Shorter working week, an expanded welfare state … and higher taxes. Common Weal’s manifesto for a better country

Shorter working week, an expanded welfare state … and higher taxes. Common Weal’s manifesto for a better country
Herald Scotland
01.06.14

The most comprehensive blueprint ever devised for a new country is published today in the hope an independent Scotland can leave behind the UK’s low-pay, low-skill economic model and the multiple social ills associated with it.

The 130-page book is the culmination of the 18-month Common Weal project started by the left-wing think tank, the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Touting "practical idealism" and a raft of policies borrowed from Germany and the Nordic countries, its stated aim is to dispel the idea that the only political choice facing voters is "varying forms of extreme market economics".

By recasting the economy for citizens instead of shareholders and elites, it says an independent Scotland can disengage from the UK’s "Me-First" politics and become a wealthier, healthier, more equal and more democratic country.

The book is a simplified "narrative" version of 50 detailed papers written by academics from around the world for the Common Weal project, and is designed to be accessible, with no graphs, diagrams or technical language.

Its says: "Until now the biggest barrier has been confidence — we have been trained to believe that no alternative is possible, that achieving a decent society is just too damn complicated, so best not to try. Change isn’t complicated. It just requires hard work."

Among the long-term proposals are a shift to a high-skill, high-pay economy supported by public loans and investment, a living wage, a 30-hour working week, worker reps on company boards, the collective ownership of key assets such as National Grid, green energy projects and the railways, and a return to small-scale "boring banking" to help avoid another crash.

An expanded welfare state would deliver universal public services, a massive expansion in affordable housing, and the conversion of benefits, tax credits and pensions into a universal Citizens’ Income guaranteeing a minimum income for all.

The book says the move to a high-skill economy with higher wages would produce the extra tax revenues needed to pay for the new policies.

However, the transition years after a Yes would require steep tax rises for the better off.

It suggests raising £1 billion by increasing the 40p rate of income tax to 50p, and the 45p rate for those earning over £150,000 to 60p.

A further £1bn could come from taxes on land, industry, retailers and whisky production.

The book says that although many of the ideas require the powers on independence, if there is a No vote in September a Common Weal philosophy can still be applied to devolution.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it says: "Scotland cannot go back to accepting the nation it is just now — inequality, poverty, declining infrastructure, powerless communities, closed politics, profiteering, low pay, overwork, anxiety, stress and unhappiness."

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last night said she welcomed the contribution.

She said: "As the Common Weal publication makes clear, Scotland is ready for change, and independence is the only way to secure a better future for the people of Scotland.

"Our vision is of a Scotland founded on the fundamental principles of equality and human rights and characterised by economic success and social justice, giving people control over the decisions which affect them."

Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said: "For 35 years we’ve been told there is no alternative to the free-market politics of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron.

"For five years we’ve been told that no-one really knows how to reduce inequality in Scotland and make us more Nordic.

"Nobody can say these things anymore."

Economist Professor Mike Danson of Heriot-Watt University said: "Without control over the main policy areas that our neighbouring countries enjoy, Scotland cannot address some of the highest rates of poverty and inequality in Europe, nor can we promote a balanced economy that is for all of us and not for the few.

"We have the people, resources and opportunities to create a much better future than the decade of austerity promised by Westminster."

Architect Malcolm Fraser said: "We’d like to raise the debate from the fearty to the hopeful: what might Scotland look like if we had the chance to rethink it?

"How might our homes and towns better serve us, built to suit our need for connectivity and community, shops and workplaces near parks, and civic facilities valued."

Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Tories’ economy spokesman, said Sturgeon’s endorsement had exposed the Yes camp’s high-tax instincts.

He said: "This is the Yes campaign finally letting the cat out of the bag. An independent Scotland going down the social democratic route much loved of SNP politicians would mean whacking tax rises for middle earners and additional burdens on Scottish business.

"The fact that Nicola Sturgeon has welcomed this is a clear signal that the Yes campaign is endorsing these swingeing tax rises."

The 10 chapters

A New Politics

Replace "Me-First politics" with a politics that "puts all of us first" along the lines of Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Finland.

A People’s Nation

New layers of elected representatives bringing decisions closer to voters.

Our Public Wealth

Economy focused on skills, investment and research and development. National Investment Bank backing Scots firms. Key energy assets collectively owned. More taxes for the better-off.

Industrial Policy

High-pay, high-skilled jobs, and diverse ownership of business.

Shared Scotland

Collective ownership of National Grid and electricity generation. Far more affordable homes. A right to phone and broadband access. Renationalise ScotRail. More local land ownership.

Working Life

End chronic low pay. More industrial democracy, with greater workers’ rights. Move to 30-hour working week.

Social Security

A living wage to give every worker "Citizens’ Income" paid to all, whether in work or not.

Financial Security

A return to "boring" banking, with more local, publicly-owned banks.

Human Security

Redesign armed forces to focus on peace-keeping, humanitarian operations and stopping smuggling. Swift removal of Trident.

Design For Life

Radically changed planning system to stop too many out-of-town retailers, cramped homes, and loss of public space.

To buy the book please visit http://allofusfirst.bigcartel.com/product/common-weal-book