Powers to the Peoples! – John Foster & Vince Mills

John Foster and Vince Mills of Radical Options for Scotland and Europe ROSE argue the return of legislative powers from Brussels to the governments of Scotland, Wales and the English regions could lead a revival of regional economies once State Aid bans imposed under EU competition law are removed

This summer workers in Glasgow’ s Caledonian Rail workshops repaired their last train and walked away. This once mighty centre of Scottish industry closed. After dominating global rail manufacturing for over a century, ‘The Caley’ was cast adrift by rail privatisation, sold on by a series of venture capitalists until the business ended up in the hands of a German holding company, Mutares AG.

Despite pleas from trade unions either to take the railway workshops into public ownership, or provide state aid for worker management, the SNP government claimed it was powerless to act.

The same story can be repeated for dozens of other workplaces in Scotland, Wales and England’s regions. State aid, other than in exceptional circumstances, violates EU competition law. As does public ownership if seen to threaten ‘free competition’ and the rights of private businesses.

Now, however, change appears possible. Withdrawal from the EU provides the opportunity to regain such powers at regional and national level. But this restitution of powers won’t happen automatically. Our Labour movement must fight for powers to be returned to our peoples now.

Theresa May’s ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ incorporated EU prohibitions on democratic intervention in the economy by accepting EU Single Market competition terms. Almost certainly, any EU exit involving trade deals with the United States negotiated by Boris Johnson will do likewise.

Only Jeremy Corbyn has identified the key demand to accept health, environmental and employment rights aspects of the Single Market, but not those restricting democratic control of industry. Corbyn’s spelt this out in his 2018 Coventry speech on regional industrial policy and has
done so repeatedly since.

The link between Brexit and regional (and national) industrial policy is critical. There can be no true revival of the economies of Scotland, Wales and England’s regions without ending bans imposed by EU competition policy. Nor can there be any real power for regional assemblies or the parliamentary institutions of Wales and Scotland unless economic powers are returned.

This is why delegates at this year’s Scottish TUC Congress in Dundee unanimously agreed a resolution from Clydebank Trades Union Council calling on the STUC to lobby the Scottish government to ensure that, as part of an EU withdrawal deal, these powers should return to the Scottish Parliament.

“Return” is important. Because under the terms of the 1998 Scottish Parliament Act all powers not specifically reserved for central government, are vested in Scotland. These include most aspects of industrial policy including public ownership and state aid. If people regionally and locally are to have real power to change lives, these powers must be returned.

So also, must powers to invest in infrastructure, save declining industries and invest in new ones. Labour’s spending plans would transform the Scottish economy, principally through a proposed National Investment Bank. A two term Labour Government would see an additional investment of a transformative £70 billion in Scotland. EU State Aid rules, however, call into question whether the proposed NIB could even be set up in the first place.

This return of powers is critical for democratic renewal in Britain and particularly for progressive federalism defined, as it has been in Scotland, by the Red Paper Collective and Pauline Bryan.

It is progressive because it is designed to change the balance of power between capital and labour giving people the power to exercise democratic control over regional and national economies, combined with a strong central parliament at British level that can challenge the power of big business and ensure more equitable distribution of wealth between Britain’s component nations and regions.

In Scotland this campaign is currently the focus of ROSE (Radical Options for Scotland and Europe). ROSE was established in 2016 and has affiliations from a majority of Scotland’s trades union councils and several major trade unions. Its object has been to bring together both Leave and Remain supporters to campaign for an EU withdrawal on democratic terms that serve the needs of working people.

This month ROSE campaigners have been out on the streets of Scotland with a petition to the Scottish parliament putting the demand s of Clydebank’s STUC resolution. People readily understand the need for powers to halt the loss of jobs and the need to regenerate regional and
national economies.

This is why ROSE also agreed at its aggregate meeting this month to support the work of Leave-Fight-Transform: the LeFT Campaign calling for a Left withdrawal from the EU. On it depends the future of our democracy.

John Foster and Vince Mills are joint secretaries of Radical Options for Scotland and Europe (ROSE)

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