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


Has austerity ended? 

Today’s budget really crystallised something for me. Since 2008 there has been an incessant demand for cuts. This was accepted across the media and leadership of most political parties. 

The argument went that the UK’s national debt was too high and that cuts would allow us to pay off this debt. Both those assumptions were wrong. The national debt wasn’t too high. And cuts would never help us pay debt off. 

Parties and politicians who made the argument that this was wrong were laughed out and shouted down. Journalists and economists (even those with Nobel prizes) who made this argument were marginalised. There was to be no space for alternatives to austerity. 

The reality has been that cuts removed demand from the economy, reducing tax take and actually increasing debt. 

People have starved to death because of cuts to social security. Our world-leading renewables industry has lost almost all support. Jobs have been destroyed and lives ruined. 

Then Brexit came and put intolerable strain on this economic-political settlement. 

And it’s this point that has crystallised for me today. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond had abandoned the target date to get the economy into surplus. Yet those who silenced the politicians, parties, journalists and economists who objected to austerity are themselves now strangely silent. 

What struck me is that it is now entirely clear that they never believed in austerity for the reasons they said they did. It was never about debt or deficit. It was always a tool to discipline the poor. And now there’s a much better tool. Which is the full power to dismantle the social rights associated with, and protected by, European structures. 

Those rights were, of course, always limited and came with deeply undesirable regulations appearing to require privatisation and tendering of services. Procurement is a nightmare not helped by European regulation. 
But nevertheless the European institutions were perceived, especially by elites, as a major hurdle to dismantling protection for workers and the poor. 

It’s infuriating that the stick used to beat the social democratic consensus has been dropped so rapidly and with so little contrition from those who both used it so vigorously and who have now so swiftly moved on. 

And are we now seeing a move from one strategy to another? From the use of austerity to create the imperative to shrink the state to another strategy that uses Brexit as the pretext for attacks on workers? And how do we respond to that? 

The Three Words


Since the result on Tuesday I’ve had this going round and round in my head. It’s by Hamish Henderson, and I found it in Tim Neat’s superb biography of the poet and radical. Hamish was in Germany arranging the transport to safety of Jewish children right up to the outbreak of war. Someone who fought fascism through Africa and Europe in the 1940s, and who was a leading figure in the anti-Apartheid movement.

His words and his actions should be with us now:

“The Three Words

Love: Love is the only God that I believe in. The books of the Holy Bible never say but one time just exactly what love is, and in those three little words it pours out a hundred million college educations, and says, God is love.

And that is the only real definitive answer to the ten thousand wild queries and questions that I my own self tossed at my bible — that is the only real sensible easy honest warm plain quick and clear answer I found — when I was too ready to throw so-called cowardly thieving poisonous religion out of my back door. It was those three words that made not only religion but also several other sorts of superstitious fears and hatreds in me meet a very quick death.

God is love. God is really love. Love casts out hate. Love gets rid of all fears. Love washes all clean. Love forgives all debts. Love forgets all mistakes. Love overcomes all errors, and excuses and pardons and understands the reason why the mistake, the error, the stumble was made. Love heals all. Love operates faster and surer than time or space or both.

Love does not command you, order you, dictate to you. Love asks rather for you to tell its forces what to do, and where to go, and how to build up your planet here by the blueprint plan of your heart’s desire. Love can’t operate on your behalf as long as your own sickly fear will not permit love to operate on your behalf.

Your love commands must ever be just exactly the direct opposite of war’s crazy baseless hatreds, peace, peace, and sweet peace must be the song on your tongue tip.

— Peace is love. Love is peace. —

Your love command must for all eternity be your peace command.”

Why I’m standing with Sarah Beattie-Smith to be ECC Convener

We are standing together to be Co-Conveners of this committee because we believe we have the skills, experience and vision to deliver our best ever election result next year.

The Holyrood election is the launch pad for Green success over the next 10 years. It gives us the opportunity to win Councillors across Scotland in 2017 and an MEP in 2019. But more than that; it will give us the opportunity to make the case for:

• A more democratic Scotland

• A Scotland with equality at its heart

• Global and local action to tackle climate change and end poverty

We are experienced campaigners, having both been

• Westminster Candidates,

• Members of ECC

• Branch co-conveners.

This gives us the perfect mix of experience to deliver a strong campaign.

We’ve worked together on numerous campaigns both for the party and in our professional lives. We already make a great team with each of us playing to our strengths, whether strategy and messaging or practical support for branches.  We want to build on that to create an inclusive and welcoming Elections and Campaigns Committee in this crucial year.

Our party needs a campaign that every member can be a part of. We commit to drawing on expertise from across the party and making this our most inclusive campaign yet.

We promise to…

  1. Clearly communicate on strategy with branches and members so we’re all on the same page
  2. Work closely with the manifesto team to turn Green ideas into our strongest campaign yet
  3. Equip branches and members with the tools they need to campaign in their communities, including canvassing and data capture
  4. Make sure branches and regional boards know what they can expect from the party and what they can contribute, whether on fundraising, messaging or skills
  5. Involve members by crowdsourcing ideas, building teams and being available to all

Over the past 3 years the Scottish Green Party has put social and environmental justice at the heart of Scotland’s political culture. Our party has become a central part of the progressive movement. The 2016 election offers us a fantastic opportunity to put our Green vision at the heart of Parliamentary politics. We can give voice to those who want to see a social security system worthy of the name, who want real power for all our communities, and who don’t want big businesses to be given the chance to frack under their homes.

To do that we need to be true to our Green values. That means being thoughtful, cooperative and idealistic. It means emphasising that politics can make a real difference to people’s lives. It means going beyond partisanship to make the vital changes we need in society.

We pledge to support members and local parties to deliver a better campaign than ever before. We promise to harness the opportunities our larger membership gives us to make a difference. That means better online campaigning, more resources for branches to run ground campaigns and an approach that builds teams who can help us get seats in Council Chambers across Scotland in 2017.

We need to seize this opportunity to change our politics and our economy.

We need to be bold.

Vote Beattie-Smith/McColl #1

Rector’s Charter

While I was Rector’s Assessor to Mark Ballard, the then Rectors of Scottish Universities drew up a charter for Rectors. This covers what a Rector should do, what the commitment should be and how a Rector should behave.

Since Higher Education Governance is again a live topic, I thought it would be useful to post the Charter Rectors charter (.docx file) for people to see, and maybe even use.

Rector’s Charter

I (name of candidate) confirm my commitment, if elected as rector, to:

– give a guaranteed minimum of time to the university (an average of 2 days a month during the academic year);

– get to know the university in the round – students, academic, non academic, estate;

– be available to meet/liaise with students in societies, residences and academic settings;

– hold regular surgeries as opportunities for direct consultation (preferably at least one monthly);

– attend all Court meetings;

– recognise that as Rector I have the right to preside over Court meetings;

– to chair impartially and allow all voices to be fairly heard;

– ensure student views not overlooked, in and out of Court;

– use the right to attend all Court sub-committee meetings when I see it as appropriate;

– use my best offices in the service of good governance – open, fair, accountable;

– appoint an assessor;

– liaise with rectors of other Universities in twice yearly meetings of the Rectors’ Group to address shared issues;

– act as advocate for the universities with rectorships;

– be accessible to the SRC and sabbaticals as required;

– promote and act as advocate for the role of rector to the student body itself.


– promote and act as advocate for the role of rector to the student body itself.


Time for Labour to stop talking about Scotland?

The most overrated underrated politician of my lifetime is Alastair Darling. Not content with being responsible for conceding the need for austerity to George Osborne in 2008, he has since been the face of Tory front organisation Better Together. Now he’s chosen to enter the debate engineered by the Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland (1995-97) Michael Forsyth and the Conservative leadership. It’s the hallmark of the man that Darling can’t see a political play even as he’s blundering around within it. While Labour were desperately trying to win the referendum to protect their 40 Scottish MPs seats in Westminster, the Conservatives were plotting the downfall of the Labour Party.
At 7am on the 19th September, with Scottish oil secured for the UK Government, David Cameron stabbed his erstwhile Better Together comrades in the back by demanding English Votes on English Matters. This was calculated to set up a dynamic where Labour were seen in England to argue that Scottish MPs should vote on things that don’t affect their constituents, while the notion that they were only in favour of the union to save MPs’ jobs left them looking self-interested in Scotland. Labour have ended up in a nightmarish position: they look like the ‘party of Scotland’ in England, and the party of Westminster in Scotland.
Over the past few weeks, as the Tories have discovered that the electorate are underwhelmed with their economic performance they have sought a new campaign strategy. That strategy is to crush Labour between the millstone of English grievance at the attention paid to Scotland and the grindstone of a newly invigorated SNP.
To give the story legs, the Conservative leadership have deployed an old public relations trick – extending the story by giving it a twist. They contrived an argument about whether it’s a good idea to talk about this. On one side Michael Forsyth saying that it’s a bad idea, on the other David Cameron, William Hague and John Major saying it’s very important. The aim is to reinforce the message by creating a debate about whether Labour should be allowed to do a deal with the SNP.
Into this fray (onto the Today Programme) the man of the hour in every Labour disaster, Alastair Darling strides. By turns defensive, terse and aggressive, Darling came perilously close to ruling out a Labour administration supported by the SNP. He certainly won’t have left listeners any clearer as to why Labour have a strong message about 1,000 more nurses – which is Labour’s lead story for today. Instead he got hot and bothered about how bad the SNP is, and played right into the Conservatives’ hands. Labour need to stop talking about Scotland, and get back onto the territory where they’ve been successful: pointing to the terrible mess the Conservatives have made these last 5 years.

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.