of devolved government since the creation of the Scottish Parliament” and has recommended that the Care Inspectorate should be empowered to hand over failing care homes to the public sector.

Common Weal also shows how a Scottish Government, under existing powers, could lay the foundations of a “foundational economy” to deliver the services on which we all depend, as advocated by the University of Manchester. Public ownership, regulation, public intervention and subsidy could ensure that provision of these goods and services is secure, equitable and sufficient for the quality of life we expect.

Much can be done at local level. Local authorities such as North Ayrshire have embarked on community wealth building. The new Social Enterprise Network has carried out its “Social Enterprise Reset” and Scottish Community Alliance has proposed a £250m New Deal for Communities programme.

Community land buyouts, community energy, recycling and community food supply can all expand. Those who have been shielding and grappling with online ordering at major supermarkets would benefit from food locally sourced and distributed through a local co-operative. Stirling University’s Leigh Sparks has written extensively about sustainable retail.

Because of Covid, Cabinet and Crown Commercial Office and Scottish Government procurement regulations now offer increased flexibility. In advance of the UK’s leaving of the EU at the end of 2020, Scottish central and local government should already be exploring new processes for procurement to underpin local community food production and processing, to supply schools, care homes and vulnerable groups.

None of this is mentioned in the Higgins report.

Newly formed Covid community groups offer a basis for social economy. For Scotland, the model could be the Quebec Social Economy Act 2013, which expands the Chantier or social economy framework – underwritten by the Quebec Provincial Government – for “the activities and organizations associated with collective enterprises which aim to serve their community ... and uphold the primacy of people and work over capital in the distribution of profits and revenues”.

Quebec also has a network of solidarity organisations, credit unions and trade union funds. Just as its Chantier rejects the cult of individual entrepreneurship, a Chantier for Scotland would exclude many community interest companies, B Corps and manifestations of private investment or corporate activity.

Unless we get serious about powers already available to the Scottish Government, the most deserving people in Scotland will be forgotten among the flow of warm words of wellbeing and welfare reforms.

Les Huckfield is an academic, researcher and activist, and a former Labour MP and MEP