johann coopLabour and Co-operative MSP Johann Lamont says it’s vital that Co-op Group members vote this Saturday to continue to support the Co-operative Party: www.keepit.coop

 

Co-operation makes sense – socially, culturally, politically and economically. It was an eagerness to promote and defend co-operative principles that brought me into the labour and trade union movement as a teenager, and it is the reason that I am still part of it almost forty years later.

The recent debate around Scotland’s constitutional future was for the most part invigorating and it focused minds on what kind of country we want to live in. It is clear that there is an appetite for radical change.

Co-operatives can and should play a key role in bringing about the change people crave and the social economy our country needs. The labour, trade union and co-operative movement has a long and proud tradition of fighting for progress, whether it was universal suffrage, better pay and working conditions, or a national health service. I passionately believe that we are strongest when we work together, building alliances and pooling our resources, to create change.

Across the UK, co-operatives are flourishing with the number of members soaring to an all-time high of 15.4million. In Scotland, there are 593 co-ops with a combined turnover of £4.2billion. Co-operatives exist in a variety of sectors crucial to our everyday lives, including retail, financial services, housing, health, social care and renewable energy. When Scottish Labour was in power in Holyrood, we worked with the co-operative movement to establish Co-operative Development Scotland, which continues to provide expertise, advice and information to co-operatives and to support the development of housing co-ops.

In Scotland’s two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, the Labour-led councils are pursuing co-operative agendas in order to promote fairness and equality while restoring the trust of the electorate and increasing transparency. Communities, partners and stakeholders are being invited to participate in the planning, management and delivery of services. This has allowed these councils to look at innovative ways of coping with shrinking budgets in a challenging economic climate, while rebuilding the confidence people in public services.

The Co-operative Party has an important role to play in ensuring that co-operatives can continue to provide an alternative to profit-driven private business. I have seen first-hand how housing co-operatives and credit unions can help a community to thrive, but more needs to be done to protect the core principles of this movement and ensure that would-be co-operatives get the support they need. In order to do so, I believe the Co-operative Group must retain its long and successful partnership with the Co-operative Party.

Co-operation has a proud history in Scotland from the Fenwick Weavers in the 18th century to Robert Owen at New Lanark in the 19th century.  Co-operation was a path into politics for many women in the 20th century, women like Mary Barbour who we are now recognising as a pioneer and who will hopefully have a statue in her honour in Govan before too long.  Co-operative Group stores are found across Scotland.  In Lennoxtown there has been a co-operative store on the Main Street since 1812, now it is a modern shop run by the Co-operative Group.

The Co-operative Group is holding its AGM on Saturday (16th May) in Manchester.  The future of the Group and how it works with the co-op movement is at stake.  Since 1917 the Co-operative Party has represented the interests of the co-operative movement in politics.  There are co-operators in other parties but the Co-op Party has achieved a lot for the movement.  I am clear as a Scottish Labour and Co-operative MSP that I make the case for co-operatives in the Scottish Parliament whenever I can.

Scotland has been focussing on constitutional change. It must now give equal energy to tackling social and economic inequality. Scotland has a long and proud history of co-operation, but the co-operative movement can be and is, in many cases, much more than a heritage trail. It has a proud history and its potential to shape the future is immense. Co-operation is a global idea delivered locally and I firmly believe that co-ops, which are modern, ambitious and democratic, can help to shape Scotland and its future success.

Working together the Co-operative Group, and other co-operative societies, and the Co-operative Party have helped create a fairer Scotland.  Together, we’ve led the way in protecting shoppers and the environment and championed fairtrade.  We’ve supported credit unions, won new rights for football fans and promoted co-op development.

On 16th May, Co-op Group members will vote on whether to continue to support the Co-operative Party.  The Co-op has never just been an ordinary shop – we need to work to make sure that remains, we need to keep it co-op and keep the link with the Co-operative Party.