Social Security For All Of Us

“Scotland can, if it chooses to be bold, creative and ambitious, use the opportunity  presented by independence to build a social security system for all of us.”

I’m proud to present my latest report for the Common Weal White Paper Project, Social Security For All Of Us – An Independent Scotland as a Modern Welfare State.

The report can be downloaded here or by clicking the images below. There has also been coverage in The National here and here.

Report CoverExec Summary Cover

Scotland has an opportunity to end the callous and punitive treatment of our most vulnerable

There is perhaps no more important role for a modern government than its duty of care over its own citizens. We live in the age of the “Welfare State” and we rightly look upon achievements such as the NHS and the social security system with pride.

But modern Britain appears to be turning its back on these achievements and that duty of care. With its increasing reliance on caps, cuts and harmful sanctions, the UK is becoming ever more punitive and callous towards the most vulnerable in our society. People who receive social security payments are being increasingly marginalised as “scroungers” or worse. All this in the name of the “Austerity” we’re told that we need to endure in order pay for the mistakes of a financial industry which failed a decade ago.
Scotland needn’t accept this. Scotland should be able to build something better which works for all of us. Independence offers us an opportunity to do this.

Welfare is one of those subsets of powers which is largely reserved to UK Government level. Even as some new powers are due to come to the Scottish Government after the last round of expansion of devolution, much of the underlying infrastructure remains unified across the UK.

As such, even if an independent Scotland were to seek merely to replicate the UK welfare system it would still need to build a new IT and administration system to control it. As this work will need to be completed anyway, it would be a missed opportunity to do other than seek to improve the system at the same time.

Common Weal’s paper, Social Security for All of Us, opens this discussion by offering several potential principles and policies which Scotland could implement. In terms of principles, it examines the comparatively low level of social security spending in the UK especially compared to some Nordic countries and offers some benchmarks for improvement. The paper also calls for the social security system to be expanded to ensure that asylum seekers are adequately protected from hardship and discrimination (the right to work should also be extended to this group). The UK’s attempts to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants and asylum seekers has been particularly damaging and should be ended.

On policy, a Job Guarantee Scheme is discussed in which the government would become the “employer-of-last-resort” and would actively offer jobs to those seeking work rather than relying on the UK’s present system of sanctions and Workfare. This cannot be a complete replacement for the social security system – there are many who either do not want to work or are unable to – but may be a useful addition to the government’s economic policy framework.

More closely linked to welfare are policies such as a negative income tax. The negative income tax allows for an automatic tax credit to be paid to people whose income falls below a certain threshold – for example, the Living Wage. As this occurs via the tax system, it is more inclusive than a means-tested benefit and may have advantages such as smoothing out the earnings of people on irregular or seasonal incomes. The tax could be structured in such that the tax credit offered to people on zero income would be the equivalent to the current Carer’s Allowance or Jobseeker’s Allowance which may eliminate the need for these specific benefits and the need for people to spend time and effort ensuring that they are eligible for them instead of spending that time more valuably on providing care or seeking a job.

Finally, we present a policy which is being discussed at increasingly high levels such as at the United Nations. A Universal Basic Income (sometimes also called a Citizen’s Income) would give every resident of Scotland a regular payment regardless of circumstances or other income. This would eliminate the need for many current benefits (though some like disability payments would remain) and those who earned a sufficient income would see their income tax increased to recover the UBI but overall, some 4/5ths of households would be better off under this system. Previous trials have shown the benefit of UBI in terms of improvements in health, wellbeing and education and the knowledge that one has a guaranteed income may mean the freedom to explore other opportunities in life such as starting a new business, learning new skills or supporting art and cultural endeavours.

What is clear in all of this is that whatever path Scotland chooses, the mistakes and failings of the UK’s welfare system cannot be allowed to be replicated once it becomes an independent country.
Scotland can use the opportunity presented by independence to build a social security system which works for all of us.

This work is part of Common Weal’s White Paper Project which aims to reinvigorate and remake the case for independence. We are entirely reliant on the generosity of small donors, both one-off and regular, to be able to do this work. If you would like to contribute, please visit our website at:

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14 thoughts on “Social Security For All Of Us

  1. The UK Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions has brazenly disrespected me and my need for social security benefits without which there is a substantial risk to my mental or physical health, to leave me since 24th January 2017, for more than 6 months now, without the income the law says I need to live on.
    It is the mark of a dishonourable coward to respect the powerful while disrespecting the weak, the poor, the needy, the sick and the disabled. In my opinion, the UK is shamed by having such a dishonourable coward as its Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – shame on you both, Mr Damian Green (former) and Mr David Gauke (current)!


  2. Lovely! It’s great that Common Weal is doing this work. But it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if the question at the heart of the constitutional issue were to be obscured by a plethora of policy options.

    That core question is not about what kind of social security system is best for independent Scotland. Nor is it about what sort of health service we should have. Or how our military should be organised. Or how much tax we should pay. Or what our currency is called and whose picture appears on the notes.

    The core question does not concern policy at all. It concerns principle. It is about who decides what kind of tax/benefit system we have. It is about who is acknowledged as the ultimate constitutional authority. It is about where power lies.

    It is about addressing the fatal anomalies which have dogged the political union between Scotland and England since its inception. It is about rectifying the democratic deficit inherent in the grotesque asymmetry of influence. It is about deciding, once and for all, the contest between the incomparable and irreconcilable concepts of popular and parliamentary sovereignty.

    When, in September 2018, the people of Scotland vote again on the constitutional question, we will not be voting for any policy or any party or any ideology. As was the case four years previously, for the fifteen hours that the polls are open, the people of Scotland will hold in their hands total democratic power. Or something as close to that as we can ever hope to have. The choice facing us will be whether to keep that power to ourselves, or whether to hand it back to a political elite that is remote from us in every sense of the term.

    In 2014, we chose to relinquish our democratic power. More than that! By voting No, we not only gave the British political elite our power, we gave them licence to define the power that we had given them. They were allowed to decide what a No vote actually meant after the votes had been cast.

    We cannot afford to make that mistake again. So we cannot afford to be distracted by debate about policy in an independent Scotland. Thinking about policy is essential. Discussing our options is important. This is just normal political discourse. It is relevant regardless of and quite apart from the issue of independence. But the matter of being independent cannot possibly take precedence over the matter of becoming independent.

    Those whose support for independence is conditional on a particular policy agenda are putting the cart before the horse. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that they have abandoned the horse completely and are sitting on the cart hoping that the fervour of their dogma will be enough to get the thing moving towards independence.

    It cannot logically be maintained that independence is about seizing the power to decide whilst simultaneously insisting that the decisions have to be made before the power is seized.

    So, fine! It’s good to have a vision. It’s even better to have a range of visions. But can we please keep at the forefront of our minds that, while the Yes movement is very much about developing such broad and diverse visions, the independence campaign is about achieving a very specific goal – bringing Scotland’s government home. Should we fail in that mission, all the thinking on policy will be for nothing. Without independence, the vision will fade to black.


    • Many people find the idea of an independent Scotland hard to imagine, literally incredible, nothing but some wild fantasy. So it makes sense to discuss and explain possible actual policies which might really benefit the population, if only as a way to bring the whole thing down to earth. This is simply the reality where most folk live, the “what’s in it for me and my family, friends, neighbours …” reality.

      You’re welcome to hill-walk the rarefied heights of your abstract principles, but I fear it will mostly be a rather lonely journey.

      To gain independence by means of a referendum there has to be a Yes majority, which means you will need to convince a great many people not only that independence is desirable, but also that it really is possible and workable. That is you’ll have to convince many who spend their days trying to survive in this real everyday world of work and pay and tax and benefits etc. Principles are nice but in this situation principles alone probably won’t be sufficient to carry the day.

      And a second No vote is something none of us can afford!


      • The people who “find the idea of an independent Scotland hard to imagine, literally incredible, nothing but some wild fantasy” aren’t listening to your interminable blethering about policy in an independent Scotland. Why would they? They aren’t even prepared to concede the possibility of independence. You’re talking amongst yourselves. And perfectly content with that, apparently.

        You’re preparing a confused mess of manifestos for an election that isn’t happening. You’re farting out a fog of policy options so dense that nobody can see the actual constitutional question. You’re banging on about BEING independent and sneering at those who are actually concerned with the rather important matter of BECOMING independent.

        You’re playing the British establishment’s game by taking the debate onto the grounds of economics, where literally anything can be ‘proved’ and victory goes to whoever can muster the most impressive army of ‘experts’. A fight the British state is always going to win. They know, even as you remain placidly oblivious to the fact, that you can’t answer a constitutional question with a calculator. But you can make that calculator give you whatever answer you want so long as you retain the power to press the buttons. And, ultimately, the power to dictate what appears on the display regardless of what buttons are pressed.

        The pompous pish about walking he “rarefied heights of abstract principles” speaks only to your pathological lack of self-awareness.

        Independence is a matter of principle. It is a matter of fundamental democratic principle no matter how much some self-righteous prick scoffs at such things.

        Turn a blind eye to this


        • So you want to sell the People of Scotland a “pig in a poke”. That would only work if and when things got so terrible that a majority would think “*anything* has to be better than this!” Now I really do hope it never has to come to that, and I sincerely hope that you don’t either.


          • Independence isn’t a “pig in a poke”. Evidently, it is beyond your comprehension. But it is just normal for most people in most countries. They understand it well enough to cherish it for its own sake.

            And you are being despicably dishonest when you promise any policies and particular arrangements to the people of Scotland. Because you have absolutely no power to deliver any of it. Only the democratically elected government of an independent Scotland will have that power.

            Some, almost certainly most, of us realise that we are talking about a referendum and not an election. None of what you are peddling will be decided by that referendum. NONE OF IT! Only one thing will be decided, and that is the question of who will decide. The referendum isn’t about tax rates or housing policy or any of that. It’s about something far more fundamental. It’s about ensuring that the people are the ultimate authority. It is about affirming the principle that all political authority derives from the people.

            If and when you ever manage to grasp the concept of a constitutional referendum, you may be able to comment sensibly. Until then you will continue to come across as a comically condescending lackwit.

            As you clearly have nothing to offer by way of meaningful debate, this exchange is ended.


          • No, Sir, it isn’t over till it’s over 😉
            Oh how what a nice warm feeling I get from knowing I’m worth insulting — lol!
            As you claim, “all political authority derives from the people”. It follows therefore that in order to achieve any change is the structure of that authority, a majority (at the very least) must be persuaded that change will be advantageous and worth the inevitable disruption. How are you going a do that without spelling out some clear practical advantages? The pure constitutional argument clearly didn’t work last time, did it? Things are just not that bad. There are no tanks in the streets, nor gross state violence like we saw last week in Catalonia. That indeed might change minds, but as I’ve said, I’d prefer it never had to come to that.
            I rest my case 🙂


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