Experimentation will provide the key to implementing a Citizen’s Basic Income

This blog first appeared on the Nesta website.

One of the most exciting developments of the last year has been the creation of a Citizen’s Basic Income Network (CBIN) in Scotland. Bringing together a wide range of people who have an interest, and who have done work on citizen’s income, the group has been working on how to promote the idea of a citizen’s income, universal income or basic income. It builds on the excellent work of Guy Standing, and of the RSA’s Anthony Painter. And in Scotland on the work of Professor Ailsa Mackay, Annie Miller, Willie Sullivan, and many others – with the promotional work by Common Weal and the RSA being especially significant.

The Citizen’s Income Trust defines universal income as:

  • Unconditional 

A citizen’s income would vary with age, but there would be no other conditions: so everyone of the same age would receive the same citizen’s income, whatever their gender, employment status, family structure, contribution to society, housing costs, or anything else.

  • Automatic

Someone’s citizen’s income would be paid weekly or monthly, automatically.

  • Non-withdrawable

Citizen’s incomes would not be means-tested. If someone’s earnings or wealth increased, then their citizen’s income would not change.

  • Individual

Citizen’s incomes would be paid on an individual basis, and not on the basis of a couple or household.

  • As a right of citizenship

Everybody legally resident in the UK would receive a citizen’s income, subject to a minimum period of legal residency in the UK, and continuing residency for most of the year.

The most encouraging part of this initiative is the proposal to have a trial in Scotland. As a result of the Fife Fairness Commission, public agencies, led by the council, are proposing a trial in parts of Fife. There are lots of reasons for supporting a citizen’s basic income. As the public lost trust in social security and governments have reduced the level of welfare available so a universal income becomes a much more resilient option. Citizen’s income is the best hope for remuneration of currently unpaid domestic work that tends to be undertaken predominantly by women.

There are other strong arguments. A basic income would end the benefits trap, where withdrawal of benefits upon moving into work results in a loss of income. As automation destroys jobs, there will be a deepening crisis of demand in the economy – a citizen’s income offers a way to avoid that downward economic spiral.

But it is an idea that is plagued by misconceptions, misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions. The most significant is that many people presume that a citizen’s income would become a ‘layabout’s charter’, allowing people to avoid work. The evidence, systematically collected from a Canadian trial in the 1970s by Annie Miller, suggests the opposite is true – that a citizen’s income moves more people into work, but simplifying the social security system.

And that is where a trial comes in useful. We now have the ability – through better data systems than ever – to conduct an experiment that would answer these questions. Given real-time and definitive data that demonstrates that a citizen’s income would help people into work, the strongest argument against its wider implementation withers. There is already work on an experimental approach being taken by Demos Helsinki.

Given the best evidence, we can make the case for a citizen’s basic income better than ever before. That is a prize for which we should all be working.

– See more at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/why-citizens-basic-income-experiment-vital#sthash.6MvlJ8HR.dpuf

Why I’m running to be a Holyrood Candidate

The referendum shows we can have a new politics; a politics that is participatory, a politics committed to equality and sustainability – a Green politics. We must use this exciting chance to change our country and our world.

I am a long-standing Green activist and am well known as Rector of Edinburgh University. My day job is as Director of Policy for Common Weal. I have 8 years experience in the voluntary sector, including as Chair of Transition Scotland, as a Policy Officer for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. I am currently working hard in Edinburgh East.as the Scottish Greens national target candidate for Westminster.

We can elect a second (and maybe even third) MSP in Lothian, and I’m seeking nomination for the second place on the list.

If elected as an MSP I will:

  • Oppose austerity and cuts and make the case for social investment, not privatisation like TTIP;
  • Use participatory methods like £eith Decides to ensure party members decide my actions;
  • Campaign on climate change, pollution and species-loss;
  • Fight fracking and support green jobs in renewables;
  • Work to combat inequality, using new powers coming to Scotland to increase social justice.

Having moved from Belfast to Edinburgh in 1998 I’ve always worked for political change as a community activist in East Edinburgh, as a student and as Rector of Edinburgh University, as well as through the Scottish Green Party:

  • Co-founder and board member – PEDAL-Portobello Transition Town;
  • Community Councillor in Portobello;
  • Vice President of Edinburgh University Students’ Association
  • Campaigner to save Castlebrae High School.

I was Rector of Edinburgh University between 2012 and 2015. In this role I :

  • Campaigned for divestment of University funds from fossil fuels and the arms trade;
  • Won a campaign to fix international student fees across the course of a degree;
  • Worked with students to create a 106-unit student housing cooperative;
  • Campaigned to close the gender pay gap;
  • Ensured the University commit to ending zero-hour contracts;
  • Fought against £9000 fees.

The exciting referendum campaign attracted support and I will ensure our Holyrood campaign repeats this, learning from my experience as Convener of the Edinburgh Green Party, Chair of the European Campaign Group in 2009 and 2014 and as a candidate in the 2007 and 2011 Holyrood elections.

Vote Peter McColl #1 for Edinburgh East

I am standing for selection to be the Scottish Green Party’s candidate for Edinburgh East in the 2015 General Election. This election gives us the opportunity to build on what was our best ever result in Scotland in the 2014 European Elections. Whilst we did not get a Green MEP elected, we did reach a range of new voters who showed their support for our message of a just and welcoming Scotland. We must build on this electoral advance, securing our place as the Party that stands up for public services and workers, immigrants and the vulnerable, and for a Scotland that builds peace in the world.

Edinburgh East is the best opportunity for a Scottish Green MP. I am well known in Portobello and Edinburgh University, two important Green areas of the constituency. I am a local candidate who can deliver a big Green vote here.

I will use the campaign to:

  • Fight for action on climate change and biodiversity;
  • Oppose austerity, cuts, and attacks on social security;
  • Build Edinburgh Greens ahead of Holyrood election;
  • Combat inequality.

As a community activist in Portobello I have been:

  • Founding board member – PEDAL-Portobello Transition Town;
  • Community Councillor;
  • Campaigner to keep Castlebrae High School open;
  • Council candidate twice, increasing the vote substantially.

As Rector of Edinburgh University I:

  • Campaigned for Fossil-Free University investments;
  • Won fixed international student fees;
  • Created a 106-unit student housing cooperative;
  • Fought against £9000 fees.

I will be a high-profile candidate with the ability to generate momentum. The exciting European campaign attracted support and I will ensure our Westminster campaign repeats this.

I have a long record in the Green party:

  • Former Edinburgh Convener and longest-serving committee member;
  • 2014 European campaign co-convener;
  • Council, European and Holyrood candidate.

For a local candidate who can deliver the Party’s message to a range of voters, select Peter McColl #1 for Edinburgh East.

Nelson Mandela Day – book collection

What are you doing for your 67 minutes on 18th July, 2013?

Books for Children in South Africa — Can you help?

The United Nations has designated Nelson Mandela’s birthday every 18th July as Nelson Mandela International Day, when people throughout the world are encouraged to give 67 minutes of voluntary service to the community in whatever way they choose, to help change the world for the


On that date this year ACTSA Scotland (Action for Southern Africa) is asking people to use their 67 minutes to sort out and bring us children’s books to be sent to school libraries in Nelson Mandela’s home Province of Eastern Cape, with which Scotland has a particular link.

What are needed are children’s books of all kinds, in English, to encourage reading for fun. This helps to develop fluency in reading English which is vital for all parts of the children’s education. (Their mother tongue is mainly Xhosa, but education is mostly in English).

Story books or factual books, for all ages from pre-school to teenagers, are welcome — Books that will amuse, absorb, inform and catch the imagination of young readers.

They must be in good condition, please — no loose or taped up pages, or badly damaged covers, and factual books should not be too out of date.

Any help with the cost of shipping the books to South Africa would also be very welcome — A container holds 1000 boxes, costing £3.50 each to send.

On 18th July a number of collection points in towns and cities across Scotland will be open to receive donations of books. Contact ACTSA Scotland at the

ACTSA Scotland, 52, St. Enoch Square, Glasgow G1 4AA

John Nelson


(Please don’t bring books to this small unstaffed office — Contact us first

Nelson Mandela International Day. In 2012 ACTSA Scotland, the Scottish Government, the Scottish TUC and Glasgow City Council joined forces to hold the first celebration of Mandela Day in Scotland, including dispatching ACTSA Scotland’s ninth container-load of books from George Square in Glasgow.

For 2013, those same bodies have linked up with others to widen the scope of the Day in Scotland. Voluntary organisations of all kinds are inviting old and new supporters to carry out voluntary work that day, in their own particular fields. The 67 minutes figure is a reflection of Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of service before his final retirement from public life. There is, of course, no compulsion to stop work at the end of 67 minutes — nor to serve only on this day!

ACTSA Scotland’s appeal is for help with gathering books for South Africa, but we are glad to encourage voluntary service of all kinds, through any organisation or none, and with or without any connection with South Africa.

The Book Appeal

ACTSA Scotland has been collecting and sorting books for school libraries in Eastern Cape since 1995, and has sent some 450,000 so far. The donated books are sorted and packed in the basement
of Hillhead Library in Glasgow (thanks to the hospitality of Glasgow Life) and stored there until roughly 1000 boxes are ready to fill a container. As well as donated books, help with sorting and packing is always welcome, as are offers of help with fetching books from donors
across Scotland, or with fundraising for the shipping costs.

ACTSA Scotland co-operates closely with Community HEART, a Manchester-based charity which gathers books from all over the U.K. for all parts of South Africa. It was founded by Denis Goldberg, a colleague of Mandela.

ACTSA Scotland

ACTSA Scotland (Action for Southern Africa) is the successor organisation to the Anti-Apartheid Movement Scottish Committee, which was deeply involved in the campaign for freedom in
South Africa and for the release of Nelson Mandela during his long years in prison for fighting apartheid. We were glad to help bring him to Scotland in 1993.

Since 1994 we have worked for solidarity between Scotland and Southern Africa through creating links of all kinds, of which the Book Appeal is one practical example. We have a particular connection with Eastern Cape.

Sponsored walks in Eastern Cape in support of community organisations there, selling crafts on a small scale from community producers in Southern Africa, campaigning for democracy in Swaziland and Zimbabwe and for justice for South African miners with silicosis, and meetings and
lectures on where South Africa has come from, are all part of ACTSA Scotland’s work.

The following places have kindly agreed to accept donations of children’s books for ACTSA Scotland on Mandela Day – Thursday, 18th July.

Five are trade union offices arranged for us through the STUC and the sixth is the office of an ACTSA supporter, and we are grateful to all involved. You will see that there are many towns plus Aberdeen city which aren’t covered, and we would welcome offers of further collection points.

Kimberley Buildings,
38 Whitehall Street

35 Young Street North Lane

333 Woodlands Road
G3 6NG

UNISON Highland Area Resource Centre
53 Shore Street,

9 The Foregate

Independent Financial Advice Centre (Glasgow) Ltd.,
67, Causeyside Street,

Edinburgh World Justice Festival

One of my favourite memories of Edinburgh is the sea of people dressed white on the Make Poverty History protest in 2005 marching through Edinburgh. It’s one of my favourite memories because it was about something positive – making the world a better place. Normally when we march we are trying to stop overseas wars or cuts to vital public services. On this occasion we marched with the hope of creating a better world.

That event inspired some people in Edinburgh to continue the focus on making the world a better place. Since then, they’ve organised the Edinburgh World Justice Festival to promote these issues.

This year’s festival has a whole range of events that will be of interest to anyone who wants to know how we can change the world.

Among the highlights for me will be the Forceswatch event on the 11th October. They’re looking at what can be done to stop military recruitment in schools. Councillor Maggie Chapman, who is a long-time advocate of ending military recruitment in Edinburgh’s schools will be speaking.

You can see the full programme here.

Why Scotland’s 2012 Local Government Elections are an opportunity to radicalise Government

The notion that government could be used to transform the power structures of society to the advantage of workers was at the heart of much twentieth century radical thought. And the success of this notion is the reason why neoliberalism has a profound attack on government at its core. Many radicals reject this attack. That is why people defend the welfare state, the NHS and state schooling. But there is one area where radicals have joined the attack on government. And this is in their attitude over the past 20 years to local government.

There is very little support for local government as a way of transforming power structures to the advantage of workers amongst radicals. At best radicals have suggested that local government should be retained as a way of delivering services. It may be that the concerns of local administration are deemed to trifling for people with radical aims, or it may be that radicals have accepted the neoliberal analysis because there are seemingly more important fights to have. Who wants to advocate visionary local authorities as a solution, when you can proclaim your love for the NHS?

But this retreat by radicals merely strengthens the neoliberal attack on government. It’s vital that we not only defend the ability of government to transform economic relations at local level; it’s vital that we seize the opportunities local government gives us to remake the political economy of Scotland. We need to bring new and exciting ideas to local government. It must be a front in the battle to reclaim our lives from the reckless imposition of neoliberalism by the Westminster government. It’s too important to be a sideshow to constitutional debates. It must be at the heart of our agenda for 2012.

The 2012 Local Elections are a vital turning point for Scotland. You’d not know that to watch the Scottish media, or the approach being taken by the major political parties. The elections offer the chance to fundamentally reconfigure Scotland’s politics. But the vision that could transform our cities and create a new municipalism is almost totally missing.

Local Government in Britain helped to create the modern state. Our cities were made possible by civic government building very substantial infrastructure and delivering huge increases in the quality of life. If you go to Glasgow, Birmingham, or my own home town of Belfast, the headquarters of the Local Authority can lay claim to being the finest building in the city. These marble palaces reflected the importance of local government, and the reforming zeal of the corporations responsible for their construction.

In the 1980s a new municipal left emerged that was responsible for the huge strides in rights for women, LGBTIQ, black and minority ethnic groups. Where central government was mired in the institutional prejudice of the mid-twentieth century local government played a key role in breaking that hegemony. Many local authorities were also at the forefront of resistance to the worst excesses of the Thatcherite class war. So it made sense for Thatcher to clip their wings, to cap their rates and to impose a Poll Tax intended to curtail their spending power. She even deployed Section 28 to prevent Local Authorities using their say over education to break down homophobia.

A generation of skilled Labour Party politicians including Ken Livingstone, David Blunkett and John McDonnell came through this route as the prospect of ministerial office faded under Thatcher.

Since then Local Government has slumped to being an almost destitute poor relation of central government. It is dogged by a paralysing managerialism that has reduced local authorities to bodies that merely deliver services, but do not govern. But the powers exist in Scotland for Local Government to again take a leading role in the transformation of our lives. What is needed is a big vision, exciting ideas and a new calibre of Councillor.

But the reality is that since the Concordat in 2007 Local Government has had power unprecedented since Thatcher started to undermine local government in the 1980s. The agreement between Finance Secretary John Swinney and the umbrella organisation for Local Government in Scotland CoSLA had a significance that has rarely been understood.

As the new Scottish Parliament took shape in the early years of this century it very often defined itself against Local Government. It’s clear that, rather than seeking more power from Westminster, MSPs sought to ‘make local government work’. The main instrument in this strategy was the ring fence. More and more money was released to local authorities in pots that had to be dedicated to a purpose determined by ministers. Councillors were deemed unable or unfit to make strategic decisions, and were left only to decide on delivery.

Finally, Jack McConnell used the second Partnership Agreement with the Liberal Democrats in 2003 to push through a package of proportional representation for local government alongside remuneration packages to encourage long-serving Councillors to step aside. This meant that a very large number of new Councillors were elected and areas that had been run by Labour administrations for decades were suddenly in no overall control.

Then, in return for a three-year freeze on Council Tax Local Authorities were granted freedom from ring fencing in November 2007. They could choose their own priorities, could decide to spend money as they wished and should have been in a position to make big strategic decisions.

But what happened instead was more of the same. Local Authorities continued to do what they’d done before, they were no more strategic; it seemed that they could no longer act with the vigour of their 19th Century forebears, or even the political nous of their 1980s predecessors.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly the Councillors elected in 2007 were elected to administer central government policy, not to make decisions for themselves. It will take some time before the calibre of candidates we need will return to leadership positions – and certainly those elected before such a profound change in the powers of local government were very unlikely to be equipped to handle this level of power.

As Councils became less about local government and more about local delivery of services, so their decision-making became more driven by officials and less driven by politicians. The result is that politicians who want to make decisions don’t get involved in local government.

The focus on local service delivery also stifles those with a broader politics. Under the current system, if you are interested mainly in campaigning to save your local park then you might want to be a Councillor; if you’re interested in human rights, developing a new economy or changing the world, then you won’t want to be a Councillor. But the reality is not only that local government can help to change the world it is also that people who are interested in changing the world often have a better understanding of how a city or area could be better run.

Many of those who did most to make local government effective in the 1980s were politicised by their opposition to nuclear weapons, their desire for equality for women or the LGBTIQ community. Such concerns are much less common in current local government. We must find ways to ensure that these concerns and issues that have become more important are on the agenda of local government.

At a time when Scotland is paying serious attention to constitutional questions, the question of how our communities govern themselves should be ready for consideration. And Local Government should be at the heart of this.

So, what is to be done?

We need a vision for the future. The Transition movement is one of the most exciting movements of the past ten years. Transition takes climate change and the inevitable end of cheap fossil fuels as an opportunity to develop stronger communities. At the heart of this is a 20 or 25 year plan to move communities away from fossil fuel dependence. The plan is drawn up by the community and encompasses the full range of services that each area requires.

Using concepts like this to focus on what our communities should look like will re-engage people with Local Government. Each area, ward, community council area and Local Authority area should be facilitated to make a 25 year plan setting out how the people want the area to develop.

This will move Local Authorities away from the short-sightedness that necessarily accompanies day-to-day service delivery. The energy from bringing people together to envision the future of the communities in which they live may even allow day to day services to be much better delivered.

We need better Councillors. We’re only likely to get once chance in the next five years to improve the quality of Councillors. It’s really very important that we get the best Councillors at this election. We need more Councillors with real vision for our cities and communities. Where at present many Councillors are either concerned with very local problems, or led by officials, what is needed are people who can develop and articulate ideas that can transform our communities. In some ways this is a pretty apolitical requirement. But what is important is that our elected representatives are able to work with their communities and lead their communities. The very act of providing participatory leadership is itself an act of resistence to the continued attacks on those without access to personal wealth.

We must demand more of local authorities. It’s really important that we begin to expect more of local authorities. These are bodies run by highly paid and professional officials. They should be capable of delivering high quality services, and more importantly, appropriate community leadership. They are every bit as important as the governments in Westminster and Holyrood. Radicals have seriously overlooked the possibilities that Local Government offers for change. The 2012 elections offer the opportunity to reverse that oversight.

There is an exciting vision for Local Government. It is that it should focus much more on enabling communities to decide on and deliver services. Social media creates the opportunity to deliver more effective local services by allowing much gathering and sharing of information. Where services for much of the twentieth century were provided on the basis of uniform provision, we can use social media and new technology to deliver personalised services.

Local government has as much of a role to play in delivering a better world as national governments do. Failure to properly contest this year’s elections and continued managerialism in local government does nothing to promote a radical agenda for a better world. We must recapture local government as a way of resisting neoliberalism and spreading democracy. Let’s make the 2012 Local Elections in Scotland the beginning of a revival for local government.