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Sunday, 24 May 2020
‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Green Deal’ are opposites – Scotland has to choose
Written by Robin
McAlpine and first published at Source
News and Analysis from Common Weal
CRITICISM of the Left is that it manages to be correct on high-level principles
but bad at actually fighting the fight. As chatter about ‘afterwards’ grows and
grows, it is even more important to focus. The future is either a Green New
Deal or a Green Deal. They’re opposites and lead in opposite directions. We
have to choose.
for those who want fairness is first to understand the difference, and second,
to fight for the one that delivers it. This is especially critical in Scotland.
So I’m begging
you – don’t be fooled. Get informed and get angry.
What is a Green
I won’t go into
the history of the Green New Deal because
there is loads written about it. But basically after the 2008 financial
crisis a small group of London-based left economists tried to describe how
financial, economic, environmental and social problems can be tackled in an
The concept of
Green New Deal has suffered a bit from that left problemof failing really to get
beyond principles. I mean, I don’t disagree with them in the slightest, but
without more detail they can be (and are) distorted into something else.
the purpose of a Green New Deal is to accept that the environment requires the
economy to change, and so that change must be done in a way that creates
greater fairness and reduces the social harm of free market economics while
restructuring the economy so that it can’t return to the practices which did
the social and environmental harm in the first place.
It contains a
degree of cynicism – because, as we will see, it is quite possible to save the
environment and still create an appalling social dystopia. You can save the
environment without saving people. So the Green New Deal welds them together.
characteristic of a Green New Deal is that it is about economic and social
justice and not just environmental justice.
Again, the lack
of detail in most conversations about Green New Deals means how exactly this is
to be done is either hard to derive or is a confusing series of options. But it
should basically work by ensuring collective and democratic ownership of the
sectors which are key to environmental harm (like energy) and making major
public intervention in others (like housing).
Then, you use
the interventions to achieve economic and social change. House-building can
create different kinds of jobs, energy can include manufacturing which creates
different kinds of jobs. Attached to ideas like job guarantees and greater
regulation, we create a more equal and better society.
That can range
from the modest (a kind of revival of the post-war Keynesian approach to
development) to the radical (a form of ecosocialism). But even the modest end
expects big change to come from the transition.
That’s a Green
So what is a
A Green Deal is
why high-level principles are such a problem. Looking at the rising demand for
environmental action from the public (and especially from a younger
generation), the people who are behind both climate damage and social failure
(i.e. the big corporations) tried to work out how to defuse the situation.
So what they
did was come up with a system for taking the ‘New’ out of a ‘Green New Deal’ –
which of course they then did literally. Doing
this was remarkably easy.
All they had to
do was claim completely to support the climate change objectives but decouple
the environmental element from the social and economic elements. Their vision
is Amazon and Facebook and BP still ruling the world as a low-wage hell-hole –
but with renewable energy.
In fact there
is a good reason that Green Dealers obsess over carbon; it disguises the real
problem. It disguises the fact that the global economy is systematically
fucking all the environmental systems on which life on earth rely.
Where a Green
New Deal works largely because of the mixture of labour and environmental
regulation with direct government intervention and a different economic
ownership pattern, a Green Deal drops the regulation part, most of the direct
government intervention part and all of the economic ownership part.
It is based
around ‘incentivising investment’. Green Deals are highly neoliberal and see
giant and powerful investment managers, soil-destroying agrobusinesses, Big
Oil, plastic polluters and strip-mining companies not as the problem but the
because Green Dealers are so ideologically bound to the financial sector they
have been trying to work out how to make sure that its dominant role continues.
There is a strong argument that these investment funds have
done more environmental damage than any other entity in history (they
basically own all the oil businesses).
And yet the
theory of a Green Deal is that if only you can properly ‘incentivise’ these
investment funds to stop investing in the wrong things and start investing in
the right things, the problem will fix itself.
It won’t – and
even if it did, it will simply make worse all the other social and economic
failures of the world economy. But it green-washes some of the worst players in
environmental destruction and guarantees them control of the world economy for
another 30 years.
If you scratch
just beneath the surface of this neoliberal fantasy it starts to fall apart – I
mean, in this free market model with its low regulation but high
‘incentivisation’ (give public money to the already rich), who is actually
paying to install your new heating system? Because it’s going to cost you £20k.
It’s a con designed to ‘sound Greta, act Trump’.
You can tell a
Green Deal in a second. It involves setting targets, declaring ‘climate
emergencies’ and making theatrical speeches about how much you love trees. But
there is no identifiable action and when asked what is actually being done
there is a lot of talk of ‘investment opportunities’. That just means yet more
Where is this
At a global
level, there is no battle. That’s because for all the rhetoric of globalization
about building a better world through multilateral cooperation, at the
multinational level only the super-rich get to play. In the late 1990s, the
World Social Forum was created to try and balance the power of Davos. Let’s
just say Davos won. There is no serious global campaign for a Green New Deal.
For the US, the
battle has already been lost. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren were the only
real chance; Biden is anti-Green New Deal. In the world’s most powerful
economy, the battle is between subterfuge and total denial.
In Europe, we
get to the heart of the problem – it is here that ‘Green Deal’ was invented. There is much more social democracy in Europe, so there is much more pressure
for a proper Green New Deal.
as it is for left-minded Europhiles to admit it, the EU is a powerless
parliament stuck onto a much more powerful committee of European governments –
and they’re all right-wing Tories just now. It is they who originated the
concept of Green Deal. It is the official EU policy.
I mean, have
a look at ‘Renovation Wave’, the EU’s plan for tackling carbon emissions
from the housing sector. See if you can work out who is paying the many
billions this will cost. Then note how easy it is to see who’s pocket the money
will end up in.
mad. Proposing that a single street might have each of its houses properly
retrofitted individually over say 15 years makes sense only to a free market
evangelist. It is the definition of wasteful inefficiency and an open
invitation to poor quality work. Unless there is a change (and a substantial
one) in the EU, there isn’t a battle for a Green New Deal there. That happened
and the Green New Deal lost.
At a UK level,
I think we can safely say that a Green New Deal is off the table for the next
five years. Beyond that the lead time to get one started is (conservatively)
three or four years. Even a Starmer government in 2026 would mean no progress
in the UK in this decade – and god knows where we’ll be by then.
So that means
that, if you care in the slightest about a Green New Deal, your options start
and end with Scotland. It’s not just that we’re exceptionally well placed to
deliver one because of our outstanding natural resources, it’s that it would be
easy to generate public support for it. So what are Scotland’s options?
a choice must be made
As I have
already pointed out, Green New Deals remain a bit vague. This is a mistake; in
the end they are a reform programme wrapped round a big engineering project. To
get to the reform bit you need to understand the engineering bit.
frustration, Common Weal undertook an enormous project next year to put the
detail into a Green New Deal for Scotland. First, we committed ourselves to
tackling not only climate change but all seven major environmental threats to
the world. We committed not to ‘reducing’ our negative impact but taking it to
zero. And we said ‘impact anywhere – not just in Scotland’ – so no dumping on
the global south.
Then, we broke
it down into major areas for action (buildings, heating, electricity, transport,
food, land, resources and so on). Then we worked with experts to establish how,
technically, it could be achieved. We then costed that and structured the
spending in a way that achieved all the social goals of a Green New Deal.
We published it
in November as the
Common Home Plan. It is a comprehensive, costed, detailed plan for a
Scottish Green New Deal. It is realistic and achievable and specific. You know
exactly what you’ll get.
option on the table is the Scottish Government’s Green Deal. This has been
heavily influenced by ‘Charlotte Street thinking’, the perpetual dominance of
Edinburgh wealth managers on government policy. It involves the usual
eco-theatre (‘climate emergency’ announcements, target-setting) but only one
It is at the
‘call for projects’ stage where corporations come forward and say ‘if you give
us money and the rights to your wind/land, we’ll take all that pesky
energy/housing transition off your hands’. Which is a way of describing a £3
billion sell-off of Scotland’s renewable assets.
Or, to put it
another way, this is the privatisation of all of Scotland’s most valuable
resources – in perpetuity. It will simply repeat the same mistakes made during
the oil boom of a massive public resource being handed to the already rich.
This will give
pocket change to the Scottish Government to sprinkle initiatives around the
country which will look like something is happening. But I call £3 billion
pocket change because when the cost of a proper Green New Deal is more like
£170 billion, it is.
There is no
economic or social reform package attached to this , no plan for how any of the
engineering supply chain will be captured by Scotland – more hand-wringing no
doubt. The rich get richer, the rest of us have to spend our own money on their
electricity generated by our natural resources.
And there is no
way to block this in the Scottish Parliament because no-one in the SNP ranks
ever rebels and so they’ll simply form yet another SNP/Tory coalition to push
This is a
choice to be made, not a compromise to be struck
independence movement has been so broken by the last six years that people with
‘Bairns Not Bombs’ stickers still on their cars are asking me if there is any
way we can ‘synthesise’ the Common Home Plan with the Scottish Government’s
No there isn’t.
If the Scottish Government sells off Scotland’s remaining natural assets and
all transition activity is in the corporate sector, the finances of the Common
Home Plan (or any Green New Deal for Scotland) become impossible. Our plan is
based on doing this collectively and through an industrial strategy which
captures the economy gain of the transition for everyone.
We can finance
£170 billion of spending because, doing it our way, it generates more tax
revenue from expanded economic activity than it costs to finance the spending.
But if the public hands over the source of that economic activity to foreign
multinationals, it’s all over.
No matter how
much pleading a future government does, the source of Scotland’s future
prosperity will be privately owned by overseas multinationals and investment
funds. The only option would then be to renationalise it, which is just
enormous amounts of completely unnecessary spend which screw up the finance
model leaving us trapped.
My current fear
is that, given
the alarming(indeed unacceptable) nature of the advisory group set up
by the First Minister to produce a recovery plan, I very much fear that this
renewables fire-sale might be kicking off over the summer. If you hear ‘green
investment’, be very worried.
Right now, I
have no further advice for you other than to be informed. With democracy in the
SNP eroded and currently suspended altogether, with the media we have, with
physical distancing rules preventing protest and with the option of an SNP/Tory
coalition to get this through Holyrood, the virus has created an opportunity to
strip Scotland of its future at its most vulnerable moment.
Right now I
can’t tell you how to stop this. But I can beg you not to be fooled, and if
you’re in the SNP and you care about these things, I urge you to think hard
about means of challenging this which I can’t think of.
This is our
collective future. If it is handed to the rich under cover of virus recovery,
fury must follow.