The Common Weal: how Scotland could look very different after indyref
Herald Scotland, by Tom Gordon
A group of academics and economists have launched an international project to flesh out their vision of an independent Scotland as a wealthier and more fair country on the Nordic model.
The Common Weal group, which argues that an exit from the UK would free Scotland to adopt a Scandinavian economic and social blueprint, will open a dedicated website with a call for policy ideas large and small from the public, civic Scotland and fellow scholars worldwide.
Scottishcommonweal.org is intended to become an online Speakers’ Corner where people can highlight their priorities for independence, with contributions building into a library of policy ideas that could be put into effect after a Yes vote next year.
Created by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation to bring some overdue intellectual heft to the independence debate, the project will also publish six blueprints for reform, drawing on ideas from a pool of 30 academics and editors.
The first paper, due in September, will focus on tax and the critical issue of how Scotland would pay its bills without following the UK’s market-led, neo-liberal economic model. Early ideas include levying a wealth tax on super-rich companies and individuals to pay for universal childcare.
Other papers will cover the economy and industrial relations, the welfare state, the environment, international relations and equality and democracy.
Although it is not taking sides in the referendum, the Church of Scotland last night gave the project a major boost, confirming it was setting up a working group to research, explore and reflect on the fundamental principles "of what we mean about Common Weal – how we look after our neighbours".
Dennis Canavan, chairman of the Yes Scotland campaign, said Common Weal was the kind of "creative thinking" Scotland needed.
Bob Thomson, the Jimmy Reid Foundation convener, said: "There are many more people in Scotland who want a change in how the country is run than want the market-driven mess we’re in now.
"The only reason politicians haven’t had to respond to this public demand for change is that there hasn’t been a big, wide and inclusive plan of action. This is a chance to bring people together, expert or not, to build up that programme.
"The volume and diversity of response we’ve had so far suggests this is not something politicians will be able to ignore."
Designed to inject some gravitas into the knockabout of the referendum debate, the project argues that the powers of independence would let Scotland break with a failed and increasingly pitiless UK economic system and import more enlightened policies from Scandinavia and Germany to tackle inequality and promote a more socially just and stronger society.
A Scottish Nordic model would include a welfare state with cradle-to-grave universal services; a diverse economy with high-tech, high-paying firms fostered by state lending rather than over-reliance on risk in the finance sector and low-paying retail jobs and greater local democracy and gender equality.
It would require a bigger overall tax take but not necessarily higher individual taxes, with a wealth tax or land tax boosting exchequer coffers. Revenues would be used to improve public services and education, raise skills and bolster the economy, which in turn would lift wages and reduce wealth inequality.
Its proponents see a virtuous circle, though critics detect a never-ending daydream.
In its inaugural Common Weal paper, which was circulated among the SNP hierarchy, the Reid Foundation sketched out key areas for reform, but deliberately left the detail for another day details out, as it wanted to provoke a debate without prescribing its limits. The launch and appeal for specifics is intended to take the project to the next level.
There is also an important political calculation in the Common Weal. While those behind it will not run their own referendum campaign, they intend to put their ideas over to voters by embedding them in the messages of the SNP and Yes Scotland.
The aim is to build the Common Weal drumbeat steadily over the summer and autumn, starting with a pitch to business about a radically simplified tax system which would see all firms pay their fair share, rather than one which allows multinationals such as Google to pick and choose where and when to meet liabilities.
The Common Weal concept would be debated by the Radical Independence Campaign at its annual gathering, then the Scottish Green conference, and finally the SNP conference in Perth. SNP local branches are already being encouraged to put forward motions based around the idea.
While some in the SNP hierarchy might bridle at these tactics, the promoters of the Common Weal report a welcome from SNP activists eager to take forward the Nordic vision, and even from senior MSPs who would quietly like their conference to take on the Common Weal mantle.
The theory goes that, once absorbed into mainstream thinking, it would be impossible to put the Common Weal idea back in the bottle.
If there is a Yes vote next year, the policies of an independent Scotland would also, in many cases, be Common Weal policies.
If there is a No vote, the Common Weal would still be the Yes side’s legacy – a storehouse of policy ideas to feed into Scottish politics for future years.
Canavan said: "I strongly welcome the Common Weal initiative. This is the kind of creative thinking which can ensure that an independent Scotland is based on sound economics, as well as sound principles of social justice.
"I urge individuals and organisations to respond to the invitation to submit ideas which will contribute to the Common Weal vision, thereby helping to build a fairer Scotland, where wealth is not only created but is used to benefit all the people."
A spokesman for the pro-Union Better Together campaign said: "The SNP’s vision for a separate Scotland is to hand over control of welfare, currency, savings, mortgages and much else to a foreign government without any Scottish representation at all. It’s little wonder that people across the political spectrum find the SNP’s plans so unappealing."