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Successful launch of municipal socialism policy paper at the Scottish Parliament

There was a successful launch of the new Jimmy Reid Foundation report on municipal socialism in the Scottish Parliament today with 6 MSPs and 12 others in attendance.

We are grateful to Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard MSP, for hosting the meeting and introducing the paper.

From the press release for the paper:

Following on from his earlier (2017) JRF paper on public service reform, Dave Watson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland, sets out  what he terms ‘a modern approach to municipal socialism’. He defines this as not just being one that is more efficient vis-à-vis  service delivery and raising revenues, but also being as part of creating a fairer and more democratic society in this age of increasing inequality in wealth and power and decreasing democracy.

Despite the denigration and destruction of local government by central governments, Dave Watson begins by setting out his case in its historical context where municipal ownership in the 1940s provided 30% of local authority income. He suggests that returning to such a situation will allow local government to be part of the solution to the challenges society faces in twenty first century Scotland. And here the case for municipal socialism is based upon collective provision that involves sharing risk, wealth redistribution and improving living standards. It also has to involve elements of popular control through participative democracy. Simply delivering more services through a weak local state is not enough.

From this, the paper identifies a number of services that could be delivered locally through municipal socialism. Dave Watson starts by arguing that traditional public services like housing, social care and childcare need to be brought back in to an integrated public ownership services model. He then moves on to arguing that municipal socialism can be applied to energy, transport, water and broadband as well as banking and public finance.

He then turns to advocating that information technology can be a key element of service delivery and enhancing participative democracy so that local people are not treated merely as consumers of services but are participants in deciding the how, where and when their services are delivered.

Dave Watson said: ‘As we approach the twentieth anniversary of the recreating of the Scottish Parliament, the political window of opportunity is now open to debate and discuss ideas within Scotland about how we can make our society better and fairer. My model of municipal socialism challenges the logic that either the market or senior government officials know best because it argues for reimaging and reconstituting local government not only as a very much enlarged operation but one with popular participation at its core so that we do not return to the ‘command and control’ model of before. I think both Keir Hardie and Jimmy Reid would have welcomed the application of their ideas, showing that socialism makes sense for the modern age.’

Gregor Gall, JRF director said: ‘This new paper by Dave Watson will find a ready and attentive audience. From the Scottish Labour Party, we have new leader in Richard Leonard who is keen to develop policies that expand economic economy and popular participation. From the Scottish National Party, we have a leader who has commissioned the party’s Growth Commission on how Scotland could prosper both economically and socially under independence. From the Scottish Green Party, we have a leader who wishes to integrate environmental justice with social justice. All three parties will find stimulating ideas within the paper to help flesh out their policy ideas. The paper will challenge some parties more than others. But at its heart, the paper issues a challenge to all three parties to recognise that local government should be seen as part of the solution and not part of the problem to delivering a fairer and more democratic society. But as Dave Watson argues, for this to happen, local government must be completely re-imagined and re-constituted as a form of municipal socialism’.

The paper can be accessed here:

New policy paper: ‘Municipal socialism for modern Scotland: local public enterprise for the common good’