Better For Who?

“If politicians don’t care about the electorate and lie to them, they can’t expect the electorate to care back and vote them in. An election must be more than a search for honesty in a snake pit.” – Stewart Stafford

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This month marked eight years since the Scottish Independence Referendum and it’s fair to say that they have not been a quiet eight years. Brexit, pandemic, economic turmoil and the grinding poverty caused by over a decade of Austerity are taking their toll on the wellbeing of the country. It’s certainly not the promised “sunlit uplands” or even the pre-2014 “status quo” that many thought they were voting for. As we move into a fresh independence campaign, it’s worth looking back at some of the things we were promised in 2014 by the pro-Union campaign and how those promises have panned out since.


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The Eternal Workforce

“Austerity should not be a death sentence. Every person should be able to retire with the benefits they’ve earned and dignity they deserve.” – Fuad Alakbarov

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Last week, while everyone else was watching a septuagenarian finally start the job he was born to do, some stats were released by the ONS that revealed that he is not alone in the “grey workforce”. An increasing number of older people in the UK are entering, re-entering or remaining within the workforce. It paints a picture of the older workforce that reveals underlying weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the UK economy.


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Land Reform Requires Democracy

“As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.” – Adam Smith

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The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a new Land Reform Bill. The consultation closes next week so while there’s still time for you to submit your own response there isn’t much and you should get it in as soon as possible. We’ll be publishing our own response next week. In brief, the Scottish Government’s proposals are that Scotland should better regulate large-scale landholdings by forcing them to comply with the already existing but voluntary Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement that recommends actions to better care for land. The proposals suggest that a breach of the statement could lead to fines or cutting off access to Scottish Government subsidies.

The proposals also suggest that large-scale landowners regularly submit a Land Management Plan laying out, amongst other things, how the owner(s) will use the land, how that land use will contribute to “Net Zero” and how they will engage with the local community on reaching the goals and objectives they lay out for the land.


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Collaboration, Not Competition

“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.” – Amit Ray

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This week saw the annual launch of the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government – its stated aims for the next year in Parliament. Usually at this time I’d be taking you through a deep dive of the various policy announcements and what they might mean for Scotland. The truth is though there isn’t really all that much there to dive into. Most of the major programmes mentioned in it (such as the National Care Service or the Circular Economy) have already been announced and are underway and many of the truly new announcements simply aren’t all that exciting. Even I, policy-geek amongst policy-geeks, can’t bring myself to get too excited about the devolution of the Aggregates Levy – the tax paid on taking stones and soil to landfill. It was one of the taxes devolved to Scotland in the wake of Indyref, the Smith Commission and the eventual Scotland Act 2016. The others were Income Tax (significant, but already straining at the seams of what is possible under devolution), Air Passenger Duty (the devolution of which was scrapped because of a potential legal fight with the EU), the assignment of VAT revenues (the devolution of which was scrapped because no-one could work out how to actually do it) and now Aggregates Levy (which will finally be devolved seven years and two Holyrood Elections after the mandate to do so). According to GERS, it’s currently worth around £58 million per year which is almost 1/16 of the estimated margin of error in the calculation of Scotland’s overall tax revenue.

The only other really noteworthy item is that the Scottish Government has finally acceded to the campaign to bring in the kind of tourist tax that almost all of us will be familiar with if we’ve travelled anywhere in Europe. Back in August, I spoke to the National about this kind of tax and mentioned the possibility of using it to fund or subsidise public transport and that perhaps tourists could be granted a free travel pass when they arrive in return.

But let’s talk about the most important policy announcement in this year’s PfG – so important that someone decided to leak it to the press ahead of time. The Scottish Government has decided to bring in an emergency rent freeze – backdated to the day of the PfG, though the legislation still needs to pass through Parliament. At the time of writing, we don’t yet know many of the details of the freeze itself including whether or not the Government will subsidise landlords for implementing the freeze. The news report announcing the leak mentioned a source who said that if the cost of the freeze was met by landlords then it would cost the Government nothing – this certainly suggests that if the landlords don’t cover the freeze then the Government may look at giving them partial or full compensation in the way that Liz Truss may be about to do to energy companies. It’s difficult to say how much this could cost as the freeze may only be for a limited duration (say, till March 2023) and many landlords – particularly in the public sector – only raise rates anyway once per Financial Year in April and some private landlords either do the same or weren’t planning to raise rates anyway (will they claim otherwise now if they can expect “free” money from the Government for doing so?).

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Work For Life

“Somewhere along the way we’ve gotten the message that the more we struggle and the more we suffer, the more valuable we will become and the more successful we’ll eventually be. And so we overwork ourselves, overschedule ourselves, and become “busier than thou” because we think there’s some sort of prize on the other side of the pain we cause ourselves. And you know what? There’s no prize. All you get from suffering is more suffering.” – Kate Northrup

(This blog post previously appeared in Common Weal’s weekly newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here.)

We’re currently living through an era of great change – “Interesting Times”, as the old curse goes – and the way we work is changing with it. During these moments of change we often wonder what it would take to make things go “back to normal” even if there is no “normal” to go back to – or whether we should even try given the problems we all knew existed in that “old normal”.

During the Covid lockdowns of the last few years many of us were suddenly thrust into a new normal when it came to work as our offices were closed and we started working from home (and yes, I’m one of the lucky ones who were able to do this. Not every job can be worked from home. Not every home can be easily worked from).

For many, the transition was a difficult one. For many others though, the transition to home working brought many positives, including no longer having to spend several hours a day commuting. One of the advantages I’ve personally found is the increased flexibility to step away from my desk for a few moments to take a break or get something done around the house (even if it’s just to put a load of washing on) rather than having to wait till I’m home, knackered and would rather do anything else.

image_2022-09-05_103902942(Image Source: The Centre for Ageing Better)

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