THIS week, First Minister Humza Yousaf set out his Programme for Government. This included a number of exciting proposals, not least investing in rural housing, reconsidering the timescales for the Deposit Return Scheme and scrapping peak time rail fares.

In his speech to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Humza Yousaf identified three overriding priorities for his Government: equality, opportunity, and community. They are three essential missions for Scotland, and all of us have a vested interest in the Scottish Government being successful.

It struck me that none of these missions can be delivered in isolation from the other two.

They each sustain the others. And all of them rely on a sustainable, thriving economy in Scotland. Indeed, that underpins all of the Government’s efforts – and could determine the likelihood of the Government’s success.

In that vein, the First Minister rightly focused on the importance of resetting the relationship with Scotland’s businesses. I think he is absolutely right to say that small businesses are the backbone of the Scottish economy, and I welcome his willingness to listen to the small businessmen and women across Scotland. Their voices matter, and their efforts contribute to the Government’s missions. The third and public sectors are also critical.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf lays out his government's priorities in Holyrood

To evaluate the success of our economy, we need to answer two questions. Firstly, what do we want our economy to deliver? And secondly, what are the most effective mechanisms to make that happen?

Before I answer those questions, I think the Eden Project offers an instructive lesson for all of us with an interest in eradicating poverty and transforming communities through targeted economic interventions.

Eden conjures up images of lush greenery, unspoilt scenery, and perfect tranquillity. So when I was invited to discuss a new initiative for Dundee called the Eden Project back in 2021, I was somewhat confused.

Dundee is a wonderful place, home to brilliant, enterprising communities. But it is unashamedly a city, with a proud history of industry, trade, and manufacturing. With no intention to offend, it hardly evokes images of an unspoilt and uninhabited wilderness.

Yet, in the meeting, there was no doubt that the pioneers behind the Eden Project felt they’d found their perfect location in Dundee. The reason soon became clear.

This was about economic regeneration, renewal and, yes, they use the word “renaissance”.

Based near a village that had long felt abandoned and forgotten in Cornwall, the original Eden Project started in a 60-metre-deep clay pit in the late 1990s. It’s a social enterprise, founded by people who wanted to transform something redundant into something living. They achieved exactly that.

Today, the iconic place is full of life. Two massive domes house a rainforest, a botanical garden, and thousands of exotic plants. Thousands of visitors wander through the vast “biomes” on educational visits or on holiday.

It is hugely successful as an eco-attraction, but that is not the sole purpose. Instead, it is also a force for regeneration.

Since it opened, it has attracted 18 million people, contributing more than £1.7 billion to the local economy. Small, strategic investment has generated monumental economic, social and environmental impacts.

Whilst I don’t live there, I understand it has created jobs, and reduced unemployment. It has become a large customer for lots of local suppliers and kept farmers in business. It hasn’t just changed the physical landscape, it has opened up new opportunities for families. It has offered hope and vision.

And in Dundee, it could do the same. Instead of a Cornish clay pit, the Eden Project Dundee will be built on the former gasworks on East Dock Street, on the banks of the River Tay. But it is not limited to one location. Instead, the whole experience will take visitors to different locations across the city.

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THE Eden Project is just the latest investor in Dundee because of the momentum behind efforts to regenerate the city and create a brighter future. There is self-evidently much more to do, as some of the social and economic indicators demonstrate, but the fundamental principle here is simple. To redistribute wealth and transform communities, to create jobs and new opportunities, you must produce wealth and opportunity in the first place.

To that end, the Scottish Government should focus on wealth generation and distribution through good wages and fair taxes. It is not “right-wing”, contrary to some ridiculous suggestions, to believe in wealth creation. There can be no distribution without generation. There can be no “wellbeing economy” without it.

The debate around the “wellbeing economy” is often reduced to a simple, easily sloganised, narrative of “to grow or not to grow”. Bluntly, that does a disservice to the communities that need politicians to serve them well.

Real change requires a much deeper understanding of the complexities of deprivation, economic inequalities, and poverty. With understanding then comes a requirement to identify the mechanisms to effectively eradicate multi-generational, cyclical injustice.

Dogma and soundbites often dominate the debate about our economy and poverty. This is not some kind of culture war, where for one “side” to succeed, the other has to lose and to be seen to lose. Achieving the outcomes embedded in the three missions of equality, opportunity and community requires meaningful action that goes beyond the rhetoric.

The National:

So, I will answer the questions I posed at the outset about our purpose and the mechanisms we have at our disposal.

What do we want our economy to deliver? Well, I would argue unequivocally that our single objective should be to eradicate poverty. That is particularly required now, to reduce financial pressures on those who are struggling to get by.

What are the most effective ways to make that happen? We can tackle poverty and address the cost of living crisis primarily through three distinct sets of policy levers: increasing wages, targeted social security support and reducing household costs – in particular, energy costs. All three depend on a prosperous economy, the first directly and the other two through the revenues generated from a strong and growing tax base. The Government must obviously have the financial capability to fund high-quality public services.

Scotland has made some good progress on reducing low pay, but still has a long way to go. The percentage of the working population earning less than the Real Living Wage has reduced in the last give years from more than 18% to around 9% in the latest figures.

Scotland also now enjoys higher average wages than the rest of the UK, together with lower unemployment (significantly lower amongst young people), and lower labour market inactivity. This is the result of existing policies, but much of it is a consequence of a tight labour market.

Fair Work is central to our economic ambitions. International comparisons show that economies that are fairer – including our Scandinavian neighbours – also have the highest productivity. In other words, “fairer and greener” goes hand in hand with “wealthier”. These aren’t opposites, they are two sides of the same coin.

I wish the Scottish Government well as it launches its missions, because the success of these missions will see transformational change in Scotland.