Scotland will soon have the chance to become an independent nation or possibly the option of having more control of it’s own future via Devolution-Max. If this happens what kind of country do we want to live in? Should we follow the Scandinavian model? Do we want to largely keep or emulate the current U.K. system? I think that we should be concentrating on the development of a distinctive “Scottish Model”.
This model should be based on two aspects.
1. The model should reflect the needs and aspirations of the Scottish people.
2. It should take into account the practicalities of setting up a social and welfare system largely from scratch.
What this should include will be developed over time but I’d like to talk about two aspects that I believe are strongly routed in the above aspects.
A Citizens Income
A Citizens Income is a non withrdrawable payment made to all citizens only varying with age. This amount should be at least the minimum amount required to live. A Citizens Income would not be contingent on a persons employment or their looking for work.
A citizens income is designed to have the following affects:
1. End unemployment traps. Because the citizens income is non withdrawable it would end the large effective tax rates (up to 90%) that people suffer when moving from employment to paid work due to benefits withdrawal. A Citizens Income incentives rather than punishing those who are unemployed but want to work.
2. End in work poverty. In work poverty creates cycles of deprivation which condemns individuals and children.
3. Enhance freedom. Perhaps the best feature of a citizens income is that it provides a solid base to build on for every citizen. This will ensure that people (especially in work) won’t have to live day to day worrying about whether they can pay the bills.
4. Allow people to seriously consider flexible working. This will improve the work/life balance and has social and health benefits.
5. Encourage sustainable living. A Citizens income would mean people wouldn’t have to be work obsessed to survive and could concentrate on other interests.
6. Reduce income inequality which has been shown to exacerbate social problems.
A starting point could be a plan put forward by the Citizens Income Trust (based on 2006 figures). This would basically give most adults in the U.K. Job Seekers Allowance, a higher national pension and provide income for other age groups including children. This model leaves out housing benefit as this is paid per household and not on an individual basis.
A Citizens Income is also efficient, predicted running costs are usually around 1%-2%. This is because it is a true universal benefit and is paid to everyone just like Child Benefit which has similar running costs. Meaning that a new welfare system in an Independent or Devo-Max Scotland wouldn’t have be expensive to set up or run administer.
I should point out that a Citizens Income is current Green policy and the S.N.P. want some form of CI post independence.
I’m going to use the term “community ownership” in its broadest possible sense referring to local democracy, and workplace democracy/ownership.
The Scottish parliament was set up with the belief that Scottish solutions are best for Scottish problems. Although this has given Scotland more autonomy at the national level, this can not be said of local decision making. One solution is participatory budgeting. Pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, entire communities vote on how they want local council funds to be spent. This could be done at local, town/city and regional level. This system (at a very local level) has already being piloted in some parts of Scotland.
A similar model could be used for public engagement in the planning process, social services (which the Scottish Government is already moving toward) , policing, leisure facilities management and any other public institution.These systems could create local solutions for local problems whilst engaging the community and by doing so making relevant institutions more efficient at tackling real problems.
Another area to consider ownership and of democracy is the workplace. Co-ops and mutuals have been shown to be effective business models. Often being more productive than their traditional counterparts while being more sustainable. They also create true wealth with employees owning a share of the business. We should we encourage these business models as much as possible through tax breaks and maybe even an employee “right to buy”. This would let Employee’s buy a business at a fair price when it is put up for sale by it’s owner. So as to both encourage the growth of Co-ops and not to deter entrepreneurs.
Co-ops and mutuals could also serve as answer to many other problems. In the areas of transport and energy provision and production privatisation has not worked out as everyone would have liked. However there is a reluctance to nationalise these industries for various reasons including cost, efficiency and the growth of the state. Mutuals and Co-ops could solve these problems by keeping ownership public, efficiency up and allowing for employee/public input to the running of these industries. More employee democracy could be introduced, to a lesser extent, in large private companies to improve industrial relations and working conditions. A model of greater employee control could also be used in conjunction with community engagement outlined above to improve the effectiveness of public services.
Co-ops can also be used to revitalise communities. Through land trusts or credit unions but perhaps the most useful is wealth creation. The “Cleveland Model” in Cleveland, Ohio uses the spending power of “Anchor Institutions” such as hospitals, museums and universities, which are unlikely to move, to create co-ops in areas that have high unemployment or social deprivation. The current co-ops include an energy efficient laundry, solar power installer and a hydroponic food growing company. This model could help regenerate Scottish communities blighted by unemployment and social problems using the spending power of publicly funded institutions.These are two policy directions I’d like to see in a “Scottish Model”. I hope that there will be serious conversation in the referendum debate from the public and all political parties around what kind of country Scotland should be. Should this include elements of Scandinavian social democracy? Free public transport? A change in drug policy? Hopefully whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Scottish Model won’t be just a continuation of the current system for the sake of it but something based on new ideas from both home and abroad.