Richard Leonard: Working to Build a Sustainable Scotland

by Claudia Beamish MSP

At the start of Richard Leonard’s 'Plan for Real Change in Scotland' he states: “We need to win again for all those people in all those communities who need a Labour government in Scotland.” One fundamental challenge facing all of us in Scotland - as well as the rest of the world - is that of climate change. A Labour Government at Holyrood, led by Richard Leonard, will take decisive and radical action on this issue.

Scottish Labour needs to have a strategy for an inclusive future for all. Richard understands this and his determination to focus on tackling climate change demonstrates his understanding of the need to ramp up action if we are to keep global warming to below 2°C, with further efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

I have worked with Richard for two decades – he has long acted to tackle climate change and create sustainable development opportunities and is clear that this means the fusing of economic, social and environmental imperatives. This is why the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA) has given Richard its supporting nomination in this leadership contest.

We need action now across all sectors, especially heavy carbon emitters – energy, buildings, transport and agriculture - to prevent the grave dangers of climate change in a way that is just and fair. We must have sustainable resource use in what is a finite planet. Now that we have pushed the Scottish Government to prevent fracking with my member’s Bill Proposal, this dirty distraction will not get in the way of creating well paid, unionised jobs in the renewables sector as we move towards constructing a low carbon economy.

Richard has a deep understanding the need for a just transition to the low carbon economy, working with trade unions, environmental NGOs, communities and businesses. He knows that all action must be assessed through criteria which ensure that not only are no communities and working people left behind in this process, but that they are in a position to benefit from it. Constant monitoring will be necessary and setting up a Just Transition Commission, independent of Government and answerable to the Scottish Parliament, to oversee this complex shift will be key to inclusive action.

Committed to taking forward new forms of ownership of land and in industry, Richard also plans to promote public ownership across sectors. In the energy sector, as First Minister he will create a National Energy Corporation and will help develop renewable energy schemes which are community-centred, co-operative and municipal. He will work with local government to develop municipal ownership in energy, buses and buildings. This will help create opportunities for new action such as the development of district heating and the faster transfer to low-emissions buses. These ownership models will enable everyone to have a stake and a say in our energy future.

If these ownership models are to be fast tracked, it will be essential to have accessible finance. Richard will fight to ensure that the criteria for the Scottish Investment Bank are rooted in public value and that it is developed as an inclusive investor of first resort, not a lender of last resort. Scotland’s particular strengths and needs should be taken into consideration within a UK fiscal policy that is best equipped to reach carbon reduction targets. New ownership models will facilitate demand-led action in energy efficiency which must always work in tandem with energy generation and distribution.

The levels of fuel poverty in Scotland are still shamefully high, and Richard is committed to addressing this in both rural and urban communities. He will build on Scottish Labour’s commitment to bring in stringent minimum standards in the private rented sector, consulting on all residential properties achieving energy performance certificate C by 2025. This will also help tackle climate change. The choices for householders are currently too complex and opaque. They must be made understandable with simple financial packages made available to encourage uptake by all householders, including those on lower incomes.

We must protect those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change here in Scotland and beyond. In this context, flooding strategy must take into account the ability of communities to develop resilience. Richard’s Industrial Strategy will enable Scotland to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the low carbon economy. He knows we will need to support the development of new and transferable skills for all ages if we are to succeed in his determination to develop a robust new manufacturing base. There will also be great opportunities in the circular economy for re-manufacturing across the supply chain.

In transport, Richard has made it clear that the shift to electric/low emissions cars and buses is not enough. While this can help to address climate change and will alleviate the serious air pollution affecting our communities, it will not tackle congestion and the stress it brings. Only better integrated public transport coupled with safe active travel choices can do this. Richard’s commitment to public ownership of our railways at the next franchise will enable criteria to be set which are meaningful for passengers, workers, and our climate change targets.

Other sectors can also make a contribution to both tackling climate change and sustainable resource use. Heavy greenhouse gas emissions from farming are not acceptable and phased introduction of compulsory soil testing is a step which will drive forward innovation and good practice. Richard will work with stakeholders to develop a Scottish vision of agroecology. This will lead towards changes in what we produce and how, working in dialogue with farmers. He will also ensure that future subsidies reflect these developments and that the wider rural economy is supported.

There is far too much plastic in our seas. Richard will be supportive of a Deposit Return Scheme for Scotland. He will consider the future of our marine environment with great care. It is precious in its own right and must be protected and enhanced. It will be imperative to hear from all those with an interest in our coastal and inshore present and future, in what is a complex developing mosaic.

I wholeheartedly support Richard’s candidacy for the leadership of our Party. There are many reasons for this beyond environmental issues, but his plan for developing renewable energy, building the low-carbon economy and ensuring long-term sustainability holds out the promise of environmental and industrial renewal for Scotland. I do know that as our leader and with our help, our First Minister, he will take forward a vision for Scotland which is sustainable and inclusive for everyone.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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