Jonathan Charley: Scotland's economic recovery must be of its own making

OF ALL the profound changes that hit northern Europe in the latter quarter of the 20th century and which signalled the end of the post-war expansionary wave of capital accumulation, it is the process of deindustrialisation that has had the greatest impact on the social and economic welfare of communities.

Neo-liberal economic policy was driven by three deeply ideological obsessions: trade liberalisation, the pursuit of free markets and privatisation. This, as we know, greatly accelerated the process of local industrial decline, the consequences of which for Scotland have been devastating in terms of long-term unemployment and poverty.

The story of closures, redundancies and "geographical switch" in pursuit of cheaper labour are as old as capitalism itself. It is a tragic tale that has been replayed in the 20th century in Scotland, beginning with the decline of textile industry and ending with the virtual eradication of heavy industry.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If more evidence of the fickle nature of capital investment were needed we need only look at the so-called revitalisation of Scotland's economy through the "call centre revolution", which quickly ran into trouble as firms relocated to India.

With the economic opportunism as a leitmotif it is no surprise, therefore, that capital in the 21st century is no more loyal to employees and regions trying to rebuild an economy. Capital is mobile and amoral and will seek out regions where it can rent land and produce commodities cheaper.

Against this backdrop there are suggestions that the only way Scotland can now regenerate its economy is through "civic boosterism", tourism retail and service industries. A suggestion that is at best wishful thinking and at worst myopic.

There are alternatives within the context of the capitalist economic development to a service-based economy. There is still a need for coal and steel, but it is unlikely there will be a willingness to reopen pits and steel mills. However, there is another approaches to old-school heavy industrial production that is informed not least by the imperatives of climate change and threats to our social and environmental survival. There is no shortage of imagination and creativity in Scotland, what we need is the political will and economic investment.

We need to think creatively about what we do with the remains of past enterprises and about new possibilities for transforming our built environment. It may not be immediately commercially viable to reopen slate mines, generate power from harbour walls or build recycling centres to manufacture green building materials, but we need to look at new types of industrial and agricultural production that develop and exploit Scotland's abundant resources.

Changes in economic policy can be planned democratically and with care and foresight as to potential long-term advantages rather than what guides current policy, which is pragmatic political expediency and short-term profits. A simple shift in government policy could radically alter both industrial and environmental landscapes.

With the economy at the heart of the current election campaign the time is right to look seriously at the ways in which new economic opportunities should be exploited.

Despite certain bizarre claims about the nature of the knowledge economy and the miraculous cure-all service sectors, it is impossible to imagine a healthy Scottish economy without a vibrant manufacturing sector.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

• Jonathan Charley is senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Strathclyde.