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A fresh start for economic development?

Three different sources, three different questions posed about whether corporate control of the Scottish economy is of any benefit to the Scots

For, oh, as long as I can remember there have been a number of questions which simply weren’t allowed as part of the debate on economic development. Questions like ‘but who owns the company?’, ‘where will the profits go?’ and ‘what does this theoretical GVA number mean on the ground’. I used to ask people in organisations like Scottish Enterprise questions like this only to be looked at as if I was from another era.  This was globalised capital – ownership and profit distribution mattered as little as nations and governments, so long as the headline numbers looked good.

Now, almost everyone knew that the headline numbers told you only what you asked of them.  GDP (GVA being the preferred measure these days) was a one-number means of reinforcing and ‘proving’ all neoliberal doctrine – we do X, number Y gets bigger, it proves X is right.  The fact that number Y was predicated on ideology X in the first place was not to be discussed.  GDP (very roughly) counts the money churning but not where or what it achieves. As we know, in GDP terms vandalism is great and libraries are very bad indeed – because the first causes money to churn all over the place while the latter results in no money churning at all.

But in one week this orthodoxy has come into question three times (and from three incredibly different sources). Weirdest of all we have Donald Trump pointing out that if renewables are owned and run by overseas companies the money will churn but then leak straight out of our economy. More to be expected is the debate produced by our procurement report (and various other initiatives around public procurement) which is causing people to stop and ask where we want corporate profits to end up – in our economy or creamed off by international shareholders. And then the weekend saw strong arguments about whether Scotland’s whisky industry really brings much economic benefit to Scotland given that 80 per cent of it is owned by overseas corporations and there is little evidence of the profits being recycled into our economy.

This is not yet the collapse of GDPism as the unthinking substitute for an economic development policy in Scotland, but it is a start. Fingers crossed we’ll start to get more people looking and asking ‘yeah, but how exactly is this economic arrangement benefiting Scotland?’.

Robin McAlpine