In early December 2023, the think tank Resolution Foundation published Ending Stagnation. A New Economic Strategy for Britain (The final report of The Economy 2030 Inquiry). Pro-Union commentators have interpreted this as a nail in the coffin for those promoting autonomy for Scotland, but this wilfully misrepresents the scope and reach of this work.
In just under 300 pages, the authors Emily Fry and Greg Thwaites take a deep-dive into wage growth statistics, unemployment, wealth inequality and investment in the UK over the past five decades. Failures and successes are highlighted and dissected to identify the fundamental issues that should shape future policy guidance and proposals are made for future economic planning.
This publication appears to be an attempt to unite the UK under the banner of a preferred economic strategy as there is no mention of the potential for national independence for any of the countries within the UK. However, devolution is proposed through increased mayoral influence in some regional cities in England, and such subsidiary politics is to be welcomed in the current hyper-centralised economic system.
Strengthening the case for the Union: constitutional status quo
The publication is timely and has the potential to be highly influential in the imminent future of the UK. It could, and possibly should, have historic significance. It clearly points out the repeated failure of UK governments, from all the main parties, to tackle major economic issues that are detrimental to British society.
Wage stagnation and rising wealth inequality are highlighted as the most damaging factors in the UK today and how through addressing and mitigating these issues success can be measured. Strategies are proposed to raise living standards, reversing the current trend, with all the consequent benefits to mental and physical health.
I believe the combination of increased powers for local government and facilitating higher living standards nationally, with a positive outlook for future progress, would encourage and consolidate support for the constitutional status quo. This report has the potential to save the Union.
A significant proportion of the independence-supporting public desire national autonomy; taking back control from what they perceive as a corrupt, wasteful and incompetent Westminster government. This book aims to set parliament back on track, an outcome which would be music to the ears of many Scots.
The economic reality
Potential is not guaranteed to become reality. The proposed mitigating strategies detailed in the report will not be well-received by those benefitting from, what is in effect, government welfare for the wealthy. There is nothing in the report to indicate how the revolving doors between the corporate world and politics can be regulated or dismantled. Until that happens, the wealth and influence accrued by the corporate elite will be used as collateral to manipulate policy to their advantage. Of course, one can hardly expect a think tank to be an anti-lobbying advocate.
It is difficult to be optimistic about the impact the report will have. The proposed strategy for change is hampered by the limitations of the authors’ economic vision. Their views are firmly entrenched in the neoliberal paradigm – the school of economic thinking that has produced the stagnation and imbalance of wealth in UK society seen today. The economic landscape, as envisioned by the authors, is constructed around the competition for scarce resources, attracting private investment, worries over government borrowing and finding taxes to pay for improvements.
Consideration of the perspectives of economists with more diverse and contemporary economic outlooks, would provide a broader assessment of what is possible. Traditionally conservative economic orthodoxy constrains policy choices and could render the proposed outcomes impossible to achieve.
Thinking on a spectrum
By asserting certainty over the economic direction of the country, vast swathes of potential pathways towards progress are ignored, and such an attitude is flawed and does a disservice to the country.
There is no ‘correct’ economy. The economy flows like a river; neither stable nor easily quantified. The ‘flow’ can be influenced in many ways, but every alteration will have positive and negative consequences. Political decisions determine the winners and the losers. Westminster consistently ensures the winners are the 1%.
We are all encouraged to assert certainty in our lives. Social media thrives on binary attitudes. This results in increased screentime and can entrench views leading to frustration and vitriol. It pays to keep in mind that errors happen constantly and developing technology provides new insights dispelling what was previously regarded as sacrosanct. However firmly an opinion is held, a little doubt or uncertainty is healthy.
Scottish Independence – a cost-benefit analysis
This report has the potential to give greater impetus to the drive for Scottish independence. The statistics lay out in plain detail the dire situation that Scots find themselves in and where the blame ultimately lies. The UK government has instigated policies that have been detrimental to the lives of the Scottish people. Independence-supporting groups have alleged this for years.
The confirmation of such governmental incompetence in a study conducted by a respected UK think tank, namely Resolution Foundation, will provide food for thought for undecided and ‘soft-NO’-minded constituents and give encouragement to independence supporters beleaguered by a year of negative headlines.
However, Scots must not lose sight of the bigger picture. It is not independence as such that is important, but the beneficial outcomes available to Scots after breaking the Act of Union. In the spectrum of possibilities there is a position where the Union is the best place for Scots to be, but this report shows how distant that is. Current rhetoric from party leaders in this pre-election environment gives no indication a change in outlook is warranted.
As the report states, children born from the mid-1980s onwards will be the first generation in centuries that will struggle to surpass their parents’ economic circumstances; more damning evidence that the UK system of government is failing its citizens. This report indicates that, with a UK government reluctant to change policy priorities, constitutional change is the only democratic alternative.
Ambitious strategy but with unintended effects?
This book should be of interest to and read by all those interested in politics and social progress. A New Economic Strategy for Britain could be a very important publication with far-reaching socio-political ramifications as it has the potential to end the constitutional debate.
In the unlikely event that the UK government takes heed of the findings in this report and adopts a pluralist economic vision for the future, remaining within the UK could be the best option to ensure a flourishing Scotland.
However, if Westminster pays lip-service to the findings, watering down or completely ignoring the strategies proposed for improvement, this paper may play a major part in securing independence for Scotland.
Scottish citizens who asserted that Better Together ran an honest campaign in the run up to the 2014 referendum may well have cause to reflect and reverse their position.
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