Barring disaster, Labour will win the 2024 general election, helped to power by capturing a significant number of Scottish constituencies. But the last thing Labour can afford to do with its victory is take Scotland for granted. The independence movement will stand ready to jump on Labour’s inability to materially deal with economic drift, systemic poverty, chronic low wages, earnings inequality, housing crisis and a Scotland bruised and resentful about energy policy and Brexit. Labour can’t afford to forget John Curtice’s numbers; the young overwhelmingly support independence. Winning in 2024 may be Labour’s last chance Scottish saloon.
Scotland urgently needs a plan that can help it build a 21st-century economy. That means new infrastructure investment to better connect the Central Belt, Highlands and Islands. It is a scandal that the country that produced billions for the UK from the North Sea does not have a high-speed electrified rail line between the Central Belt, Aberdeen and Inverness. The key islands of the Hebrides – Mull, Skye and Lewis – would benefit enormously from road tunnels connecting into the mainland network. Indeed, such investment has the potential to move island economies from the marginal to the sustainable, dynamic and thriving.
A Scotland in charge of its own economic destiny
Building a new Scottish economy means creating financial institutions that can unlock capital for investment in Scottish business; whether in digital technologies, environmental science and technologies, food and drink, hospitality and leisure, manufacturing or business services. That means a Scottish stock exchange that can attract investors from Scotland, so that Scotland owns more of Scotland – but is also open to international capital. Rule changes that make investment in Scotland by Scottish pension funds, family investors and business angels more attractive than now. A Scotland more in charge of its own economic destiny.
Scotland in the European Single Market would open the door to engagement with the European Capital Markets regime, which aims to encourage lending to SMEs across the Market while providing a regulatory framework to reduce risk.
For too long Scotland has been an economy over-reliant on capital markets in London. That has put a brake on Scottish enterprise and limited the size of the professional services sector. It has all the necessary talent and skills. What it needs for substantial growth is the institutions, fiscal regimes and regulatory drivers common in successful small economies worldwide.
This is Labour’s opportunity
The Conservative party has done nothing of note to build stronger investment foundations in Scotland. The SNP might have the will but lacks the powers and appears afraid to talk meaningfully about investment, lest it upset some precious vested interests. Now it’s Labour’s opportunity to be radical, to show the voters of Scotland why it deserves to be seen as the natural party of Scotland. To date, Labour’s vision for Scotland lacks substance, vision, energy or hope. There’s still time for Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar to set the heather on fire, to make our hearts beat a little faster. I’m not holding my breath.