Learning from Scotland about our Common Home and our wellbeing

(Published as ‘B.C. should follow the lead of Scotland and bring in a well-being budget’)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

17 November 2020

699 words

Anyone watching the Knowledge Network these days will be aware it’s all about Scotland, from clan wars to wildlife to railways. Good things come from Scotland, from Scottish ales and whisky to haggis and Robbie Burns – well, OK, not everything is wonderful, although haggis is way better than it sounds. So here are a couple of other good things from Scotland: The Common Home Plan, and the Scottish Government’s creation of the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) group.

Why talk about Scotland? Because with a population of 5.5 million it is about the same size as BC (5 million people), with a similar sized economy. So what applies there could well apply here.

The Common Home Plan – a comprehensive Green New Deal for Scotland – was prepared by Common Weal, which describes itself as “a Scottish think and do tank”. The authors take the view that while there is growing support for the concept of a Green New Deal, “there really aren’t any comprehensive or detailed plans for people to get behind”. We need to deal with all the challenges we face in a strategic manner, rather than through a piecemeal approach.

Moreover, they don’t hold out much hope for global level solutions; they see the call for multilateral approaches as simply a political device to put off making the national decisions that are needed now. Also, as seen with Canada’s consistent failure to meet its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, multilateral commitments are largely toothless.

Instead, they argue, while “the impacts of human action are global . . . the vast majority of those actions are local”. So the solutions have to be local too. In fact, they add, “very little of what a Green New Deal requires is contingent on international agreement”. Nor is it contingent on new technology; all the solutions they propose rely on existing technology.

The plan itself has ten sections: Buildings, heating, electricity, transport, food, land, resources, trade, learning and ‘us’ (about our lifestyle and culture). They estimate that it will take 25 years to implement fully – so we had better get started now – and cost 170 billion pounds. That may sound a lot, but it’s the equivalent of Scotland’s annual GDP, so spread out over 25 years it’s not too bad. In fact, because the plan creates 100,000 new jobs and has a number of economic benefits arising from new industries, greater efficiency and public ownership, “it more than pays for itself”.

Scotland’s establishment of the WEGo group was drawn to my attention by Catriona Little, the Head of Scottish Affairs for Canada, an office of the Scottish Government housed at the British High Commission in Ottawa.Based on “the recognition that ‘development’ in the 21st century entails delivering human and ecological wellbeing”, the WEGo group currently consists of Scotland, New Zealand, Iceland, and Wales – all small countries, it should be noted, with three of them (not Iceland) having populations in the same range as BC.

At their first policy lab in Edinburgh in May 2019 – fittingly at the home of Adam Smith, the 18th century author of “The Wealth of Nations” – Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister noted not only that “growth is not the only measure of a successful economy”, but that “we must give much greater priority to the wellbeing – and the quality of life – of people living in a country”.

She reported that Scotland adopted a National Performance Framework in 2007 that included indicators “on issues as varied as income inequality; the wellbeing and happiness of children; people’s access to green and blue spaces; and their satisfaction with housing”. Since then, Scotland has “made ‘wellbeing’ explicitly a core part of the Scottish Government’s purpose”, while its Economic Strategy “places equal importance on addressing inequality, as it does on increasing competitiveness of the economy”.

Other members of the WEGo group have been equally innovative. Wales, of course, adopted a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in 2015, while New Zealand brought in a Wellbeing budget last year. BC should join the WEGo group and learn from its members, including producing a ‘Common Home’ plan, bringing in a wellbeing budget and a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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