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On Wednesday, 28th October, Holyrood and the RSA held their online conference, “Scotland: The Recovery”. Chaired by WEAll Scotland trustee Sarah Deas, the event provided an opportunity for the public, private, and third sectors to gather and discuss how Scotland can move forward and build a post-pandemic society that works for everyone.

After initial remarks from Sarah, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister, opened the event by sharing her aspirations for a wellbeing economy. Acknowledging that economic policy should be “a means, not an end”, the First Minister called for the people of Scotland to work together to deliver an economy that places “wellbeing alongside wealth”—not just as an afterthought, but as a vital part of Scotland’s post-pandemic economy.

Also speaking by video address was Rt. Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK Government. The Minister also emphasised his commitment for a green recovery.

In other words, now is the moment for a wellbeing economy.

Throughout the day, there were numerous discussions, panels, and guest speakers (including WEAll’s Advocacy and Influencing Lead, Katherine Trebeck). The dominant theme was everyone’s shared commitment to taking wellbeing economy ideas and discussing how best to turn them into permanent, lasting reforms.

Sarah explained the shared vision of a wellbeing economy in her opening remarks:

“With nations across the world taking unprecedented steps to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for the global economy and society is bleak, with many challenges ahead. It’s also widely acknowledged that climate change poses a major threat, placing further crises on the horizon. So, as we seek to build back better, we must do so in a manner that builds resilience and addresses what’s not working in the current economic paradigm.

“It requires us to ask fundamental questions and explore ‘radical’ solutions. How do we design a recovery that doesn’t embed inequality? How do we move to a regenerative economy, rather than one that is ecologically destructive?

How do we design a recovery that doesn’t embed inequality? How do we move to a regenerative economy, rather than one that is ecologically destructive?

“In other words, how do we build a ‘wellbeing economy’, transforming our economic system so that it delivers social justice on a healthy planet—the first time round.

“This requires us to consider questions like, what kind of growth? And for whom? Simply adding ‘inclusive’ and ‘sustainable’ modifiers to growth does not answer either of these vital questions.

What kind of growth? And for whom? Simply adding ‘inclusive’ and ‘sustainable’ modifiers to growth does not answer either of these vital questions.

“It’s recognised that greater emphasis needs to be placed on the root causes of societal problems—leading to ‘upstream’ preventative measures—rather than focusing mainly on ‘downstream’ measures, which involve cleaning up and redistributing after the fact. Whilst the latter are also important in the short term, we won’t escape the downward spiral by patching up after the event. Instead, we need upstream systems change.

“As a founding member of the WEGo partnership, alongside Iceland and New Zealand, Scotland is already at the forefront of global efforts to build a new, inclusive economy focused on societal and environmental wellbeing. 

“So how do we do it? Today’s Holyrood event, in partnership with the RSA, brings together policymakers and thought leaders to explore that key question.”

As the conference came to an end, the closing keynote came from Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, The Scottish Government. She spoke to Holyrood back in August about Scotland’s desire “to create a strong, resilient wellbeing economy”, and the need is just as prevalent today.

There’s still lots of work to do, but it truly is promising to see the wave of support for economic systems change that benefits everyone—including the key workers on whom we’ve relied so greatly this year.

Now is the moment to make it happen.

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