Common Weal Campaigners announce radical “Green New Deal” to address climate catastrophe in Scotland

13 November 2019

The Glasgow based “think and do tank”, Common Weal, launched their £170 billion Common Home Plan on Saturday, detailing the drastic changes they believe necessary to prevent the oncoming crises being brought by the climate emergency.

The Common Home Plan, developed by dozens of contributors, is a researched and fully costed 25-year plan to alter the economy and the way our society is structured.

Robin McAlpine, the director of Common Weal, kicked off proceedings by laying down the proposals to achieve substantial systemic change. He said: “The time for targets has way passed, the time for hoping that some grown-up is going to come and fix this for us at a global stage or otherwise has passed, we have to begin action.”

The most radical proposals are on land ownership and reforesting. The proposals include the acquisition of land via compulsory purchase orders to “diversify land ownership in Scotland” and a plan to re-forest 50% of Scotland.

Speaking at the launch, in the Arches underneath Glasgow Central station, McAlpine proposed a national planning system for land, similar to the planning permissions required for the development of buildings, saying: “We want to have a national planning system for land, you should no longer be able to do what you want with land just because you own it, you cannot do it in cities, you cannot do want you want in an urban setting because there’s planning restrictions, we need the same thing in the country”.

The idea is to prevent the use of land as an inexhaustible source of income for investors, whether that be via endless grazing, over-farming or using it for the shooting of animals. They wish to restore the land to a wilder environment, one capable of absorbing much of Scotland’s carbon emissions.

The plan states that reforesting an area the size of Scotland’s grouse moors, which is listed as occupying 18% of the total land in the country, could absorb 7 million tonnes of carbon a year. A sixth of the annual total carbon production.

In order to achieve such an ambitious target, McAlpine proposed setting up a “National Land Agency” and training 20,000 land managers to assist with the process of reforesting.

The proposals suggest using the wood generated by reforestation of the country to supply renewable, biodegradable construction materials for the building trade. According to the plan only 20% of current building materials are actually made in Scotland but through reforestation and moving to a timber based construction model, almost 100% could be sourced here.

Commenting on the construction of new builds, McAlpine said: “All new buildings should be only wood and glass. Skyscrapers, tower blocks, everything, we’ve got to move to renewable structures in this country. We have an enormous potential to do this.It stores lots of carbon, it’s extremely strong it’s an extremely effective material for building with.” 

They also propose addressing the insufficient insulation of the existing housing stock. They plan to refit all 2.5 million homes in Scotland with adequate loft insulation as well as blocking up any draughts and replacing all non-LED lighting. McAlpine said: “We are going to need an enormous amount of wood crops, if we’re going to insulate all these houses.”

To do this, they say that a team of 6000 people will be needed to complete 60,000 refits every year. Common Weal say that this represents an opportunity to train a workforce and provide new jobs. Indeed, across the entire Common Home Plan, they envisage the creation of 100,000 new jobs. On the number of people needed to implement the plan McAlpine said: “Our biggest problem is going to be finding joiners, not jobs, I’m serious, the biggest barrier to this is getting skilled staff.”

Robin McAlpine speaking at the launch. Photo: Calam Pengilly

McAlpine was keen to stress that their Green New Deal was not just about addressing the climate crisis but also about altering society for the better. He said: “If we turn Scotland into a country that’s really focused on these wood resources, these wood resources are entirely owned by 400 families in Scotland and we will only create massive inequality for every generation to come.”

Rather than rely on the market to implement the changes necessary to prevent climate catastrophe and alter society for the better, Common Weal suggest a public planning-led approach, saying: “The underlying philosophy of the Common Home Plan is that this transition should benefit everyone in Scotland, not a small number at the expense of the rest.”

The proposals detail a land tax and a policy of zoning, where land would be acquired by compulsory purchase order and converted into more productive, environmentally friendly plots of land. After an interim period the land would be made available for ordinary people to purchase in 25 hectare chunks. 

As well as the policies on land ownership and building, the Common Home Plan talks about the need for reform of agriculture, introducing a “National Food Agency to plan a transition to a regenerative food system” and investing in new types of food production, such as “vertical farming” as well as proposing a “legal Right to Food” and to “consider implementing a Universal Basic Income.”

On electricity they plan to nationalise and upgrade the National Grid, moving from fossil fuel powered electricity to renewable and zero-carbon electricity. They suggest achieving this aim through a variety of approaches, the chief of these being installing more wind farms. 

They say that solar and wind will be able to provide much of the energy needed if infrastructure is significantly expanded, but they admit to needing another source for when these methods are not producing enough. They suggest hydrogen gas could fill the gap. They expect that 600 hydrogen gas plants would have to be built across the country, which they say will make Scotland the foremost producer of hydrogen in Europe.

McAlpine said: “To get to a system with no carbon whatsoever, we need to roughly double our current energy capacity, however that’s not going to be enough, if we want to decarbonise transport we’ll have to double that again… Scotland [would become] Europe’s leading hydrogen producer and probably the world’s leading technological expert in large scale hydrogen production.”

Common Weal also propose using the hydrogen to power large vehicles, smaller ones will be powered by electricity. They want greater consideration to be given to the proximity of essential services to homes when planning to reduce the number and length of journeys to be made by vehicle.

The crowd looks on. Photo: Calam Pengilly

Perhaps somewhat controversially, McAlpine said: “Recycling is a failure…It’s a sign that we’ve used our resources badly.” 

Common Weal propose a “hierarchy for resource use: deconsumerise; dematerialise; simplify; share; reuse; remanufacture; compost; and only then recycle.”

Common weal propose a drastic change to our consumer habits, on the topic of trade McAlpine said: “Free trade means dumping our lifestyle on the global south. Full stop. You can kid yourself on that a bit of recycling and a bit of fair trade does it, It doesn’t. If we keep consuming willy nilly… we will continue to harm the world. What we’ve said quite clearly is that you cannot just take responsibility for production, we also have to take responsibility for our consumption.” He talked of a move away from a linear, extraction economy to a circular, participatory economy. 

The Common Home Plan says the aim of the circular economy is to “keep material resources and products circulating in our economy at the highest value possible, minimising the need to extract new resources from our environment and preventing the creation of waste.”

Ian Black, Professor of Marketing at Stirling University said that despite the lack of consumption we’d still lead fulfilling lives under the Common Home Plan. He said: “We’re still going to live social lives, we’re still going to eat and hopefully more nourishing food. We’re still going to celebrate, we’re all going to come together at events like this that feed our soul…It’s hard not to get a feeling of utopia here.”

21-year-old, Common Weal Youth campaigner, Lena Sweadlow said of the plans: “No more playing an incremental game of slow gradual adjustments, it’s simply not enough. Changing legislation just a tiny bit, just so that it doesn’t upset the economy has never been enough. What we need is the radical systemic overhaul that this Green New Deal provides… Now is the time that we need it most and we have a roadmap for this revolution.”

Common Weal will tour the plans around the country in the coming months to drum up support. It remains to be seen whether any political party will adopt any of their proposals.

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