It is a huge pleasure to speak in a debate that is of such great importance to SNP Members and to our SNP Government. I am sorry that the numbers on the Labour Benches are so deficient, but I pay tribute to those who have been present since the beginning, those good souls who have stuck with us.
It is always difficult at this stage of a debate to produce new ideas. I shall focus on productivity, innovation and investment in the context of inclusiveness and equality, which have not been mentioned much from the Government Benches. My hon. Friend Stewart Hosie spoke passionately of the work that the SNP Government have done in this arena and of the importance of productivity and inclusive growth in closing the trade deficit, and I would like to expand on that. I will also highlight the importance of equality, diversity and inclusiveness in any nation’s drive to be productive and innovative and to encourage investment.
Nobel laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz, who is part of Scotland’s fiscal commission working group under its chairman, Crawford Beveridge, has said that
“countries which are more unequal do not…grow as well and are less stable…A concentration of income restricts economic growth by limiting the potential of people to contribute productively. At the same time inequality may restrict government investment in infrastructure, education, and technology.”
He points out that since 1975 the income gap has grown faster in the UK than in any other developed country, stating:
“Such patterns of inequality will continue to have a negative impact on growth and prosperity over the long-term.”
If we want to make the UK and its nations an attractive place to invest in and to export from, we must have a stable and equal society. Yet all too often the policies pursued by this Government point in the opposite direction. In contrast, the Scottish Government, with much more limited powers, are developing a more egalitarian economic model. Professor Stiglitz has praised this model, saying:
“Tackling inequality is the foremost challenge that many governments face. Scotland’s Economic Strategy leads the way in identifying the challenges and provides a strong vision for change.”
Meantime, the Conservative Government are pursuing policies that attack our fundamental freedoms and civil liberties and risk widening the gap between rich and poor and the gender pay gap while, worst of all, marginalising the most in need. Those policies come in the form of the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998, the anti-worker Trade Union Bill, and welfare cuts that take us back to a Dickensian era. Ultimately, the Government are balancing their books on the backs of the poor. If they are serious about boosting productivity, innovation and investment, they should not pursue policies that damage the very fabric of the society they seek to build and develop.