Ben Wray: What’s the big idea for election year

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How do we get from the sort of country we are to the sort of country we want to be? That’s a question many of us asked during the referendum debate, but it is no less important now, less than six months out from the Scottish Parliamentary elections next May.

There are many trap doors the upcoming election could fall into, where only a bottomless pit of grudge and grumbles will be found.

It could be dominated solely by constitutional issues with endless rows about “falling oil prices” on the one side and “broken promises” on the other.

It could end up with SNP and Labour copying each other’s policies with a futile debate about credibility and very little about ideas and vision.

It could end up just being about the politics of personalities – “Nicola v Kezia” – which generates lots of heat but little light.

There is another way the election could go. In this “age of austerity” – with George Osborne’s recent Spending Review confirming a decade of cuts to public services – the Scottish elections could become a substantive and genuine debate about who has the ideas to protect the most vulnerable, create jobs and make the maximum use of Scotland’s resources in spite of the straitened times we live in.

The Scottish Government is not powerless to change things for the better – there are a whole raft of areas where we can make Scotland fairer, more equal and sustainable and with more empowered citizens.

We could establish a National Housing Company to build a new generation of social housing in Scotland that is affordable and is built to meet demand.

We could introduce a new layer of local democracy based on participatory budgeting so that communities can make important decisions about how to spend their own budgets.

We could create a National Childcare Service that delivers world-class early years development and allows parents (especially women) to re-enter the labour market. We could create a Social Security Fund to ensure that those suffering the worst from welfare cuts – like people facing sanctions – can be protected.

None of this is wishful thinking: a combination of tax changes at local and national level, and creating a National Investment Bank to bring our investment levels up to the European average could fund a change in the basic infrastructure that we all rely on, in one way or another, every day.

All of this and much, much more is possible, if politicians have the vision and ambition to resist inertia and the nay-sayers and go for it.

The Common Weal – a think-and-do tank created during the referendum campaign and funded entirely by donations from the general public – has outlined the detail of how to do this in a new Book of Ideas for 2016/21. It provides 101 ideas for transformation over the next five-year Scottish Parliament.

Last Friday more than 100 people from local Common Weal groups across Edinburgh, East Lothian and Portobello Alliance met in the Capital to talk about the ideas in the book. In the run-up to the election over the next six months, we want people all over Scotland to read and talk about it – and get the message out there that they shouldn’t accept “can’t be done” from any of those standing to be our representatives next May.

Ben Wray is head of policy at The Common Weal