THE language of a “wellbeing economy” is being used as a “fashionable label” by Scottish politicians to promote the same policies as always, according to a new report.

Penned by Professor Iain Black and published by the Common Weal think tank, the new paper argues that “the language of wellbeing is appropriated by design (or otherwise) to justify or reinvent existing neoliberal economic visions”.

Black argues that, in a true wellbeing economy (WBE), measures like GDP growth are “explicitly recognised as being subservient to the planet and society’s needs”.

He says that Scottish politicians – including Kate Forbes, Ivan McKee and Michelle Thomson in their recent discussion paper Giving Substance to the Wellbeing Economy, and First Minister Humza Yousaf in the 2023 Programme for Government – have not grappled with the transformation that a WBE entails.

READ MORE: Prof Iain Black: Talk of 'wellbeing economy' masks business-as-usual from politicians

Black said there was “much to welcome” in some of Scotland’s most senior politicians engaging with the idea of a WBE, which has even seen the creation of a Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, a role held by close Yousaf ally Neil Gray.

But the University of Strathclyde Business School professor writes: “Their vision and desired outcomes explicitly represent a business-as-usual approach: grow the economy, tax it, and then redistribute, with the needs of the economy taking pre-eminence.”

Black argues that Forbes’s paper – which was also published by Common Weal – misinterprets a WBE as “a business-as-usual tax and spend economy seeking to produce wellbeing”.

He says that using a WBE as a “fashionable label” for the standard economic model can be described as wellwashing – while expecting that same model to suddenly deliver better wellbeing outcomes is “wellwishing”.

The National:

Writing for The National on the launch of his report, the professor (above) argues that a WBE would be based around a completely different set of goals to our current economy, which focuses on measurements such as GDP growth.

Black writes: “Goals like GDP matter because all the infrastructure, institutions, flows of information, materials and processes within a system act to achieve them. By changing the goal, all these elements move towards achieving something new.”

Scotonomics founder William Thomson said the report shows that the Scottish Government need to be honest about the fact that it simply does not have the powers required to transform the economy into a WBE.

READ MORE: Critics say wellbeing can't be measured - but they are wrong

He told The National: “What you'll see in the paper is that the author is saying that you need to completely change the economic paradigm to something that sits outside of this neoliberal growth model. [The Scottish Government] cannot do that with the powers that it has got.”

Thomson argued that enacting a WBE transformation would be hard enough with all the powers of the UK Government. As a devolved administration, without the UK’s support, it is close to impossible.

He said: “I think this push for a just transition, this push for a wellbeing economy, is just setting themselves up to fail.

“The Scottish Government should say ‘we do not have anywhere near enough powers to transform the economy’. If they were honest about this, I think it really completely changes the defence and the attack for independence.”

The National:

Amanda Burgauer (above), the director of Common Weal, said: “When decades of economic growth have been matched by stagnant wages, the argument that growth alone creates prosperity is not credible …

“If we’re going to take all this seriously we can’t just keep doing what we’re already doing but a little bit better.

“Every few decades the economic model changes as we adapt to the reality of a new world. This is one of those moments.”

Black’s paper, Wellwashing: Why a superficial approach to wellbeing economics will fail, is being launched on Monday, October 9 and can be read in full on Common Weal’s website.