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The Democracy Collaborative heads to Scotland

As part of our global work on community wealth building (CWB) and movement building, our President, Ted Howard, will be on a fact finding and advisory trip to Scotland, UK. Scotland is at the UK and European forefront on community wealth building, with CWB a key part of the Scottish Government’s economic transformation programme. They have established a growing programme of work, including a planned community wealth building act, overseen by a new Scottish Minister for community wealth.

As TDC’s Senior Fellow for Global Advancement for CWB and a part-time CWB adviser to the Scottish Government, I’m delighted to accompany Ted on this important visit.

What is happening in Scotland is exciting for the global CWB movement and a clear demonstration as to how CWB is the practical alternative to the ravages of social, economic and ecological injustice. From its roots in Cleveland, it has now spreading throughout the US, noted by our recent work in Chicago and Somerville. The universal issues of wealth extraction means that CWB is fast taking hold in other places across the globe including Preston, UK and Sydney, Australia. In this, TDC is playing a supportive role, with our new networks and offerings of policy support, tools, and action plans being adopted as a means to scale and amplify CWB

Alongside the meeting with the Scottish Minister for Planning, Public Finance and Community Wealth, Tom Arthur, a breadth of other high level engagements are planned. This includes meeting with Scottish Government officials and advisers, Scottish Trade Union Congress, Economic Development Association for Scotland, Scottish Towns Partnership, Community Land Scotland, Development Trusts Associations Scotland as well as visits to various municipalities including the Scottish CWB pioneer North Ayrshire Council

Like the US, Scotland is a wealthy country.  However, wealth distribution is hugely uneven, with the top 10% owning 200 times more wealth than the bottom 10% (median wealth of $1.3M compared to $6k).  Indeed 25% of Scottish people have less than $500 of net savings, and 7% who have zero savings are in debt. Alongside the need to tackle the climate and cost of living crises, CWB is very much at the heart of Scotland’s plans for economic system change and the building of a more economically and socially just nation.

Community wealth building is a serious correction to a flawed and failing economic model, through a full frontal redress to structural economic inequalities. It is about developing actions which ensure this wealth is not extracted or merely trickles up to the already wealthy, but rather sticks, circulates and torrents down to communities. This ethos very much sits within parts of the Scottish tradition, where the wealth that Scots produce has and increasingly is seen as a collective democratic endeavour, and concern for the plight of others and the environment is hotwired in.  

Scotland has developed a series of local council action plans, using a variant of TDC’s five pillars of community wealth building. In community wealth building perfection is never the enemy of the good.  Scotland’s community wealth building approach is nimble, building from what is already happening and foreshadowing larger transformational shifts in economic practice, society and power.  

With CWB, we know that it’s not a one size fits all framework. To that end, each country and place has its own pathway to end wealth extraction and build greater democracy, equity and justice on the foundation of the five pillars of CWB

This trip marks a time for learning more about how the CWB movement is being taken forward and growing in Scotland. For Scotland, like here in the US, Community wealth building is not just another economic development, or a revitalisation programme or merely a rebrand for community development, but a systemic programme of action which seeks to recalibrate how our economy works and who it works for.  For Scotland this is woven into its ambitions to grow a ‘well being economy’ where social and environmental benefits are hotwired into all economic activity, as Scotland moves into Covid recovery. 

Of course there are key differences between the US and the UK. The need to redistribute wealth is well embedded in Scottish and UK policy and they have a Welfare State system, including a National Health service. However, in a context of fast moving global capital, offshoring and distant shareholders there are limits to what the welfare state and traditional fiscal ‘after the fact’ redistribution of wealth can do. Therefore, community wealth building for Scotland is also about predistribution, in which economic development seeks to prevent inequalities occurring in the first place rather than sorting the problem after via tax, benefits or regeneration. In Scotland, at the heart of community wealth building is action that seeks to increase the number of Scots who are direct owners and active stakeholders in land, economic production and wealth.  This includes the encouragement of small business, cooperatives, employee owned companies and other inclusive business and land ownership models. Models which are more likely to employ local people, have local suppliers and lock in wealth through workers being the owners.  

As the movement in Scotland grows, Ted will hear about Scotland’s plans for national primary legislation through a CWB act. This proposed Act aims to deepen, harden and amplify CWB, serving to augment activity that is already taking place, but also seeking to remove any legislative barriers to the acceleration of CWB.  Ted and Neil will be learning, sharing US experiences and advising on elements of this programme of work.

This is sure to be an informative and helpful visit and we will follow up in a few weeks with a blog following this trip, laying out more detail on the Scottish CWB journey, and lessons we can learn for our own CWB work in cities, municipalities and states across the US. In the meantime, check out the Economic Development Association of Scotland’s CWB workshop series for more information about CWB in Scotland, and follow the journey on Twitter via @DemocracyCollab and @nmcinroy.

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