Giving Substance to the Wellbeing Economy

Overview —

A Discussion Paper on the need for the Scottish Government’s approach towards a Wellbeing Economy to move beyond soundbites and produce a plan that has the substance to deliver on its promises.


Kate Forbes
Ivan McKee
Michelle Thomson

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Note from the authors

As a group of backbench SNP parliamentarians we recently indicated our intention to spend time considering key policy areas and publishing papers on matters of importance to Scotland. We welcome the First Minister’s positive response to constructive suggestions on policy. This paper is the first in a series, unpacking key issues. It is neither comprehensive nor complete, and aims to open a debate around the given subject. In that context we welcome any input.


This coming week the Scottish Government will launch its mini Programme for Government. It is to be welcomed that the first debates focus on Poverty and the ‘Wellbeing’ economy. This concept isn’t new, wellbeing has been at the heart of the SNP’s economic narrative for many years. The Scottish Government has been a member of the Wellbeing Economy Government group (WEGo) along with New Zealand, Finland, Canada and others since 2017. The concept of inclusive growth, the precursor to the Wellbeing Economy narrative, was a central plank of the Scottish Government’s 2015 economic strategy.

As a narrative, and an opportunity to project Scotland’s image on the world stage, it ran right through the Sturgeon years.

So what exactly is the Wellbeing Economy? How different, or similar, is it to traditional economic approaches? How much substance, as opposed to ‘feel good’ spin, underpins it ? And is it the answer to tackling the fundamental issues affecting people today – chief amongst them the poverty that blights so many of our families and communities – something we, as elected MSPs, see in our urban and rural communities every day?

The debate around the Wellbeing Economy is often reduced to a simple narrative which is more slogan than analysis; ‘to grow or not to grow?’. However, like most things in economics, delivering real change requires a deeper understanding of how complex factors interrelate to each other, and what specifically needs to be done to tackle the problems we seek to fix.

Key Points

― In order to deliver a “Wellbeing Economy” it is necessary to be able to measure what “success” looks like. Recent commitments from the Scottish Government to develop a Wellbeing Economy Monitor are laudable, though more effort is required to create a monitor that allows for effective international comparison.

― Fundamental to the idea of a Wellbeing Economy is the principle that an economy should deliver for people and planet, not merely grow faster and forever.

― A Wellbeing Economy recognises the value of small local businesses and the role they play in communities and local economies – Scotland must work to give competitive advantage to these businesses rather than simply importing lower quality products – especially if such products would fail to meet domestic environmental, Fair Work or other regulations.

― The UK’s approach to government has for many years been a laissex faire approach that believes that government should “get out of the way” of the economy. A Wellbeing approach is the opposite. Governments can and must lead the way, set the example to follow and use tools such as its powers over public procurement, regulation and standards to define and drive forward a Wellbeing Economy.

― Whilst we recognise that Scotland could do much more with the full powers of independence, the Scottish Government can, and should, do more with the powers we currently have to steer the economy towards a Wellbeing approach.

― Everyone has a vested interest in tackling poverty, protecting the environment and building strong and healthy communities and businesses. A government that is serious about delivering a real Wellbeing Economy understands that and acts accordingly, getting beyond the soundbites.

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