OVER recent months the Scottish Parliament's Group of Co-op MSPs have been active with a range of issues, from Fairtrade and co-operative education to the creation of a Co-operative Development Agency for Scotland.
Several weeks ago I secured a Members' Business Debate on the topic of Co-operative Education.
Education is one of the founding principles of the modern Co-operative Movement. The Movement has a proud record of achievement in this area with thousands of members and employees benefiting from the many and varied educational programmes open to them. The Rochdale pioneers quite rightly placed the education of their members and their members' children at the heart of their aspirations. For Robert Owen, education was a force for social progress and his pioneering educational venture at New Lanark was an early example of what we would now all regard as community schooling.
The Co-op Movement's history shows that its commitment to education is beyond question and I believe firmly that there is a strong case for allowing co-op education to play an integral role in the curriculum of all Scottish schools.
That would give pupils in Scotland the opportunity to learn about the social and democratic values of the Co-op Movement as well as about how to develop and run a successful financial enterprise. By giving young people a grounding in the principles and values of the Co-op Movement we will be helping to develop a generation of young people with an awareness of the impact, both positive and negative, that business can have on individuals, communities and entire nations.
Morality and ethics are missing from the current economic and business education that young people receive. In the present climate, in which people are increasingly aware of the devastating problems that the current economic system can cause for those living in the developing world, there is enthusiasm for the democratic, progressive and egalitarian values of co-operation.
At the same time I want young people to learn from an early age that co-operation is about more than solely values and ethics; it is about practical assistance. The ?Make Poverty History' campaign, which is pressing for action by governments of the world's richest countries to tackle poverty in the developing world, has been embraced by the co-op movement as well as by thousands of members of the public.
The campaign provides opportunities for co-operators to get involved and support development, lifting and keeping people out of poverty. Co-ops will surely play a key role in providing practical support for workers and farmers in the developing world to improve their standards of living and take control of their lives, an aspiration which is at the heart of the co-op movement's self-help ethic.
I was pleased by the Scottish Executive's response to the debate, which recognised the importance of co-operative and mutual organisations to Scotland's economy and society.
During his response, the Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Allan Wilson MSP, made it clear that the current review of the Scottish school curriculum provides an opportunity to introduce elements of co-operative education. The Co-op Group of MSPs will continue to press the Executive on this point.
The Co-op Group of MSPs and the Co-op movement in Scotland have been working closely with the Scottish Executive in order to take forward the plans to create a Co-operative Development Agency, a manifesto pledge which was contained within the Executive's Partnership Agreement and has been a longstanding goal of the movement.
We have campaigned hard for many years to reach this stage and we will continue to do so. Hopefully, the Executive will shortly be in a position publicly to announce the details of the CDA. I will keep readers posted regarding developments in this area.
? Bill Butler is MSP for Glasgow Anniesland and Convenor of the Co-op Group of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.