The Common Weal Project

by Elias Blum

I want to give a shout-out to the Common Weal project.

Common Weal is an emerging movement which is developing a vision for economic and social development in Scotland which is distinct and different from the political orthodoxy that dominates politics and economics in London. It is based on the conviction that we will get better outcomes for both society and individuals if we emphasise mutuality and equity rather than conflict and inequality. All of this can be captured in one simple phrase: to build more we must share more. It comes from the old Scots term, which carries the meanings of both ‘shared wealth’ and ‘our wellbeing is common to us all’. These values are strong both in Scottish history and in contemporary Scottish life.

The Common Weal project identifies six key transitions necessary to bring about a ‘Common weal’ society:

  • There must be tax reform to reduce inequality, ensure strong public services and ensure that domestic industries are competing on an even playing field
  • Redefine welfare as a ‘contract between the people’ which all benefit from, with secure funding and strong social buy-in
  • Radically reform finance to make sure it is providing real investment security for industry and real savings security for citizens
  • Promote more balanced ownership structures in the economy to increase resilience and promote high-quality employment
  • Diversify the economy to move away from the low-pay employment that creates poverty, inequality and contribute to public sector deficits
  • Implement participative democracy practices at all levels to prevent abuse of power by vested interest and better to reflect the public will

The project offers a bold, progressive and ethical alternative to the ‘London Orthodoxy’ of neo-liberalism:

A Common Weal Approach The London Orthodoxy Approach
Assume that mutual and shared working towards mutual and shared goals will produce the best society and the best economy Assume that competition and conflict will allow the strongest to rise and that they alone should shape society and the economy
Keep income and wealth inequality low to grow the economy virtuously, promote high levels of social cohesion and to abolish poverty Do not act to alter income and wealth inequality, never measure the economy in terms of social cohesion and subsidise poverty through benefits
Promote higher pay for all by targeting economic development at industries which create good quality, rewarding jobs and away from industries that create only low-pay, unskilled, unrewarding jobs Promote low pay industries which create poor-quality jobs but generate high corporate profits
Total tax take is higher and this enables significant redistribution and strong public services but without endemic debt and deficit Tax is kept artificially low, especially due to poor collection rates among the rich and global corporations. Public services are eroded and public sector deficits are endemic
Support a strong welfare state with high-quality and extensive public services, well funded and generally universally available The welfare state is constantly under attack with moves to ever-greater means-testing and privatisation with the quality of service being eroded
Make finance a means of sustaining industry and providing financial security for individuals, not as a speculative means of profit maximisation Allow finance to dominate the economy at the expense of everything else, with minimal regulation leading to endemic corruption and customers treated only as sources of profit
Ensure a strong and diverse economy with a balanced portfolio of industry sectors, much more emphasis on product innovation, a much larger medium sized industry sector, a much more diverse ownership profile with many more indigenous companies and more extensive public and community ownership and cooperatives, and a much more mutual and coordinated approach to economic development Take no view about the nature of the economy, allowing the market to dictate, even if it means a grossly unbalanced economy with a continuing process of globally owned corporations forcing out indigenous industries and public or collective ownership opposed
Promote an inclusive society with better equality (gender, race and socioeconomic position) in politics, on boards of governance and in leadership positions etc. View the governance of society as a task for one social class, taking no view of inclusiveness or how much it reflects wider society
Embed active democracy as widely as possible to ensure the best outcomes for all – local democracy, democratic practices in all decision-making, democratic governance, industrial democracy and so on. Limit democracy to a ‘franchise’ role where people get irregular opportunities to ‘franchise’ others to make decisions with little or no opportunity for other democratic engagement with decision-making
View your international role as to work with others to promote global democracy and development to ensure greater global security for all View your international role as to work for the commercial interests of the elite, often under the guise of global security

All of the above is blatantly copied from their website. I’m not trying to claim credit, just to spread the word. This is a really exciting idea, and long overdue. This is the policy agenda I’ve been waiting for. For decades now, the mainstream centre-left has been intellectually and morally bankrupt, and unable to provide a convincing narrative that can overcome neo-liberal dogmatism.

Now we see a new democratic left emerging, rooted in humane and ethical values and connecting with deep intellectual traditions of the common good.

This is very good news indeed.