The National:

This is the latest edition of the Reinventing Scotland newsletter. To receive it direct to your inbox every week for free, click here.

In last week’s newsletter, I dealt with the first three questions that were the most frequently asked at my 35 wellbeing talks around Scotland in 2023.

Those were: How do we deal with intergenerational inequality, how do we stop the Westminster parties from hijacking wellbeing by lying about it and is the Scottish Government committed to the wellbeing economy or just ticking boxes and virtue signalling?

Today I want to address another three questions around basic income, communicating the benefits of the Wellbeing Economic Approach and why Scotland needs independence to truly create a wellbeing economy.

Q1 – What do you think about universal basic income? Is it an integral part of the Wellbeing Economic Approach?

A1 – I honestly believe that an independent Scotland will be the first country to adopt a form of universal basic income (UBI) for every adult citizen. The neo-liberal economic model is slowly collapsing in on itself, causing massive inequality, intergenerational unfairness and mass financial insecurity. People need to feel more financially secure and a UBI would provide that security and end both in-work and pensioner poverty.

Automation is killing jobs and, for the first time in history, increased productivity-driven growth is not creating new ones. The idea of a jobless economy will take generations to materialise (if at all) but at present we have issues such as the gig economy, exploitative zero-hour contracts, low pay and in-work poverty to worry about. Unemployment would also be a bigger issue in Scotland were it not for our lack of population growth.

People on benefits can lose them when they take on temporary work. A well-designed basic income system would help unemployed people into temporary jobs, as opposed to forcing them to remain on benefits. It also gives those in the gig economy a steady income between jobs, keeping them out of poverty.

A more positive take is that an UBI done right would help Scotland become the most entrepreneurial nation on Earth. Those that can do so will use the UBI to get out of poverty, get on the property ladder, start a business or just become self-employed on a hobby business. Those that can’t will have more disposable income to spend in those new shops and with small businesses, creating new wealth and more jobs.

The reason UBI has been successfully tested so often but never rolled out nationally is simply the dominance of neoliberal thinking on money supply, which would see the policy attacked as too expensive and money for nothing. Politicians usually aren't brave enough to suggest implementing major changes to the economic model but as soon as someone does and it is proven to work it will spread like wildfire.

Sure, UBI is hard to pay for using traditional thinking. However, you can deduct the cost of all benefits and pension payments. Any financial model would also have to include the extra revenues from those in work being moved into higher tax bands and from new business activity. Those becoming self-employed would free up jobs for the unemployed and the health and wellbeing benefits would rapidly take the pressure off the NHS Scotland budget.

Q2 – How do we champion the idea of a wellbeing economy in an independent Scotland without getting bogged down with questions such as what currency will we use or what type of border will we have, will we be in the EU etc?

A2 – The reason we keep having these detailed fights over issues, which although very important have almost zero impact in terms of the big picture, is because the independence movement is hooked on policy debate.

Changing economic systems and changing constitutional status are big overarching ideas that require big-picture thinking. Instead, the political leadership of the independence movement offers detailed policy ideas that get bogged down in managerial/implementation issues, thus focusing the debate away from the inspiring big picture and onto the boring minutia. We need a national conversation about the country we want to be and once policy ideas are agreed upon, new, varied and innovative policy ideas will flow from that conversation.

The problem is that even good politicians don't make waves – they ride them. If we don't stop relying on politicians (from all parties) our progress towards independence and a true wellbeing economy will continue to stall.

If you want to maintain the status quo then tweak policies and say it's making a difference. If you want to facilitate a paradigm shift, discuss the nation's core values with the people and allow them to realise that the status quo does not match those values.

Q3 – Why do you say that a wellbeing economy is only achievable in Scotland with Scottish independence?

A3 – Looking back to question one, we can’t implement a fully workable UBI or poverty ending initiatives such as the full wellbeing pension, without the full fiscal powers of independence. That requires a move to adopt a new and better set of economic and societal values.

Westminster isn't buying any of this – there are no new, positive, progressive or even remotely forward-looking visions coming from the Westminster parties who control so much of what Scotland is allowed to do.

It isn't specifically the fault of politicians that Westminster is a uniquely powerful and historic institution that exists to protect embedded power and resist all change. Independence can be the catalyst for the systemic change Scotland needs.