In December, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on its proposed Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill and is seeking views on it until 14 February 2024.
This consultation presents a key moment in Scotland's transition to a Wellbeing Economy and shifts the discussion to the politics of delivery and implementation.
Some of the governing architecture already exists in Scotland, reflecting the government's ambitions and commitment to delivering a Wellbeing Economy. Such as, the National Outcomes set in the National Performance Framework, the publication of a Wellbeing Economy Monitor to assess progress, and a dedicated Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy.
However, progress towards a Wellbeing Economy is currently hampered by a disjointed landscape, the absence of clear definitions, different competing frameworks, and the lack of clarity.
The Bill presents a key opportunity to bring all the different elements into play in a way that is joined up, coordinated and enshrined in law by creating a wellbeing and sustainable development framework. Such a framework would make sustainable development and wellbeing the unequivocal drivers of policy making in Scotland. It would ensure policy coherence and alignment around their principles and goals and enable the setting of a coordinated policy direction and long-term priorities. It would drive the shifts in policy and practice urgently required to create a Wellbeing Economy in Scotland.
It's why the proposed Bill is so important.
Without clear and shared goals, alongside a joined up policy process, we will not be able to create the transformational and long-term change urgently needed. We have the opportunity to address the root causes of the multiple social and environmental challenges our societies face, from intensifying climate and nature crises, cost of living crisis to rising levels of poverty.
Right now we have widening inequalities and global injustices that are impacting the wellbeing of current and future generations and the planet. We must protect people, and their communities, against constant economic, social and political threats. It is vital that we move out of this current cycle of crises that are stretching our social fabric to breaking point.
The Bill is a hugely important opportunity because it would enable the Scottish Government to:
Create a clear and shared narrative of progress for Scotland. An overarching structure for decision-making and accountability. In turn, enabling public bodies and other organisations to work together collaboratively and coherently toward that narrative.
Embed wellbeing and sustainable development ways of working at the heart of decision-making in Scotland, and ensure a more coherent approach to domestic and international policy for sustainable development. So that all actions and decisions, of government and public bodies, contribute to improving the wellbeing of all generations and the planet.
Strengthen the National Performance Framework to make it Scotland’s national Wellbeing Framework.
Improve and strengthen the delivery of the National Outcomes (which are Scotland’s delivery mechanism for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals), in the new national Wellbeing Framework. Transforming how they are being used, taken account of, and reported on, by the Scottish Government and public bodies. Ensuring they are better linked to policy, spending decisions and the Scottish budget.
Support a shift to more long-term and preventative policymaking by bringing a future generations lens into the policy process and creating an independent Future Generations Commissioner.
The proposed role of a Future Generations Commissioner presents an important opportunity to fill some gaps in the accountability of Scottish decision making. It would create a guardian and champion of the wellbeing and sustainable development agenda and give a much-needed voice to future generations.
The consultation provides an opportunity to consider what that role could look like and how it could work. The Future Generations Commissioner would play a central role in advising and supporting public bodies, and other organisations, to work towards their wellbeing and sustainable development goals across their policy remits. Monitoring progress, scrutinising policies and budgets to ensure they are in service of the wellbeing of people and planet.
They would be instrumental in driving the transformational change we urgently need, providing visibility and much needed accountability. As Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe suggests, they would take a ‘helicopter view’ and ensure that decision making in Scotland is as joined up as it can be.
Scotland’s debate is timely. Similar discussions are already underway at the EU and international level. There is growing interest, among policymakers and key stakeholders, in how to apply wellbeing policy frameworks and indicators as they seek to embed long-term, sustainable development and future generations thinking into policy making.
The UN intends to appoint a Special Envoy for Future Generations. It is committed to adopting a Declaration on Future Generations, annexed to what is called a Pact for the Future, that is set to be debated and agreed at its special Summit of the Future later this year. In Brussels there are also calls for the creation of a Future Generations Commissioner in the next European Commission.
Scotland is well placed to be at the forefront of these global discussions. As one of the leading governments in the international network of the Wellbeing Economy Governments. There is a unique opportunity for Scotland to become a genuine leader on wellbeing and sustainable development. To build on the success of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act passed in Wales in 2015 and go further in developing ambitious world leading legislation.
Aileen McLeod, Interim Director, Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland