THE Scottish Government’s 2021-22 Programme for Government confirmed plans to introduce legislation on community wealth building during this Parliamentary session. Consultation took place at the start of this year, and legislation is likely to be introduced next year.
We sat down with Neil McInroy, Global Lead for Community Wealth Building for The Democracy Collaborative and Chair of EDAS, to find out more about one of the Scottish government’s key economic ideas.
Neil is also chairing an independent review into growing inclusive ownership and economic democracy in Scotland, reporting in March 2024.
What is the elevator pitch for community wealth building?
The key thing for me is, how do we bring that economy back home? And community wealth building is a key to that.
Why is the concept of wealth so important?
Wealth is the defining feature of the economy. Who has it? Where does it go? And how do more people get their hands on it? Community wealth building says let’s repatriate some of that wealth. Let’s start making sure that wealth truly works for our people and communities.
What else besides CWB supports this idea?
There’s a whole range of aligned sister movements, if you like, which includes the wellbeing economy, things like new municipalism, which in a sense is saying, let’s build our cities and our places in ways that truly work for us.
And what about the community bit?
It is where the grassroots communities have more of a say in the actual activity that takes place in that locality.
Why is this important now?
As I noted earlier, there’s a whole range of aligned progressive movements. And the moment we are in history and the crisis we’re in, all those aligned progressive movements need to get their act together and start working more effectively together.
But we’re struggling because the progressive movements are not aligning themselves effectively enough.
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And in a sense, there are some who don’t want us to align. The forces of capital maybe don’t want us to align because they want to keep things the way they are. To keep the plutocrats and the wealthy and to retain the situation as it is.
The community wealth building concept was born in the US. It was the Democracy Collaborative that created it. So, is it applicable to Scotland and the rest of the UK?
There’s no doubt about it. Broadly, the United Kingdom has allowed the penetration of capital. and shareholder dividends quite deeply into much of its economic activity, including its public services.
Is Scotland a good test bed for CWB ideas?
I do believe, working in many different places, there is a cooperative spirit in Scotland. There is the Jock Thamson’s Bairns thing, isn’t there? We’re all in this together.
And I think there is, in our traditions, that natural collaborative ethos. I think we could do a lot more with it. And co-ops are a way, perhaps, for that to happen. There’s the wellbeing economy agenda in Scotland, which community wealth building is a practical means of delivering it.
And how is this progressing in Scotland?
It is growing in significance. We’ve got The National Strategy of Economic Transformation, and the wellbeing economy figures highly in that. The independent consultation analysis report of the community wealth building legislation was released in October and is important for people to read it to get a deeper understanding of CWB.
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So, there are receptive soil conditions, a receptive context here for progressive economics in Scotland. But we need to prove and make the case. I’m a big fan of showing and telling and getting things done. We can talk and talk and talk, but if you could say, look how that’s changed somebody’s life, by doing it differently. That’s the best thing you can do.
Is the Scottish government approach replicated across the UK?
The United Kingdom is breaking up by the forces of lots of different things. The United Kingdom is increasingly anachronistic, right, to the context of our lives. Now, it’s not just politics. There are other economic things going on and other social and cultural factors.
So, you have to make a decision whether that anachronism can be brought to be made relevant, right? And how much effort it would take to make it relevant as a United Kingdom. And then if you think, well, I don’t think it can. I think it would take too much effort to make it irrelevant, then you accept its irrelevance, and you move to something that’s better.
And so from an economic point of view at this point in time, the more devolution, the more local control, the more control that we have as a people over the means of production and the fiscal dimensions of that, then the better.
Neil has helped us develop a community wealth-building aspect for our Festival of Economics in Dundee in March. We are using only community spaces and employing local services and staff where possible.
The profits from the event will be used to start an events Social Enterprise in the city. We are also offering some of our sessions for free to local community organisations, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations.
Community wealth building is also one of the key themes that will run throughout the three-day conference. More information and tickets are available HERE.