Fenwick Weavers Society

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2011.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S3M-8024, in the name of Willie Coffey, on the co-operative model—born in Fenwick, 14 March 1761 and still flourishing. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated.

That the Parliament celebrates the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Fenwick Weavers Society in the Kilmarnock and Loudoun village of Fenwick as a significant milestone in the development of co-operative enterprises in Scotland and throughout the world; welcomes plans to recognise the founding of the society, which was recorded in the signing of a charter in Fenwick Parish Church on 14 March 1761, in a range of projects organised by the modern-day Fenwick Weavers Society in co-operation with East Ayrshire Council and with the support of a wide range of funders; notes that the projects will include the building of a commemorative wall on the spot in Fenwick where the weavers held their parliament and by the signing of a modern Fenwick Charter, to take place in the same church on 14 March 2011; further notes that the Fenwick Weavers Society has been described as “the oldest example of distributive Co-operation of which there is documentary evidence” and also as “probably the pioneer of what is now described as the ‘Co-operative supply association’”; highlights that among those signing the Fenwick Charter will be Scots from all walks of life including Scotland’s growing co-operative sector, representatives of UK co-operative bodies, including Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative Group, the president and director general of the International Co-operative Alliance and a representative of the MONDRAGON Corporation, a co-operative group founded in 1956 that now has over 85,000 employees and plants in 18 countries, the largest business group in the Basque Country and seventh largest in Spain; applauds the fact that the worldwide co-operative movement, of which the early roots are in Fenwick, now brings together over one billion members, providing in excess of 100 million jobs, and considers that, in addition to being an important part of Scotland’s history, co-operative enterprises offer Scotland a viable, efficient and accountable means of organising to produce goods and services for their members, for the wider Scottish community and for export.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

I welcome this opportunity to highlight the campaign for recognition of the Fenwick Weavers Society and its contribution to the development of the co-operative model. I welcome to the gallery guests from the modern Fenwick Weavers Society. I mention in particular lain MacDonald, the former director-general of the International Co-operative Alliance.

Because some of the founders were not available on 14 March 1761, today is actually the 250th anniversary of the first signatures on the charter that set up the Fenwick Weavers Society. To echo those events, and with the society’s agreement, the First Minister today signed a copy of the new Fenwick charter. Members who will not be attending Monday’s event will have an opportunity to sign the charter after the debate.

When we last debated this subject, the campaign was getting into its stride. The twa Johns—John Smith and John McFadzean—and the Fenwick committee, were working hard to draw attention to the events of 1761. Now, almost three years later, the 250th anniversary is upon us and the campaign has made great progress. Unfortunately, as members might be aware, the Co-operative Group overlooked Fenwick in its current advertising campaign. I am sure that those of us who are attending Monday’s event will want to take that up with the group’s representatives.

The campaign has succeeded because at its core is real respect for the history of Fenwick and of Scotland. There is also a commitment to implementing the principles that were set out in the original charter that was signed in 1761, and that is reflected in the modern charter, which opens with the words:

“We, the undersigned, honour the actions of the sixteen weavers of Fenwick who, in the sanctuary provided by Fenwick Church, put their names to a charter, which set up the Fenwick Weavers Society in a co-operative venture on 14th March 1761.”

The initiatives to mark this important anniversary include the development of a village heritage trail, which demonstrates how Fenwick’s history reflects wider social and economic changes. The trail illustrates the context in which the Fenwick Weavers Society was born and operated. It is a valuable reminder that when people face challenges, hardship or oppression, they can respond positively—and with some ingenuity, into the bargain.

Over the past 250 years, the legacy of the Fenwick weavers has played a significant part in shaping our world. We can trace the idea of a formal co-operative, founded on a clear statement of values and principles, as it spread from Fenwick throughout Scotland to the UK and further afield. We know that in 1777, a co-operative was set up in Govan, and then others were set up in communities all over the west of Scotland. By 1830, there were 300 co-operative societies in existence.

David Dale, the founder of the New Lanark mill and the father-in-law and business partner of Robert Owen, was undoubtedly a factor in the spread of the Fenwick idea. Dale was born in Stewarton, only four miles from Fenwick, and was just 22 years old when the Fenwick charter was signed. He was a weaver to trade and, together with some Fenwick residents, he was a member of the Secession Church. As a pastor in that church, he engaged with communities all over the west of Scotland. David Dale undoubtedly valued the democratic and co-operative developments that were taking place around him. It was his decision to put New Lanark under Robert Owen’s management that gave Owen the platform to promote his ideas.

By the mid-19th century, with an ever-growing number of co-operatives, the movement was ready to move on to the next stage. At that point, not only does Rochdale enter the story, but quickly thereafter, so too does the development of co-operative wholesale societies in both England and Scotland. By that time, the Fenwick Weavers Society was winding down as power looms in places such as New Lanark replaced the weavers. Despite that, Kilmarnock and Loudoun continued to play their part in the development of co-operatives, with societies in Kilmarnock, Galston, Newmilns and Crosshouse all active in the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society.

Given that history, it is right that over the next few days Fenwick should be the centre of attention for the co-operative movement. The modern-day society has succeeded in attracting leading figures of today’s worldwide co-operative movement. I look forward to joining the society in welcoming Pauline Green, the president of the International Co-operative Alliance, together with Charles Gould, the current director-general, and the many other guests who will join the local members of the society on Monday in Fenwick to mark the contribution that was made by those 16 pioneers. It is particularly fitting that Mr Lezamiz of the Mondragon corporation in the Basque country will also join us on Monday. Other members may wish to take up this point, but I see Mondragon as being a further stage of development in the co-operative model, and one that we should certainly be looking to bring home to Scotland.

With its early growth built on manufacturing, Mondragon has developed a wide range of co-operatives, including its own financial and educational institutions. Scotland could certainly learn from that as we rebuild our economy in the wake of the banking crisis.

In 2009, Scotland celebrated its year of homecoming to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns. 2011 marks a year of homecoming for the co-operative movement, as it revisits the true roots of the movement: the point at which the revolution really began when 16 weavers in a small Ayrshire village signed up for what is now recognised as the world’s first formal co-operative.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I congratulate Willie Coffey on bringing the debate to the chamber. It was four years ago that we celebrated in this chamber the outstanding work of local amateur historians John MacFadzean and John Smith from Fenwick, both of whom are in the gallery this evening.

They uncovered the evidence that the world’s first co-operative was established in the village in March 1761. Here we are again, at another important milestone: namely, the 250th anniversary of the founding of the co-operative. Who could have imagined when the 16 weavers and apprentices signed the founding charter in Fenwick parish church on 14 March 1761 that that would herald the beginning of a journey that 250 years later has seen the establishment of a worldwide co-operative movement that today has over 1 billion members and has resulted in the provision of over 100 million jobs?

As a result of the signing of the charter in Fenwick, those weavers were able to control the trade within the area and hence protect themselves and their families from the unpredictable and often challenging economic times. Over the next decade the co-operative grew to include the bulk buying of food to be sold to members of the co-operative and other Fenwick villagers. In addition, there is evidence of a co-operative savings scheme—the 18th century equivalent of a credit union.

Further, the charter set out the principles of the society, which were honesty, faithfulness to one another, fair pricing, majority decisions, regular contributions to the poor fund and an admission charge of 2/6 to be used for the good of the society and the people it aimed to help.

Those remain good principles for us all to follow today. So, it is with great pleasure that I join with others in the chamber this evening to celebrate the monumental achievement that is the co-operative movement that started in Fenwick over two centuries ago.

I look forward to joining other members of the Parliament and members of the Fenwick community next Monday, 14 March, at a service in the same church where those 16 weavers signed their charter 250 years ago, when a new charter will be signed to commemorate their achievement, which is a fitting tribute to this historic anniversary.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Willie Coffey on bringing this debate to the chamber at this historic time of 250 years after the creation of the Fenwick Weavers Society, which is the oldest example in the world of a distributive co-operation for which there is documentary evidence. The creation of the society was a remarkable event, which was based on the idea that solidarity between those who live together can be developed for their best interests and those of their families and the community in which they live. Indeed, the weavers society served as a model for others in more industrial communities and, as we know, the idea spread to many parts of the world.

It is interesting to consider the Fenwick weavers in the context of how people respond to crises, because the issues that they faced in the 1760s were a Britain at war and a Scottish economy that was affected by import restrictions and so on, which was also very much the experience of Robert Burns slightly later. In the end, they, too, supported emigration to try to free themselves from the yoke that they were under, which is what Robert Burns wrote about in trying to show up the landlords who tried to stop people escaping from that kind of oppression.

That situation happened again and again. Indeed, the kind of communities that Robert Owen was involved in setting up in the new world, in Pennsylvania, and those that Welsh idealistic socialists set up in Patagonia were very much in the tradition of trying to create a co-operative community that could stand up for itself and make its way in the world.

The Fenwick idea has had many elaborations in later times, not the least of which, as is mentioned in the motion, is the Mondragon Corporation. It was founded in the wreckage and carnage of the Spanish civil war in the Basque Country in an area that had been devastated economically and had a closed economic system. Don José María Arizmendiarrieta got together some young men, who got themselves a technical education and, in 1956, became involved in the production of—I understand—small heaters of German origin. As the process developed, they created their own bank, social security, colleges and universities. Today, there are 256 co-operatives in the Mondragon Corporation, which have worldwide reach.

Don José María recognised that innovation and education were at the heart of the movement, as I guess the Fenwick weavers did. He said:

“However splendid the present might be, it is destined to fail if it turns its back on the future.”

He thought that, through co-operation and solidarity, innovation would enable workers to meet the challenges of the ever-changing world. That is a huge testament to the ideas that began in Fenwick so many years earlier and were carried forward elsewhere in Scotland and in England.

I am delighted to support whole-heartedly the motion and an idea in which I have been interested for 30 years. I visited Mondragon at last in October and saw that it benefited from ideas that had stemmed from our country and many others in creating a model in which capital is controlled in a democratic fashion for the benefit of all. I congratulate Willie Coffey again on lodging the motion and I wish him and the Fenwick Weavers Society well for the future.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a member of the Scottish Co-operative Party group of members of the Scottish Parliament.

I congratulate Willie Coffey on securing this debate on a subject that is close to my heart. This is likely to be my final opportunity to speak in the Scottish Parliament, so I particularly thank him for affording me the opportunity to leave this place speaking about something about which I care passionately—indeed, one of the first issues that I raised when I became an MSP, when I tried to ensure that the Scottish Parliament gave members and staff the opportunity to join a credit union.

I pay tribute to John Smith and John McFadzean, who are in the gallery, to my long-standing—I will not say “old”—friend Ian Macdonald, and to Charles Sim, who is a stalwart of the credit union movement in Ayrshire and more widely.

When members talked about the issue in a previous debate, which does not seem long ago, we were conscious of the amount of work that would have to be done to ensure that there would be a fitting celebration for the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Fenwick Weavers Society. I know that the people mentioned have been driving that work forward, as has Jim O’Neill, who is a former Co-operative Party councillor in East Ayrshire Council—I should give him a mention.

In the spirit of co-operation, I tried to table an early day motion in Westminster that was identical to Willie Coffey’s motion, but I got a call from the table office to tell me that the limit is 250 words, which was unfortunate—Willie was too long-winded for Westminster. I must make the motion more succinct, so that a suitable motion can be tabled to mark the occasion.

Of course, co-operatives are not just about something that happened in the past. As I have said in previous debates, we can all fondly remember our mothers’, aunties’ and grannies’ divvy numbers, but how many of us can proudly produce a co-op membership card today? If people do not have a card, I hope that they will take it on themselves to find out how to become a member of a local co-op or the Co-operative Group.

At a meeting just the other day, it was pointed out to me that, if the Co-operative Group across the United Kingdom was listed on the stock exchange, it would be not just in the FTSE 100 but in the FTSE 30, because it is one of the top trading organisations. That is a lesson for us, given the values and principles of the Fenwick weavers’ charter, which Margaret Mitchell mentioned, which were honesty, faithfulness, fair pricing, majority decision making and regular contributions to the poor fund. Co-operation was not simply an add-on; it was not about people kind of co-operating after they had done everything else in their life. Fundamentally, it was a different way of doing business, organising society and looking after people.

If there is any message that we ought to take from the 250 years since the Fenwick Weavers Society started, it is that we should look back, take lessons and consider how we can put those lessons into practice. We can do that by ensuring that we have a different vision for co-operatives that fits the 21st century and looks ahead to the 22nd century—a vision in which people genuinely own land and retail services in common ownership and in which there are other ways that they can own the energy that we all need in our houses, housing itself, or a range of other things. That would be the real test.

I am running out of time, but I want to mention a very small co-operative in the picturesque village of Straiton, which is in what will soon no longer be my constituency of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. It is an example to everyone. When the villagers’ local corner shop closed down, they decided that they would not simply let it go and that they would form their own co-operative, which is exactly what they did. That approach is being replicated in communities throughout Scotland.

Presiding Officer, I know that you have been generous in giving me an extra 30 seconds because this is my last speech in the Parliament, so I will not try your patience. I thank everyone for their support for the co-operative movement during the 12 years that I have been an MSP. I am sure that, in the next session, members will take the messages of the Fenwick weavers and deliver on them for people throughout Scotland.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate ahead of the events that are planned for next week. I am also pleased that I will attend those events, and I am eagerly looking forward to them.

I, too, congratulate Willie Coffey on securing a second members’ business debate on the Fenwick Weavers Society. His continued interest in the matter is to be applauded. Indeed, the cross-party group on co-operatives was born following the previous debate. I am pleased to have been a co-convener of that group since its creation.

I reserve a special mention for the two historians, John McFadzean and John Smith—the twa Johns—who unearthed the documents that revealed that Fenwick is the birthplace of the co-operative movement. Their research ultimately ensured that next week’s anniversary will be properly honoured, but it would be wise if they avoided Rochdale for the foreseeable future. The co-operative there thought that it had the honour of being the oldest.

It is incredible that a movement that has spawned almost a billion global members was a product of 16 weavers in a small Ayrshire village who sold oatmeal at a discounted price. Those 16 weavers were not only pioneers; they were incredibly courageous. Rob Gibson mentioned landowners. Landowners back then did not much like the thought of self-sufficient workers acting in an organised fashion.

In 1761, life was, of course, very different from and much more difficult than it is now. That is not to say that life is not difficult now, but at least we do not have to contend with the threat of engaging in a duel in a town square or perhaps another Jacobite uprising. That is why it is all the more remarkable that, against such a backdrop, men were willing to look beyond their own families and help their neighbours. For the period, the words that have been committed in ink on their document are inspirational. They bound the signatories to be

“honest and faithful to one another ... and to make good and sufficient work and exact neither higher nor lower prices than are accustomed”.

The soon-to-be-established Fenwick weavers trail will act as a fitting legacy of next week’s 250th anniversary celebrations. The Heritage Lottery Fund is to be commended for its generous contribution, which has made the trail possible. I understand that the old parliament wall is to be restored, which will be a fitting tribute to the weavers who met there. They often had to post a look-out during meetings to ensure their safety. It would, of course, be remiss of me not to highlight the roles played by East Ayrshire Council, Co-operative Development Scotland and the Scottish co-operative group for helping to fund a feasibility study, which ultimately made the trail possible.

As I said, I am a co-convener of the cross-party group on co-operatives, and I am a member of the Borders Machinery Ring co-operative. From a past life, when I was chairman of the Borders Foundation for Rural Sustainability, I have experience of trying to bring farmers together. The foundation conducted research among local farmers, which revealed that many of them wished to diversify and were willing to share resources. We engaged them with numerous land managers and other farmers, and we audited some of their ideas, interests and skills. That led to the establishment of the Borders farm venture groups. We had initiatives such as the James Hutton trail in east Berwickshire—Hutton being the father of geology—and the cliff-top discovery tours at St Abb’s Head. That is just a wee example of the success that can be achieved and of the progress that is still being made in the co-operative movement. The Borders Machinery Ring has now started the Borders Sports Ring, to give better buying power to sports clubs.

The village of Fenwick, the Fenwick Weavers Society and, importantly, the 16 weavers, will all be deserving recipients of what, I am sure, will be a fine celebration next week, when I look forward to signing the charter in Fenwick church.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I, too, begin by congratulating Willie Coffey on securing today’s debate on the 250th anniversary of the establishment of Scotland’s first co-operative, the Fenwick Weavers Society. I should also declare an interest as a co-convener of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on co-operatives. I am a founder member of three co-operatives, a regional member of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society and a member of a credit union.

I take this opportunity to salute Cathy Jamieson on her final speech in our Parliament today. I thank her for her hard work and her shared sense of purpose, and indeed her friendship, in seeking the best for southern Ayrshire, as she and I have both done over the past 12 years.

Today, co-operative and collaborative working, which was first formally established in 1761, has developed into a worldwide business model. Some co-operatives now exist to make profit for their members; others exist and benefit their members on a not-for-profit basis. Mutualisation is a further type of co-operative. It is fascinating and important to note that all that began in Ayrshire, in Fenwick—only about 10 miles from the place where Robert Burns was born two years earlier.

The date of 1761 tells us that the concept was yet another example of the development of social and economic ideas that was taking place in Scotland at that time—it was very much part of the Scottish enlightenment. Those ideas are now worldwide in their application, nowhere more so than in Scotland—SAOS and co-operative development Scotland being the principle advocates of co-operation in Scotland today.

For my part, I was a founder member of a lamb marketing co-operative that was established in the 1980s, and more recently I created the Ayrshire Farmers Market co-operative. Both those co-operatives are still working well today. I helped to create and chair the Scottish Association of Farmers Markets to further the development of farmers markets across Scotland, and I am very proud that about 80 free-standing farmers markets are now operating across Scotland. Many of them are co-operatives, built on the founding principles of 250 years ago, and they have supported the creation of at least 300 to 400 new jobs in rural Scotland over the past 10 years.

Much food production and marketing throughout Scotland is carried out by co-operatives, with significant amounts of milk, pork, beef and lamb being dealt with in that way. The model is also used in Europe. Many people would argue that greater co-operation is still the way forward for giving primary producers more negotiating power when dealing with supermarkets, which are perhaps the modern-day equivalent of the early landowners who, by their actions, inspired the Fenwick weavers to work together.

I, too, shall be going to Fenwick on Monday to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the formation of the Fenwick Weavers Society, and I am very much looking forward to the event. Again, I give my support to Willie Coffey and congratulate him on securing the debate.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party

Congratulations to Willie Coffey on securing this members’ business debate and speaking so eloquently about the success of that pioneer, the Fenwick Weavers Society.

In what will be my last speech to the Parliament, I wish to offer some strategic ideas for today’s co-operative movement. The Fenwick weavers were not just followed by Robert Owen and his New Lanark experiments; in the early 19th century—around 1810—the Rev Henry Duncan of Ruthwell set up what became the Trustee Savings Bank, which was the financial pendant to the rise of the Scottish consumer co-operatives that handled up to 25 per cent of retail in some areas. Since then, the co-op movement has had its challenges. In recent years, the Co-operative Wholesale Society only just survived an attempt to make it private in 1997 by the 30-year-old city whizz kid Andrew Regan. That occupied the courts for a fairly long period, but after that trauma recovery began.

The Trustee Savings Bank was less fortunate, as it was swallowed by Lloyds in 1995 at the beginning of that mutual-into-bank mania that ended in tears, particularly for the Scottish banks HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Those are now the virtual possessions of the United Kingdom Government, although in no way do they behave like mutual institutions. When I leave the Parliament, I will go through a transition in my finances, not least by moving my savings—not a spectacular amount, but I love them dearly—from HBOS to the Co-operative Bank, the expansion of which is needed. We were told by Lord Adair Turner that HBOS went out in 2007-08 with an investment spree that turned his Financial Services Authority white-faced with horror. The biggest of the state-owned banks, the Royal Bank of Scotland, has just paid its boss, Stephen Hester, a £7.8 million bonus. Surely it is time to change to a bank that is owned by its members.

There is a slight problem because, as we have been reminded, the co-op movement has its own political party, which is affiliated to the Labour Party, yet in Scotland the radical cause is spread across several parties that have broadly similar social commitments to mutuality. I make a plea for common action that extends across political parties, trade unions and community groups and is aimed at creating a powerful mutual banking, insurance and house finance system. Perhaps the best honest broker in such a reorganisation might be the overall well-respected Scottish Trades Union Congress.

I come from a family with a long co-op tradition. My grandfather, George Steven Harvie, was bailie of Motherwell and chair of the Dalziel Co-operative Society. He obviously exercised some sort of co-op prerogative by marrying Christine Notman, who was a co-op milliner. She was my grandmother. My grandfather was a Lloyd George liberal in his politics, but he voted Labour to support his friend the Rev James Barr, who was, interestingly, the first member of Parliament to move for outright dominion status for Scotland—not just home rule but, in effect, independence.

We need a new Henry Duncan and new versions of the Fenwick Weavers Society. By giving up on the Hesters and the Goodwins, we can come out on the right side of the balance sheet. In yesterday’s Financial Times, my friend Professor John Kay alluded to Hester’s famous slight on those people whom he said wanted to go back to Hovis banking. Professor Kay said that that desire is not nostalgic and that people want healthy wholemeal bread and healthy wholemeal banking rather than fast bucks. So forward, friends, to the great ideal of another colleague of mine, the Glasgow novelist Alasdair Gray, and enrol me for my divvy in his Scottish co-operative wholesale republic.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

It gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate. As other members have done, I congratulate Willie Coffey on securing this debate on the celebration of the Fenwick Weavers Society’s 250th anniversary. It is right that so many members have not only stayed behind tonight but spoken in the debate so eloquently and articulately.

The story of the weavers is a fantastic one, and we owe a lot to John Smith and John McFadzean for rediscovering it and doing so much to bring it to life. This is the second debate on the Fenwick weavers in the current session of Parliament. It is a fascinating story and it is right that so many people will gather on Monday to sign the charter and to commemorate the event. As a co-convener of the cross-party group on co-operatives, I certainly look forward to that.

It is not only the historical significance of the Fenwick event that is important but what the Fenwick Weavers Society was about. As Margaret Mitchell and Cathy Jamieson said, we must remember the values that the weavers espoused and the way in which they went about establishing their organisation 250 years ago. Not only did they contribute to a spirit of bringing the community together, they showed how people should conduct themselves—what was right and what was wrong. That was developed in their strong sense of the importance of education in the community, not only 250 years ago but in the years following. That was shown by the setting-up of a local library, which was significant because it demonstrated that the Fenwick community thought that it was important not only that people could feed and clothe themselves but that they could be educated to go on and better themselves. There are some excellent examples of that in the Fenwick story.

Bringing the issue all the way forward to 2011, the importance of co-operatives today and the extent to which they are important to communities show how much we owe to the forebears of the co-operative tradition who lived 250 years ago.

At the weekend, I attended an event at the West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative in my constituency, which involved the opening of a new sports pitch. I should say that, as the dignitaries waited to open the pitch, the young kids were dying to get on to the park, which was great to see. That housing co-op has been able to improve the housing stock and branch out into other areas. It is the first technology co-operative in the UK, and it has improved the sporting facilities. That shows us what co-operatives can achieve and how they can benefit the community.

It is right to celebrate what happened in Fenwick 250 years ago, but we should also use this debate as a platform to re-emphasise the co-operative movement’s message and take it forward.

It is also right to draw attention to the fact that this debate marks Cathy Jamieson’s final contribution in this chamber. She has been an excellent MSP and a minister over the past 12 years and has contributed superbly to the development of this Parliament. It is only fair also to point out the contribution that Christopher Harvie has made. I have always enjoyed his unique historical insights, which we heard again tonight. I thank him for that.

I congratulate Willie Coffey again, and I congratulate those in Fenwick who have been at the heart of the 250th anniversary events. I look forward to Monday coming.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Willie Coffey on securing the debate and thank everyone who has contributed for their interesting, supportive and personal remarks.

Two members are making their final speeches to the Parliament today. I join James Kelly in acknowledging the contribution of Cathy Jamieson who, as a minister and a member of this Parliament, has always been courteous and thoughtful. The chamber will miss her.

It will also miss my colleague, Christopher Harvie, an academic, clear thinker and author—“No Gods and Precious Few Heroes” was the book that turned me on to what has happened in Scotland over the years and is the real reason why I am here.

The Fenwick weavers were my kind of heroes—ordinary folk who did extraordinary things and just happened to change the world. They made a fantastic contribution not just to the co-operative movement but to Scotland’s history and the rich historical legacy of Ayrshire—their co-operative society fits well among the other jewels in Ayrshire’s crown.

The society is of global significance. I take Jim Hume’s point that somebody will have to break the news to Rochdale, which is not just a day late and a dollar short but 83 years short. If the 16 weavers of Fenwick who signed the original charter that set up the Fenwick Weavers Society in March 1761—83 years before 1844—could see how the co-operative movement has developed and grown in the subsequent 250 years into the movement that it has now become, with a billion members worldwide, I am sure that they would be amazed and justifiably proud of their vision. Once they engaged with that, they would see the audit trail and understand why the movement was an unstoppable phenomenon.

As we have heard, the phenomenon is alive and well and is growing, whether that is shown by the shop in Straiton or the new book by David Erdal, which reminds us all of the movement’s potential and which goes into detail on the Mondragon Corporation, which Rob Gibson talked to me about when I first entered the Parliament in 2003 and had mentioned before then. His enthusiasm has been vindicated by the current momentum.

I regret that, because of other commitments such as attending the convention of the Highlands and Islands, I cannot attend the ceremony in Fenwick on Monday to mark the 250th anniversary of the charter’s signing. However, I am delighted that Adam Ingram, who was in the chamber earlier and who is an Ayrshire man, will be there to represent the Scottish Government.

I was privileged to have the opportunity today to sign the new charter, which acknowledges the Fenwick weavers’ place in the co-op movement’s history. The First Minister’s name is on that charter, which has been well photographed and which I am sure will be broadcast to break the news to Rochdale, perhaps even before Jim Hume gets to people there.

The early beginnings of the co-op movement and the co-op values and principles were wonderful. The principles are honesty, fairness, decision making, frugality, working in the common good and a sense of common purpose. The pendulum is swinging back to those fundamental principles, which work. The generation that includes the gentleman who tried to privatise the co-op movement will find itself tsunamied away by the movement returning and claiming ethics. John McFadzean and John Smith remind us of and allow us to rediscover the movement’s roots. That gives us the common proof that adds weight to the fact that current authors such as David Erdal are beginning to rediscover, capture and reload into the psyche the clear guidelines for emulating our predecessors.

In the modern day, I am delighted to acknowledge that co-operative principles underlie the purpose of “The Government Economic Strategy”, which seeks a successful Scotland that all can share and in which all can flourish. The co-op sector is an important contributor to helping us to achieve those goals and particularly our growth aspirations for the economy.

The co-op sector in Scotland is thriving and growing—Scotland has about 430 enterprises that are commercial co-operatives, co-owned or mutuals. I noticed that the number of co-operatives in one little part of Spain was 256. As part of the computer fraternity—like my good friend Stewart Stevenson—I know that that is a binary number. The next numbers are 512, 1,024 and 2,048. The potential for such development in Scotland is valid, as the pendulum is swinging back in that direction.

John Lewis’s results, which are in the papers today, show that the partners in that company are all benefiting from success. There are organisations such as First Milk, Tullis Russell and the Arup engineering group, but also newer co-operatives such as Boyndie Wind Farm Co-operative, which was set up in Banffshire in 2005; the Edinburgh Community Energy Co-operative, which was formed in 2007; and the more recent East-Kilbride based Clansman Dynamics, which was bought out by 30 employees and which has a turnover of £7 million. In 2010, a new co-op was formed—Scottish Bee Services, which involves a Perthshire consortium of beekeepers. So, we have lots to which we can look forward. On top of that, in Co-operative Development Scotland, we have the basis to help more co-ops to come through to fruition.

I want to focus in on the issue that worked its way through the debate from John Scott’s contribution and into Christopher Harvie’s speech: collaboration and the co-operative work that generates new co-operatives. David Erdal has also described that. We need to do this work in a solid way while also ensuring sound constitutions so that co-operatives last and keep fresh so that they can help future generations. We want co-operatives to be the powerful new mutuals in all areas of endeavour, including finance. I am thinking of Hovis banking, which Christopher Harvie and I believe has a genuine place in all this.

In Scotland, we have the ability to write books that say that there are “No Gods and Precious Few Heroes”, but we do not have to look far back in time to find ordinary folk who have stepped up to being just that. Scotland can contaminate the world with contagious ideas. The weavers of Fenwick did that. We can look forward to more of that happening in Scotland as more contagious ideas go forward.

Meeting closed at 17:51.