What are Scotland's big challenges and how should we tackle them?

Introduction

This paper is part of a series of reports prepared by the Secretariat covering the work of the Assembly before the coronavirus pandemic. These reports will remind you of the work you have done so far and will help you to prepare when the Assembly comes back together to decide on your vision for the future of Scotland and how we overcome the challenges facing the country.  

These papers have been shared with Assembly members in reference groups so that we can be sure they are a fair summary of your discussions and provide the information that you will need. Should you have any questions about the papers, for example, if there is anything that you would like more information on if you have any difficulties in accessing materials, then please do get in touch with the Secretariat either by e-mail (info@citizensassembly.scot) or phone (add number).  

This paper mainly covers weekends 3 and 4, when you discussed a wide range of evidence and ideas on sustainability and finances and taxation. You will also find it helpful to have a look at the fuller reports for these weekends which provide you with all of the detail of the evidence. The reports are attached here: Weekend 3 report and Weekend 4 report. 


Why sustainability and finances and taxation?

Building a sustainable country, where environmental, social and economic considerations are balanced for the good of the country and its citizens, was one of the statements about the future for Scotland that you agreed was most important to explore further.  Under this theme you considered a wide range of issues in weekend 3. These included addressing the climate challenge, how to tackle poverty and inequalities, different ideas about the economy and the kind of jobs and training opportunities that will be needed in the future, and how institutions and services need to work together and develop in the future to deliver better outcomes. 

You also thought it was important to know more about the resources available to Scotland. Therefore, in weekend 4, you discussed how revenue is raised and the different forms of taxation. You also looked at how revenue is spent and ideas on how it might be raised or used differently in the future.  

Throughout the Assembly you have looked at constitutional aspects in order to understand where the power lies to take decisions on the things that you think are important to the future of Scotland. You met with a panel of politicians and  explored some of these issues with them. You highlighted the need for more honest and respectful political discussion and for the public to be better engaged so that they can make informed decisions about the future of the country.  
 

Members

How did you explore these issues?

In weekend 3 you heard from a panel of speakers on environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability.  Evidence included how businesses and public sector bodies can working together to ensure fair work opportunities and a more inclusive economy.  The significant inequalities in the distribution of wealth were described and ideas presented on different economic models, including the idea of the wellbeing economy that serves social and environmental goals. Evidence was presented on the challenges of climate change and ideas for action that could be of benefit for economic, social and environment goals.   You learned about some of the constitutional aspects of these issues through where powers lie to take decisions.  

Presentations in weekend 4 built on these discussions and provided extensive information on the Scottish budget, including the different powers of the Scottish and UK Government to raise money and the new devolved powers over aspects of taxation and social security. You heard about how government expenditure and revenue in Scotland, public borrowing and debt. You learned about the theory and practice of taxation, including different approaches to taxation in different countries and heard about different ideas on tax choices for Scotland. 

You discussed a wide range of issues with the speakers, including on Scotland’s finances and the challenges and opportunities with any further constitutional changes like further devolution or independence. You discussed the complexity of the tax system, including the difficult trade-offs in tax choices, and the need for more engagement with the wider public to better understand and take decisions on these issues.  You explored the potential for tax increases to invest to deliver a sustainable Scotland, including through green taxes on businesses and taxes on wealth.   


What areas did you agree were important?

Following the consideration of the evidence you worked together in small groups to identify key challenges, and difficult choices and trade-offs and you began to explore potential priority areas for action and key findings that might be important for your conclusions and recommendations.  The full list of potential areas for action and key findings are listed at the end of this paper and summarised below -    
 

Fair Work and Taxes

Fairness and equality for all citizens have been important themes for the Assembly and in these discussions you focused on the need for actions to ensure fairer work through review of employment regulations and pay conditions, including through implementation of the living wage and abolishing zero hour contracts. You highlighted the importance of increasing work opportunities for all, including encouraging business to provide skills and apprenticeships for young people.  

Conscious of the need to raise revenues to resource a sustainable country, you explored how fair work policies could contribute to increases in income tax revenues.  You also explored specific tax raising ideas included decriminalising and taxing drugs and while not featured in your key findings, there were several suggestions made around merging National Insurance and Income tax to generate more revenue through a more efficient tax system.

You advocated building an equal society through a tax system that taxes wealth more fairly.  You noted the risks in taxing too heavily and that debates around taxation can be divisive given the financial impacts in individuals and organisations. You identified a need to consider increasing taxes for those who can pay, including potential taxes on wealth, resources, property, and personal income and also the scope for increasing taxes on large corporations noting the low levels of tax paid compared to size and profits.   

A Greener Scotland

Action to build a greener Scotland featured highly in your priorities, including action to improve energy efficiency and to invest in Scotland’s renewable energy potential and green technologies. Developing more sustainable community infrastructure was important to you, including creating affordable and accessible public transport and a country-wide transport policy. You discussed the need for all new homes to be eco-homes and for housing to be more accessible via government-backed ‘eco-mortgages’.   You discussed the development of new eco-laws which serve the needs of citizens first and foremost and which businesses would have to comply with.

You discussed how taxation could help build a greener Scotland through rewarding positive and penalising negative behaviours. Specific ideas included a levy on imported food and a tax to reduce the use of plastics. 

Citizen information and improving decision making

In your discussions you commented on how much new information you had been provided with and how difficult it is for citizens to be well-informed in order to be properly involved in decision-making. You talked about the importance of learning the facts and figures and some of the theory on the issues you had heard evidence about and how valuable it had been to be discuss with fellow citizens the hard choices and trade-offs as you considered potential action.  

Specific areas that you identified included action to raise awareness of the impact of climate change and to change attitudes through provision of information to the public about why their actions are important. 

You considered a need for better information about taxation to be provided and for citizens to be more closely involved in decision-making. You thought an independent review of taxation should be undertaken which could be informed by a Citizens’ Assembly on taxation.

Overarching all of the priorities and to improve the quality of political discussion and decision-making you suggested that a cross-party 30 year National Plan should be developed.   The aim of that plan would be to deliver a sustainable country which balances environmental, economic and social impact for the good of the country and its citizens. 


Conclusions

By the end of the Assembly you will have agreed a vision for the future of Scotland and a set of conclusions and recommendations to tackle the challenges facing the country for action in the next Scottish Parliament. 

The evidence that you have heard so far and the ideas that you have developed in your discussions will be important in preparing your final conclusions. You will have the opportunity to reflect on that work and also to consider new evidence, especially to consider key evidence on the impact of COVID and ideas about responding to it. Further evidence on citizen participation will also be provided.   

This summary paper covers the evidence and discussions on the challenges of building a sustainable country and on Scotland’s finances and taxation. It should be read alongside the other summary papers on vision and constitution and the interim report.  The Secretariat hoe that it is a helpful reminder of that work.

It has not been possible in this first ever Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland to consider all of the issues that are important to the future of the country. But you have covered a wide range of topics and already fully demonstrated that when citizens come together in this way they are more than capable of working through complex and contested issues in order to agree sensible ways forward. That is an important lesson.  There is much work still to be done but you are already well on the way to delivering a set of conclusions that will be a powerful voice on the future of the country. 

Our journey so far