There is much debate presently in Europe about the transition towards a sustainable wellbeing economy that responds to the need for greater resilience, equity, ecological sustainability and societal wellbeing to better protect Europe’s citizens against economic, social and political threats.
Nowhere is that debate more advanced than in Scotland where the Government under the political leadership of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has committed to building a wellbeing economy. As one of the founding members of the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership (WEGo), which includes Iceland and New Zealand as well as Finland and Wales, Scotland is pioneering the advancement of a wellbeing economy policy approach in Europe and beyond, inspiring others to follow its lead.
There is much the EU and the rest of the world can learn from the experiences of “early adopters” such as Scotland who recognise the need to fundamentally shift the emphasis of public policy away from GDP growth as the overriding metric of societal welfare to one that prioritises the wellbeing of people and planet.
Crucially, this involves developing and implementing policies and indicators that capture broader wellbeing and attach greater value to social and environmental outcomes. For example, important first steps have been taken by Scotland via the embedding of wellbeing at the heart of Scotland’s National Performance Framework aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals; the publication of a Wellbeing Economy Monitor to assess Scotland’s progress; the work of the Just Transition Commission to ensure the delivery of a socially just transition to a net zero society; a fair work agenda; purposeful business models; the creation of citizen assemblies, and actions to support the development of a circular economy.
Of particular interest are the next steps with plans by the Scottish Government to bring forward a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill that could lead to the placing of duties on public bodies and local government to take account of the impact of their decisions on wellbeing and sustainable development in Scotland and internationally, and the creation of a future generations Commissioner, similar to the one already in place in Wales. And its forthcoming Community Wealth Building Bill, the first of its kind in the world, aims to ensure Scotland’s economic system builds wealth and prosperity for all.
These developments – many of which are taking place across the WEGo countries – represent the kind of bold leadership Europe and the rest of the world urgently needs to effect the transformational change essential to the long-term wellbeing of current and future generations.
At the EU level, there is growing interest in the adoption of new indicators to growth and in following the great leadership of Scotland and the other WEGo countries by adopting new economic models that foster wellbeing. On May 15-17, 2023 the European Parliament is hosting a major multi-stakeholder Beyond Growth conference in Brussels aimed at exploring and co-creating what are the pathways towards sustainable prosperity in the EU, and how to shift the political discourse towards future-oriented economic policy-making and the benefits of beyond GDP growth indicators for a wellbeing European economy. This is a cross party initiative of MEPs bringing together high-level academics, experts, policymakers, social partners, trade unions, civil society, as well as MEPs, European Commissioners and the Presidents of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
We urge the EU to use this opportunity to take meaningful steps to address the urgent societal and planetary challenges we face and very much hope that Scotland will engage in the EU deliberations around new economic models like the wellbeing economy model and share its rich knowledge as one of the first wellbeing economies.
The drive for ever-increasing unsustainable GDP economic growth is imposing enormous costs on our people and planet. The time has arrived for a new approach that prioritises collective wellbeing over personal gain. This will require courage from our political leaders.
It is more important than ever that the WEGo countries stay the course through these challenging times. And now more than ever we need to shine a light on and support the bold efforts of the WEGo countries like Scotland that have already begun the transition towards wellbeing economies. In applying new wellbeing economic policy approaches, the WEGo countries are showing Europe and the rest of the world that such a shift is possible and that this is not a step into the unknown. We hope the EU – individually and collectively – will follow the lead of Scotland and the other WEGo countries and that Scotland will continue to pursue its progressive economic policies to enhance the lives and livelihoods of each Scottish citizen.