Scotland’s Economic Future: Disruptive Ideas is a new series of papers brokered by Alison Hunter and Fabian Zuleeg and, in the second part of his essay on the net-zero carbon economy, Robert Pollock urges the creation of a National School of Government and Transition (a Scottish ENA) and extensive institutional change to help deliver decarbonisation.
In order to create a more equitable, sustainable and productive Scotland, premised on the unfolding socio-economic transition process of decarbonisation, a number of key changes to the nation’s institutional design, capacity and culture are proposed. These are divided into three institutional types: formal institutions; informal institutions; and organisational forms.
Legislation, regulation and policy need to be understood and designed as a framework of interacting transition triggers (recognising that these institutions if not synchronised can also act as brakes). The inter-dependencies and relationships between horizontal (e.g. energy, inclusion), vertical (e.g. industrial, transport) and spatial (e.g. regional, urban, rural) policies need to be mapped and co-ordinated, thereby facilitating optimisation and prioritisation of public resources. Moreover, the multi-scalar reality of institutionally driven transition needs to be recognised (i.e. the international/EU, UK, national, local levels).
Regardless of the future constitutional status, there will be a need to constructively engage and collaborate with London. Ludovic Kennedy, the late broadcaster and journalist, once compared Scotland’s relationship with England to being in bed with an elephant. Even if the two nations separate, the elephant will still be close.
Scotland needs to be more tactical in its deployment and co-ordination of its institutional powers and more effective in influencing extra-national powers. Only by integrating and synchronising public spending, projects and initiatives and departmental plans within such a framework can the nation optimise its chances of engendering a new economic model based on energy transition. In order to secure such change, greater emphasis needs to be placed on informal institutional and organisational development.
In terms of competences, practices and behaviours, there is a need for more public servants who are system builders. These individuals and their cadres need to design and manipulate the Rubik’s cube of legislation, regulation and policies; and join up, collaborate with and influence differing policy jurisdictions and domains, including across UK and EU/international scales, to facilitate transition and optimise socio-economic benefits.
There is a necessity for greater technological and industrial insight within the Scottish public sector, including greater prescience of the evolution, market dynamics, life-cycles and related corporate strategies of transition technologies and value chains.
Such enhanced competence will allow robust due diligence, assessment and prioritisation of technological and industrial options both homegrown and foreign-owned. It will also allow insight into which transition technologies Scotland, due to its unique combination of socio-economic, geographic and market characteristics, is best placed to incubate, scale-up, and subsequently export.
Policy making needs to be imbued with both ambition and pragmatism. Scotland should play with the ball at its feet whilst building the relationships, in Brussels, London and beyond, to ensure that it is a key international player and exemplar. Realism will still allow Scotland to excel globally, if it prioritises its choices, effectively utilises the powers, tools and assets at its disposal – whilst influencing those which are not – and builds societal consensus and mobilisation. Decarbonisation should be promoted and adopted as a national mission.
The creation of a National School of Government and Transition would act as a mechanism for developing the capacity within Scottish government (and potentially civil society and private sector) for socio-economic development based on decarbonisation.
Additionally, it would allow a new generation of public servants to develop the skills, competences and behaviours to better understand, facilitate and manage institutional innovation and technological change.
Not only would this organisation be a catalyst for successful socio- economic transition, it would act as an example and a means of interface with other nations which are also dealing with this time-critical challenge.
Energy transition is a global and national mission of existential significance that can foster national consensus and mobilisation. A carbon convention to align multi-stakeholder ambitions, mitigate vested interests and competition, and develop a common vision, narrative and blueprint for institutional change, could act as a model for other Scottish multi-actor forums. This convention and its aims could be announced during the COP 26 in Glasgow, thereby offering a uniquely Scottish perspective on the shared global mission of decarbonisation and placing the nation’s ambitions in a multi-scalar context. The plan should reflect other policy initiatives, such as the outputs of the Just Transition Commission, and be delivered by 2022. Time is short.
The impact of both inaction and action for Scotland’s economy and society
The impact of inaction is potentially very high, including continuing low economic growth (circa 0.2% p.a. since 2008) and, more importantly, low productivity. In 2018, the EC estimated that the EU could double its economy by 2050 even if it decarbonises. Given recent performance this seems unlikely in Scotland’s case, especially with the loss of oil and gas.
Scotland’s transition to net-zero, even if the 2045 target is attained will, if current approaches are maintained, generate only partial socio- economic benefit.
The nation will continue to fail to convert its significant decarbonisation ambitions and assets into notable levels of employment and enterprise creation. Just Transition will seem a hollow mantra for those who have lost their jobs in carbon intensive industries, if there are no new, future-orientated industries with quality jobs to compensate. Finally, there are limited other opportunities for developing a unifying narrative and model of national development across diverse actors.
The impact of action is potentially very high, including a more dynamic and productive economy based on industries and technologies that reflect and respond to Scotland’s unique transition assets, characteristics and opportunities.
This can lead to creation and evolution of enterprises that are rooted in Scotland and which have a competitive advantage in global markets, offering technological solutions to the planet’s transition dilemmas. Such enterprises can create quality and skilled employment across urban and rural Scotland, which will mitigate the adverse economic impact of energy transition in carbon intensive industries. Moreover, as past energy transitions have transformed Scotland’s communities and society and contributed to global development, this latest opportunity can also be harnessed to create a more equitable, internationally dynamic and connected nation. Finally, institutional change as described in this paper will facilitate the creation of a national model of development (that aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals) which promotes collaboration across diverse actors and optimises the use of scarce resources.
Barriers to change and overcoming them
Many barriers to change are cultural and behavioural in nature, including institutional and cognitive lock-in, vested interests and aversion to collaboration. There is also the question of whether a constitutionally neutral, unifying vision and narrative relating to energy transition can be created and adopted in politically charged times. Moreover, let us not forget the elephant. Both London and Edinburgh Governments need to be open to pursuing win/win institutional synchronisation. Despite these barriers, the pressing existential reality of climatechange and the opportunity to create a more equitable, sustainable and productive Scotland are a compelling reason for common, national endeavour.
Who should engage with this issue and why
In the first instance, it would be good if a small, representative set of stakeholders engaged with this issue. This would include both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament (perhaps via the Scotland’s Futures Forum) and also bodies engaged in public sector reform and professional development, such as the Improvement Service and the Economic Development Association of Scotland. The perspectives of the private sector, the workforce and academiawould require the inputs from bodies such as the SCDI, FSB, Scottish Renewables, STUC and Fraser of Allander Institute. In order to effectively consider institutional reform, decarbonisation and socio-economic change, transition experts, NGOs and civil society should engage with the issue.
There should also be the involvement of voices interested in new organisational forms and instruments (such as the Scottish National Investment Bank, the Just Transition Commission, the Scottish Futures Trust, Wellbeing Economy Alliance, Collaborative Scotland). The recent findings of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland relating to decarbonisation should also be considered. Furthermore, the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland (formerly the Scotland Office) needs to consider its role as a dynamic and facilitative interlocutor with Whitehall within such an agenda. Finally, given the inter-generational nature of transition and the temporal impacts of climate change, young people should be engaged in this process early on.
The full version of Dr Pollock’s paper can be read on the Fraser of Allander Institute website
Images of First Minister launching a £6m low carbon challenge fund at Glasgow’s Star Refrigeration in Glasgow via Scottish Government Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0