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April 9, 2014

Common Weal widens

Think tanks are a rarity in Scotland and left of centre think tanks even more so.  While this scarcity is probably due to a lack of funding, it that hasn’t stopped The Jimmy Reid Foundation from ploughing ahead with its wide ranging and ambitious Common Weal Project. Having successfully garnered support for the project through crowdfunding, a remarkable array of policy papers have been commissioned. Extracts of just a few of these were presented at last week’s Symposium.



Jimmy Reid Foundation

To see a list of all Common Weal papers, both completed and underway, click here

The Common Weal – A Different Politics. 

We’ve had 40 years of Me First politics – and we all came second. It is time for a politics that puts All Of Us First.

Years of a conflict model of social and economic development, a belief that only the biggest and strongest matter, has divided society against itself. A small number of winners have become very rich at the expense of everyone else and we’ve been pushed to blame each other for what has been done.

This offers a future where the young are meant to blame the old, workers are meant to blame the immigrants, independent businesses are meant to blame the trade unions, the prosperous are meant to blame the poor, the able-bodied are meant to blame the disabled. This is a politics which floats on a sea of blame and anger.

This is no future for Scotland. We don’t need blame and we don’t need anger. We need change.

Scotland’s future lies not in a politics which constantly searches for the small number of things that divide us but instead is built on the much greater number of things that bring us together. We need a politics which works to coincide the interests of as many people and as many groups as possible.

The best social and economic development comes from mutuality, from working together, from diversity. It is a philosophy which states that ‘to build more we must share more’. It believes that if access to resources – human, natural, financial – is monopolised by multinational corporations then independent businesses, workers, families, towns and communities do not have the materials they need to build. It believes that if markets are controlled by corporations that are interested only in global trade it cuts off the lifeline to local trade.

This philosophy does not believe that the economy is exempt from democracy or that only the profit motive of big business can create wealth. It believes that the economy is part of our society, it believes that our society is a democratic society, and so it believes that citizens have a right to influence the kind of economy they want. Nearly 40 years of continuous government intervention to promote the interests of big business (through subsidy, deregulation, public expenditure and control of access to markets) has created a low-pay, low-productivity economy where corporations have near monopoly control of much of our lives. This is not what citizens say they want.

What citizens say they want is meaningful work, somewhere nice to live, the economic security to know they can feed their family, their health, good public services, a strong sense of community, the belief that their view counts and a chance at happiness. This is not so much to ask; but it is not what they get.

Common Weal; an old Scots phrase meaning both ‘wealth shared in common’ and ‘for the wellbeing of all’. This phrase captures what Scotland wants – a land where we are all neighbours, not a country of enemies.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation adopted this old Scots phrase to represent a different kind of politics for Scotland. It is a major project which attempts to describe a distinctly Scottish version of the mutual philosophy of social development. It applies the concepts and the practices of seeking solutions which put all of us first, help everyone to win. It is based on 50 major papers and reports which seek to identify what policies have worked elsewhere already and what they would look like if we adapted them for Scotland. Together they form a consistent view of what Scotland’s future could be. Some of the proposals would require the full powers that would come with independence; some could be implemented with the powers of devolution. Whatever the outcome of the independence referendum in 2014 these policies map out a future for the Scottish nation. A mutual, Common Weal future.

Common Weal takes citizens hopes for work, home, security, health, public services, community, democracy and happiness seriously. It emphasises a productive, innovative, creative economy which is balanced and diverse and not dominated by a small number of enterprises – because this is the kind of economy that creates high wages and low inequality. It emphasises industrial democracy because this too creates greater innovation and productivity, lower inequality and higher wages. It emphasises strong social security to tackle anxiety and fear, more drivers of a low-wage economy. It celebrates the fact that high-wage economies create prosperous citizens who are able to participate in the economy and pay their taxes. This creates the public wealth that support strong public services and good infrastructure. These in turn create high social cohesion.

A Common Weal approach rejects the idea that decisions must be made by a professional class often distant from the citizens and communities who should really be taking those decisions. The patronising belief that giving citizens control over their lives is ‘too risky’ is replaced by an assumption that people and communities should make their own decisions – and that sometimes they have the right to make mistakes and then learn from them, just like the professional class. That professional class does not have a monopoly on wisdom about our lives. Participatory democracy replaces closed government by an ‘expert’ class with open government that seeks to reflect the interests, views and experiences of the widest range of citizens possible. Powerlessness and resignation are corrosive; having a real say in our nation, our workplace, our communities and our lives makes people stand tall.

A Common Weal approach recognises that much of the foundation of modern life is too important to be driven by private profit. Our energy, communications and water industries and much of our transport infrastructure should be in collective control to protect citizens from monopoly exploitation – and so they share equitably in the profits these industries bring. Life essentials such as food, housing and banking must also be subject to a degree of collective influence to make sure that they are meeting our needs.

A Common Weal approach values things beyond price tags. It takes work/life balance seriously and recognises the importance of time with friends and family. It priorities arts, culture, sport, entertainment, recreation, participation, good food, good amenities and attractive communities, all of which enrich lives. It not only seeks to protect our environment but to build a relationship where natural resources make us materially and emotionally better off through good stewardship. It measures success according to how well human needs are met and not how well corporate needs are met. It measures success not according to how well those at the top are doing but according to how well we’re all doing.

A Common Weal approach is about bringing together the interests of different groups, seeking first to identify where interests coincide and emphasising those interests before focussing on where interests diverge and where people and enterprises will compete. It recognises that more success comes from cooperation than from conflict. Which means it rejects out of hand the vile politics of division and hatred where the elite seek to blame social failure on the weak in an attempt to divide citizens and create mistrust and antagonism.

We can quite easily assess whether a conflict model or a mutual Common Weal model creates a better outcome for citizens by looking at countries which pursue either model. Nations that follow a conflict model (such as the US) have much greater inequality, lower pay, weak public services, poorer quality housing, high levels of insecurity, low reported happiness, high levels of crime and high levels of poverty. Nations that follow a mutual model (such as the Nordic countries) have low inequality, high pay, strong public services, high quality housing, low levels of insecurity, high reported happiness, low levels of crime and low levels of poverty. For the 30 years between 1945 and 1975 where Britain followed a mutual model of development, all of these indicators moved in a positive direction. In the 30 years between 1980 and 2010 when Britain changed direction and followed a conflict model, all of these indicators moved in a negative direction. There is extensive and consistent evidence to show that mutual models are more successful economically, environmentally and socially for all but a very few at the top of society. And there are a very wide range of policies and practices that have been shown to work and to create that kind of society.

There is also overwhelming evidence that shows that this is what Scotland wants. Since the middle of the last century, Scotland has been voting over and over for political parties that promise a mutual approach to development. It is the dominant philosophy espoused (if not always followed) by any Scottish politician who has had any chance of taking a seat in government. In polls and attitude surveys on whether energy should be brought back into collective ownership, workers’ rights should be strengthened, banks should be better regulated and much more, the public overwhelmingly backs a mutual approach, not a conflict approach. Champions of the conflict model may own the media and have the budgets for political lobbying but they most certainly do not reflect the democratic will of the people.

Everything that is proposed in the Common Weal project has been tried before and shown to work somewhere – this is not wishful thinking but a careful process of working out what policy approaches deliver the outcomes we are seeking. Nor is this an attempt to photocopy someone else’s social or economic system and impose it on Scotland; the proposals and ideas you will find here come from different places but all have been adapted to a context that specifically fits with Scotland in 2014. This is not about emulating others but learning from them and creating the best Scotland we are capable of creating.

So in Scotland we have a clear sense of what citizens say they want from their society. We have extensive knowledge about how the things citizens say they want have been delivered successfully in other countries. We have the human and natural resources to put those policies and approaches into practice. And we have a democratic mandate which supports those policies.

We know what we want. We know how to get it. We have all the things we need to do it. And we have the will of the people.

Now all that we need is for Scotland’s citizens to be offered the chance to support this vision for Scotland’s future at the ballot box. Not a fudge or a compromise, not a half-hearted pledge to tidy up the worst of the mess, not the status quo posing as change; just the option of choosing a different future for Scotland’s people.

A Common Weal future.


A future that puts All Of Us First.