Alistair Davidson looks at the possibility for uniting an anti-austerty agenda with a new green politics.
We are used to thinking of ourselves as just a wee country, but Scottish votes at the 2015 general election could play a decisive role in the politics of our entire continent. Scots are better-placed than anyone else in Europe to take anti-austerity politics to the centres of political power.
The outraged, defensive response from European technocrats to Syriza’s victor has highlighted their astonishing remoteness from the concerns of EU citizens. The threat that worker’s rights will be preserved, described as opposition to “reform,” upsets them in way that Greeks burning furniture for heat never did.
For Europe’s Tories, the EU and the Euro itself exist to force governments to move to the right regardless of the desires of their citizens. European free trade agreements regularly open up public utilities to competition. Grandfather clauses cool local opposition, but the agreements operate as a classic ratchet – once a right-wing government comes to power and privatises a service, it stays privatised forever. Regulations prevent, for example, the Scottish government from legislating to require that government subcontractors pay the living wage.
The Euro is even worse. In a crisis, governments should increase spending to get the economy moving again. Managed responsibly, this is safe, because a government can always take the last resort of printing money to get itself out of trouble. The Euro, and German-backed policy decisions at the European Central Bank, deliberately removed that option. The explicit aim is to force countries instead into a race to the bottom on worker’s rights (“labour market liberalisation”).
Europe needs change, and change will come. No government in history has been able to maintain austerity indefinitely. Inevitably, radical anti-austerity parties of the left and the right come to power. Europe is fraying at the edges – Scotland, Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Italy are in tumult. Soon chaos will arrive at the centre. What should scare us is that the credible opposition in France and England comes not from the left, but from the extreme anti-immigration right.
The left has to get there first, to carry our revolt from the fringes of Europe into the economic centres of England, France and Germany. There remains hope. The two anti-austerity left groupings in European Parliament, the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Fein) and the Greens – European Free Alliance (Green parties, SNP, the Pirate Party) have 14% of MEPs, and following the Greek election control one government. Podemos and Sinn Fein could bring that up to three, but it is the SNP / Green / Plaid Cymru progressive alliance that offers our best chance to take the whip hand over one of the Big Three governments themselves.
The anti-austerity left has a simple, powerful proposal: the Green New Deal. This calls for a different form of Quantitative Easing (money printing). Rather than giving newly-printed money to large financial institutions, which mostly inflates asset prices, we could give it to a Green Investment Bank. This bank would build infrastructure across the continent, especially green energy production, a pan-continental energy grid, and the latest in public transportation. This would create the millions of jobs we need to rebuild our economy. It could also fundamentally shift the nature of the EU, in the same way that Roosvelt’s New Deal transformed the role of the American federal state. By giving the EU responsibility for employment and social progress, it could become the progressive union many of us always dreamed it could be.