ONE key issue seems to have dominated the SNP leadership hustings – the Wellbeing Economic Approach, accepted as a core direction of the Scottish Government. Over the past few days, it has been debated in Parliament and come under attack from the usual – and some unusual – quarters.

When the SNP published the Sustainable Growth Commission – an economic plan for an independent Scotland – it went down rather well with large corporate Tory donors and the Unionist broadsheets.

It went down like a lead balloon with the wider Yes movement and most SNP members and marked the first real public spats between the SNP and the left wing of the grassroots movement. Bridges were burned – some still seem irreparable.

Business for Scotland (BfS) didn’t like the report either. Every idea we submitted to the commission was ignored, but upon reading it, we knew it could never become policy. So, we kept the bridges unburned and instead worked hard to champion the Wellbeing Economic Approach.

We found we were pushing at an open door with the Scottish Government, which was enhanced by a growing understanding of concepts of wellbeing in government across a range of nations. Scotland, New Zealand, Iceland, Wales, Finland and Canada formed the Group of Wellbeing Economy Governments to promote sharing of wellbeing economics expertise and practices.

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The Wellbeing Economy Alliance, a collaboration of organisations and individuals working to transform the economic system, added to the momentum.

BfS set up our think tank, with a focus on researching and developing wellbeing-focused economic policies. We have two full-time researchers working on measuring and monitoring systems for the wellbeing economy and how it impacts economic and social change.

We have been sharing our research and polling work with the SNP and in October to November 2021, we teamed up with the SNP, Scottish Greens, SIF, The National and the National Yes Network to deliver one million copies of a wellbeing economics newspaper to homes across Scotland. Job done, we thought – the Sustainable Growth Commission was dead and wellbeing economics would be the foundation upon which a fairer, greener, healthier, happier and prosperous independent Scotland would be built.

At this year’s Business for Scotland Annual Dinner, one of the biggest cheers of the night came when Nicola Sturgeon in her keynote speech said: “First of all, I want to acknowledge the contribution that Business for Scotland makes – not just to the campaign for independence but to so many other policy issues as well. Your proposals for a wellbeing economy are important contributions to the big and massively important discussion about how we transform Scotland’s economy for the future.”

There can be no doubt that the wellbeing economy is a red-line issue for myself and Business for Scotland.

The SNP Equality and Fairness Commission set the tone for Scottish Government policy on social protections and equality, while the work done by BfS and Scotianomics set the tone for how the wellbeing economy could make the whole nation wealthier and the economy fitter for this century’s challenges.

BfS asked the SNP leadership contenders 10 questions. One was: “Do you agree that the Sustainable Growth Commission’s conclusions are now out-of-date and are made redundant by the damage of Brexit, the pandemic and the current economic and cost of living crisis?”

All three candidates agreed. Although both Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf pointed out that some of the research findings were still relevant, it’s clear that the commission’s conclusions – which can best be described as tartan austerity – are not a fit model for Scotland’s future.

On Wednesday, Holyrood debated the transition to a wellbeing economy and although there is still a lot of research and policy work required, the direction of travel for the SNP is set away from sustainable growth and towards wellbeing economics.

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Tory MSP Stephen Kerr doesn’t get it. He was panned for his comments that the term is “almost totally meaningless” and that, “wellbeing could only be prioritised if the country’s economy was growing”.

There is good growth and bad growth and what Kerr cannot accept is that growth must not come at the expense of equality or the environment. If it does, then it damages the nation’s wellbeing. I can laugh off Kerr’s comments. He clearly lacks the capacity to consider anything outside the pseudo-religious mantra of neo-capitalism – new banking crisis, anyone?

However, I have also been given pause by some of Forbes’s recent comments – she seems to be simultaneously championing both wellbeing economics and sustainable growth – two mutually exclusive concepts. She also signalled a move to the right, telling the FT: “Victory on March 27 would bring a change of tone to Scottish Government economic policy, focusing more on wealth creation than the social spending and redistribution stressed by Sturgeon.”

At her campaign launch event, she also said: “I think I have the respect and experience to ensure we do put sustainable economic growth front and centre of our plans.”

The National:

That worries me a bit.

In a nutshell, the Wellbeing Economic Approach recognises that quality of life, equality, fairness, sustainability, happiness and health are all outcomes that should be given equal weight to traditional measures such as GDP. The tribalistic and simplistic mantras of left and right are last century’s ideas and unfit for the problems of the modern world.

You can’t have a thriving society without a thriving economy or a thriving economy without a thriving society. They are two sides of the same coin.

We must stop swinging the pendulum from left to right and back again and instead seek balance in our socioeconomic and environmental approaches. It’s also a huge bonus that the Wellbeing Economic Approach significantly boosts independence support.

A recent Panelbase poll commissioned by Believe in Scotland found Yes support at 48% but when respondents were asked how they would vote if a Wellbeing Economic Approach was part of the vision for independence, Yes jumped to 56%.