After Scotland emerged from the first Covid lockdown, last spring, it became clear that we had many lessons to learn from the experience. Amid the turmoil, economic uncertainty and pain of the pandemic, we had rediscovered the resilience of our communities. We had also found solace in our connection with nature. Our daily need for travel had been redefined as a need for access. Suddenly, bandwidth was a more limiting factor than traffic congestion, with clearer streets and skies building confidence in people of all ages to walk and cycle.
One of the biggest lessons was that, when faced with an existential crisis, Governments acted. Major mistakes were made along the way, but the intervention by the state was on a scale not seen since the second world war. In many ways, Covid has been a dress rehearsal for what is to come with the climate emergency, albeit that the challenges and changes will be on a far greater scale.
Covid has also shown that, when faced with a crisis, inequalities often widen. For those who had insecure work, the insecurity has become deeper. For young people struggling to find a path in life, the climb out of poverty is now that bit steeper.
Inequality also lies at the heart of the climate emergency, with the richest 1 per cent responsible for more emissions than the poorest half of the world.
The cry for global climate justice cannot be ignored, and, alongside it, a plan for a just transition so that no workers are left behind is imperative for the industrialised world.
Never at any time in our history has it been more important to shift to a wellbeing economy that enables us all to live within the boundaries of our planet while ensuring that the basic needs of everyone are met. It will, however, take more than a TED talk from the First Minister; it needs a big shift in thinking and governance.
The Government should start by scrapping gross domestic product economic growth as the central goal. It should set up a future generations commission, as Wales has done, to demand coherent policy decisions that will leave a better world to the next generation. A green recovery cannot be undermined by incoherent policies and budgets that lock in climate emissions and store up costly problems. The days of the Scottish Government justifying a massive trunk road expansion programme by having a cycle path running alongside it must come to an end.
Investment in low-carbon infrastructure, whether it be for electric buses, active travel or efficient buildings, must be front loaded in budgets—build it and they will come. At the moment, however, only 36 per cent of infrastructure spend is low carbon. That must rise to 70 or even 80 per cent if we are to avoid missing climate targets.
That is why the Scottish Greens published our “Rail for All” report last month. Big, visionary thinking is needed if we are to make rail the natural choice for travel. From improved intercity services to new stations including Newburgh, St Andrew’s, Clackmannan and Kincardine, our costed plan would deliver jobs and economic benefit.
The committee’s report poses major challenges to the Government about its vision, about how policies are formulated and about how budgets prioritise coherent action for the future, but the Government’s early response to the report is disappointing. It appears to be a dump of policy examples, and I get no sense from it that there is a major shift in Government thinking. Many of the more searching recommendations have been ignored.
Yes, the Scottish Parliament needs more fiscal powers so that we can choose our path and invest in the future, but we will not win the case for more powers with a paucity of vision. The time for tinkering around the edges is over. Covid has opened our eyes to what is possible and what is necessary. All that remains to be shown is our will to rise to the challenge of a green recovery and make it happen.