Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

Global capitalism isn’t to blame for the Coronavirus pandemic, although many think it is. But the fact that a micro-organism can not only wreak havoc on human health but lead to economic collapse across the globe doesn’t reflect well how we organise our affairs.

The world economy has collapsed twice in 12 years. The first bailout was paid for by a decade of austerity shrinking the state. But widening inequality and reduced public services left many countries ill-prepared when the worst global pandemic in a century struck.

Now economies have crashed again. They are being bailed out again, but it will be hard to sustain. As the year progresses we may get on top of Covid-19 in a clinical sense but the economic aftermath will worsen.

Wage support schemes end in the autumn. Many companies will go back with fewer workers, others will not go back at all. Unemployment will increase, and even the miserly support for people thrown out of work will see state spending rise further. Meanwhile people will have less money to spend so demand will fall further. It’s not looking good.

Probably the worst thing we can do in trying to deal with this crisis is to try to go back to how things were.  Instead, we need to look at how we can build back better.

That means a fundamental rethink of how humanity organises - how we use natural resources, how we share things amongst ourselves and how differences are resolved.

This is the time for bold and imaginative thinking. We need to address poverty and inequality. Unequal shares create rickety social structures where the vulnerability of many makes it impossible to have protection for us all. That’s why the debate on implementing a basic income is so important.

But crucially, we need to rethink how we organise our productive economy and make markets serve people, not the other way around.

No country can exist in isolation from others, nor should it try to. International co-operation is essential, always has been. But that doesn’t mean the globalisation of our economy over the last 40 years has been benign. Quite the contrary - we need a critique of what has gone wrong and we need to construct an international alternative.

Globalisation has created corporations more powerful than countries making it hard to regulate them. We know that companies scour the world looking for areas with weaker labour and environmental protections to increase profits.

Most large-scale manufacturing has been broken down into many component parts creating supply chains extending across the world. This has created a system extremely vulnerable to adverse events – bad weather can stop production, never mind a pandemic.

This precarious international system does not and will not give us economic or social security. Instead we need to look to our own resources and strengths to build a resilient economy.

Doesn’t it make so much sense that we are now making protective equipment for our healthcare workers here in Scotland, rather than flying it halfway round the world? This should become our default approach. If something we need can be made here, let’s do it.

We can be world leaders in marine renewable energy. Let’s build the turbines here. We can create new super strong building laminates from the wood in our forests and acrylics from our oil. Let’s do it.

We all need to learn about how our economy works and how it can change. No longer can these matters be left to bankers and experts with vested interests.  And we need to understand how our political structures give us control over our economic relationships – or not.

Sometimes I plug SNP policies here. Not today. I want to ask you to take a look at the new report by Common Weal, a non-party campaign group. Check out allofusfirst.org to get their new report on building a resilient Scotland after Covid-19.  It’ll get you thinking.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 20th June 2020.