Common Weal is a vision of what Scotland can be if it rejects the failed Me-First politics that left us all in second place and instead builds a politics that puts All Of Us First.
Common Weal rejects 40 years of grasping, me-first politics, a survival-of-the-richest, winner-takes-all mentality which left us all in second place.
A Common Weal future is one in which politics puts all of us first. It seeks to get us working together for the benefit of each other, not working against each other for the benefit of a few. It is a politics which believes that to build more we must share more, that if wealth and resources are hoarded by a few it stifles creativity and investment. It is a politics that celebrates and strengthens our welfare state and believes government should reflect the will of the people, not the will of the money markets.
Every part of the Common Weal policy agenda is based on policies that have been tried and tested in other countries. It works for others; it can work for us.
Scotland’s economy is badly unbalanced; it does not create anything like enough good-quality jobs in large part because it is unproductive – we don’t make and create things. So we need to build a genuinely productive and innovative economy.
That means we must stop favouring low-pay corporations and start favouring high-skill business in Scotland, by Scotland, for Scotland. Government can’t just sit back and let the biggest win – we need action to promote the right kind of economy, to support good Scottish businesses in the face of aggressive low-pay multinationals, to kick-start industries that have potential but which free markets on their own are not growing. So we need a national industrial strategy.
A National Investment Bank would provide patient, supportive finance that grows new manufacturing and other creative industries. Public buying power would create order books for innovative businesses. Planning and rent controls would make it easier for smaller-sized businesses to compete. Universities and colleges would act as innovation and training hubs. Industrial democracy would release the power of worker innovation. Free childcare would help women to boost the economy. Regeneration policy would build social economies in communities facing poverty. The nation’s resources – land, water, wind, and seas – would be put into economic use for the whole nation. And we must support more cooperatives, social enterprises, mutuals and community-owned businesses.
Markets on their own have failed us, so we must make them work for us. It will take time, but as we do this we will create a productive manufacturing and exporting economy that will create more and better jobs.
Greater equality of wealth in society is good for everyone, including the wealthiest citizens. It is the only way to tackle poverty, ensure sound public finances and create a healthy, happy society. Creating greater equality begins with rebalancing the economy to generate more high-skill, high-pay jobs and to reduce the proportion of low-pay, low-skill jobs. Then we must tackle severe low pay by moving to a living wage, and provide income security to working people so they have a guaranteed minimum income every month.
Next we need to change the way the economy is run. Industrial democracy and strong trade unions working constructively with employers, are the best way to raise pay levels, reduce pay inequality and stop salaries at the top from running away from the rest. They also make businesses more productive.
The social security system must make sure that those who can’t work - or can’t find work do not get left behind – do not get left behind, but it must also put people in a position where they can participate in the economy, for example by ensuring that all parents can access free, universal childcare.
We need to coordinate other government policies to work towards this end. For example, regeneration policy must focus on putting wages in people’s pockets and housing policy must make good-quality housing affordable and accessible for all.
Finally, we must build up the welfare state. The best way to redistribute wealth is not to take cash from one person and give it to another, but to raise tax progressively and use it to create good jobs in the public sector. These good jobs underpin much of the rest of the domestic economy, so in fact the public sector is one of the most important wealth-creating sectors we have. The more jobs we create in the public sector, the more wealth is redistributed and the more the overall economy is stimulated.
Our natural resources and our core infrastructure have been used to make a few people rich at the expense of the rest. We must take our energy industry back into collective ownership, with the national grid run by us, and we must decentralise energy generation so it is in diverse ownership – communities, local councils, the national government. Taking away the profiteering will dramatically reduce bills.
Scotland’s land is owned by a small elite and is not used for Scotland’s benefit. Land ownership must be decentralised and democratised, unproductive land must be made productive and it must be used to create a green economy which is more self-sufficient in food and energy.
Banking is too important to leave to bankers. Government must intervene to make sure we have a national banking system which can be trusted - and which doesn’t exploit, but works for its customers. We need to make housing both affordable and great to live in, so we need a housing policy that turns houses into homes, not into a way for a few to get rich. Our public transport, run for a profit, is the most expensive in Europe. We need a Scotland where we can travel quickly, easily, reliably and environmentally responsibly. Publicly owned transport is better and cheaper.
Scotland’s national assets should be made to work for the Scottish people.
Our universal welfare state is the most popular thing that our government delivers. It takes the fear out of the lives of ordinary people: fear of what happens if we get ill, lose our job, become a victim of crime, or want to get a good education for our children. When a population does not live in fear it will embrace social and economic change. But we are told we can no longer afford it.
This is not true. Our economy and our tax system are so inefficient that public finances are under pressure. But the problem isn’t with the welfare state; it is with our economy and our tax system. We must start taxing multinational corporations on a proportion of their global turnover – this will make it impossible for them to avoid paying their share. We must simplify the tax system and close all the deliberate loopholes that have been created to help tax dodgers. We must stop tolerating dodgy accounting which lets off the hook those who can afford to pay. The profits from energy and other shared natural assets must flow to the public, not be siphoned off by corporations. But above all we must reform the labour market. Nearly three out of four Scots live on less than the average income of £25,000 a year, and far too many rely on benefits to survive. The best way to raise more tax is to make people wealthier. If Scotland had pay rates as high and as equal as other countries, we would raise more than £4 billion extra in tax, even without growing the economy or raising tax rates.
And we need a different approach to public finance – austerity is only one option. Austerity budgeting pretends there is no difference between things the government pays for continuously (revenue spending) and things it only pays for once (capital spending). We must balance revenue spending and pay off our debts. But we can still borrow to make long-term investments in things that will repay that borrowing. It is perfectly possible to both balance the books and invest for the future in a responsible way.
Once our public finances are fixed, we don’t need public service reform - we need public service expansion. Better childcare, better local facilities, better infrastructure, better care for the elderly, better transport, better housing. The welfare state boosts the economy, creates good jobs and makes a strong and secure society. Protecting it isn’t enough – we must grow it.
Government which is too far away from the people becomes captured by vested interests and starts working for them, not us. The only way to reverse that is to bring decision-making closer to those who are affected by it so those decisions work for the many and not just the few.
Scotland is one of the most centralised countries in the developed world – our local democracy is easily the weakest in Europe. Our towns and villages must be able to make decisions for themselves, not have those decisions handed down from giant, remote local authorities. We must create a new layer of local democracy at the community level and it must have serious budgets and real power. Communities should fund and control their local transport, their local childcare arrangements, their own planning decisions, their own local economic strategies. The local authorities we have must also be given more power to take a strategic approach at the regional level. Only these things will properly kick-start a real change in the fortunes of the Scotland beyond the big cities.
Just as important is how government works. By far the biggest influence on government policy comes not from citizens but from an unelected and unrepresentative army of corporate lobbyists and people from the privileged end of our society who get handed positions of power. That so much power is given to so few people, and that those people do not reflect the citizens on whom their decisions impact, should not be tolerated in the 21st century.
We need instead a real system of government of the people, by the people, for the people. When government wants advice on policy it should use the best independent consultation possible and it should set up a ‘mini-public’ (a group of citizens who reflect the whole of society) which, with support and advice, is able to make a decision that reflects the views of all of society. Participatory budgeting (which asks citizens about their priorities before money is handed out) should be used. And the civil service should become open and transparent, reflecting society - not seeking only to manage it. Positions of power should be rooted in some sort of democratic mandate and should be diverse and reflective of the wider community. We cannot accept a nation run on the basis of privilege and patronage.
Scotland’s future will be decided either by the power of big commercial interests or by the democratic will of the citizens. Democracy must win.
People in power in Britain have sought to divide our society the better to rule it. We have been encouraged to blame our problems on the poor, on immigrants, on foreign enemies. This agenda of hate has created suspicion and mistrust among our citizens to distract them from the failings of their rulers. We must end the politics of hate and division.
Instead we must create a politics that brings together the interests of all. We must reconcile the interests of Scottish businesses and their workers, of citizens and those who would like to be citizens, of rural and urban, north and south. We must create a uniting politics that takes responsibility and does not blame the people for its failures. Only when politics and government become uniting, open, transparent and reflective of the will of ordinary citizens will they earn the trust of the people.
That politics must protect citizens from the power of wall-to-wall advertising and the capture of our city centres, which push people to spend beyond their means. We cannot shop our way to real, lasting happiness.
Instead we must spend more of our time and more of our money on activities that really make us happy – spending time together, hobbies and pastimes, music, art, culture, visiting more of our beautiful country. Government must help us to find a better balance between profit-seeking and self-fulfilment.
This also means that we must reinvigorate our communities. High streets must be places we live and interact, not just shop. Our neighbourhoods should have their own facilities and infrastructure. Depopulation and decline must not be accepted.
Let us be a compassionate, convivial nation.
No part of this Common Weal vision is untried or untested. Everything has been shown to work when it is tried. Reject false reasons to believe that we cannot aspire to be a better nation. Reject those who tell you that this is as good as it gets. Reject the ‘algebra of failure’ which tricks you with arithmetic designed to show that the future can only be worse than the present. Reject despair.
Believe instead what you can see with your own eyes. Believe that what others have done we can do too. Believe that what others have achieved we can achieve also. Believe that there is always more than one future. And believe that you have the right to demand a better future.
It will take time, it will take effort, but it is not beyond the ingenuity of the people of Scotland to change our direction. We can build a Common Weal Scotland. And we can put all of us first.