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A Trading Nation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30th May 2019.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

At one level, it is important and welcome that we are having this debate, because the one kind of growth that I am always enthusiastic about is growth in the competence of this Parliament to continually try to go beyond the narrow constraints of devolved powers and engage itself in the wider issues about our place in the world.

Trade policy is reserved, but that does not mean that we should not be debating it here, and debating not just how much trade we should be doing, but what kind of trade and what impact it has. I hope that the minister recognises the long-standing Green critique of narrow metrics like GDP growth. To put it simply, GDP measures all of the good stuff and all of the bad stuff that is happening in our economy and just calls it stuff. Growth ideology says that we must always have more stuff. Programme for government after programme for government, medium-term financial strategy—as we had today—after medium-term financial strategy, budget after budget, and strategy after strategy focus on that narrow metric.

The minister was quite right, honest and revealing in his response to me. We focus on GDP because it is there and is a nice, simple, easy number to count. As a result of decade after decade of its undue primacy in economic debate, it is being used in ways that it was never designed to be used for. I am pleased to say that a group called enough! that launches in Glasgow today recognises that the world needs to have an important and urgent debate on degrowth. We live in a time when we know that we are killing the living world around us. We are creating an existential crisis, not just in climate change but in loss of biodiversity, pollution and the extraction of finite resources.

The everlasting growth in our economy is not only causing those problems but is unsustainable. I regret that the Government’s trade policy is based on a target framed purely in terms of percentage of GDP growth. If we do not challenge that, the consequences will be manifest in things such as environmental costs of the growth of salmon farming. We want to export ever more salmon to ever more countries, although we know that the environmental and animal welfare costs of that are rising.