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PEOPLE who are interested in politics and social change are often fascinated by policies – some even call themselves “policy wonks”.

People thinking that policies are the key to social change is one of the biggest barriers to social change. Policy debates often offer sticking-plaster solutions and serve to maintain broken systems, thus denying the change that society so desperately needs.

Neo-liberal Britain is a prison for our minds

What we think of as society is simply a collection of systems that are driven by our collective unconscious perceptions of reality. Different nations, peoples and cultures all have different perceptions of society because their own experiences provide them with different lenses through which they perceive reality.

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This is what is known as a shared social construct. Those that desire real, sustainable change must alter that social construct. That requires a deep understanding of how our social construct defines and guides the systems that run society and deems what policy solutions are acceptable to the system.

The ‘system values’ approach to change

I have been writing in this column on the Wellbeing Economic Approach in terms of culture, sustainability, the role of the individual as a consumer, the values we share and a lot less in terms of specific policies. I believe that if we want to change a social construct, we must change it one value at a time, not one policy at a time. Once society has reached the point of collective acceptance of a new values approach, this will remove the barriers to redesigning the failed socioeconomic problem-solving systems that deliver policy solutions.

The adoption curve and beyond

In my first newspaper columns in the 90s, I wrote a series of information communication technology special reports for The Herald.

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In one of my first articles about the adoption of new technologies, I made the point that good ideas don't start off as good ideas, they start off as madness – pilloried and laughed at as unworkable fringe ideas. Technology has early adopters and champions of ideas but most fail to bridge the gap between the dreamers and the realists. The successful ones become social wallpaper (part of the stuff that surrounds us remaining unnoticed).

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Over time, that technology becomes institutionalised, defended and protected by the systems as the fabric of society, thus creating barriers to newer technologies. At a base level, humans are wired to fear change, even though change is constant. Despite the fact that becoming a change agent can be life-fulfilling and highly enjoyable, most people fear change on an unconscious level.

So, a new policy that seeks to implement a major change will be repulsed by the system because that major change would mess with society’s comfortably numb understanding of reality.

Changing perspectives

Like many, I struggled to come to terms with the 2014 No vote but I began to realise the pointlessness of raging against the machine.

To drive significant and sustainable social change requires reprogramming the system so that the new ideas reinforce the new social paradigm. Then the system not only fails to identify the change as a threat but welcomes it and even nurtures, protects and champions that change. This is how neoliberal capitalism became so dominant in our lives. Next week I will explain how that paradigm shift was manufactured.

Want to delve deeper?

If you are interested in system change, David Stroh’s Systems Thinking For Social Change influenced my thinking. Stroh introduces the first practical guide to applying systems thinking as a means for creating positive social construct change through identifying leverage points within the system.

The Crux

The socioeconomic problems of society are so interconnected with the failing systems of the British state, they cannot be solved through isolated policy interventions and potentially not even through implementing strategic interventions at points of flex within the system.

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My answer is to go further and understand that the greatest points of flex are the values that created the system. We need to rewrite the core programming. The Wellbeing Economic Approach is not a collection of policies but a formula for a paradigm shift to a new set of values that better reflect the values of our society than the decrepit, old-fashioned, nationalistic values of broken Britain.

No easy game-changers

No single idea can change the system. That is just chasing unicorns, when we instead need to focus on redesigning Scotland to match the values of the Scottish people. Those are different from the rest of the UK – not massively… but those small micro-political differences have led England to vote for Brexit, and to move their accepted political spectrum to the right so that the next UK Government will be right-wing no matter who wins.

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The Wellbeing Economic Approach (my organisation’s take on how to best deliver a Wellbeing Economy and an independent Scotland) is based upon Scotland’s shared values. Those values can unite our nation behind the idea of an independent Scotland that seeks to show the world a better way, a better story on how to address inequality, climate change, declining standards of living and in public life.

Paradigms shift when the story we tell about ourselves shifts. In next week's column, I will explain the power of stories and how wellbeing is the hero of the next chapter in Scotland’s story.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the CEO of Business for Scotland, the chief economist at the wellbeing economics think tank Scotianomics, the founder of the Believe in Scotland campaign and the author of Scotland the Brief.