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:


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.

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4 thoughts on “Keep it Co-op

  1. Yes but Johann, Labour has stayed closer to its roots in Scotland than down here in the Deep South. There’s really little difference between metropolitan Labour, the old Lib Dems and Cameron style just right of centre.
    I have gone green and can see how much they share co-op values and principles. It is such a shame that the Co-op can’t see fit to support people who hold such strong values and principles that are totally in line with co-op ones.

  2. I think the “Keep it Co-op” campaign is disingenuous, conflating co-operative principles with the Co-operative Party. The implication is that ONLY the Co-op Party (and therefore Labour) can safeguard co-operative values and principles. As someone who has worked and campaigned in the co-operative movement for 30 years, I find this insulting. The whole point of co-operatives is that they are independent, accountable only to their members and communities, not beholden to an outside authority.

    Supporters of other progressive parties are alienated from the co-operative movement by the Co-operative Group’s link with the Co-operative and Labour Parties. (Disclosure: I’m a member of the Scottish Green Party). I think the link is now an impediment to the development of the co-operative movement, which is seen by many as exclusively Labour turf. (Ask ourselves why the co-op sector has remained so small in the UK, compared with other countries.)

    Either the Co-op Party should freely associate with other progressive parties which support co-operative principles, ending their exclusive alliance with Labour, or the Co-operative Group should end its link with the Co-op Party.

  3. As an active co-operator, I can’t argue with the fact it makes sense – where I do differ is in assuming that a unique link with the Labour Party (the Co-op Party is not an independent party in any real sense) is essential to make it happen. By all means people in all parties and none should be, and are, involved in promoting the co-op ideal. However, this does not require us to use scarce resources to underwrite a subsidy to Labour. Keep it Co-op by all means – just don’t pretend that only Labour can do this.

  4. Co-operative principles and aspirations are great – that’s why I’m a member.

    But I worry that there are now political parties better aligned to the Co-operative values than Labour currently is.

    Green seems a much berter fit.

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