Scotland joins the growing list of countries looking to test a basic income.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Image: Flickr/Ninian Reid
On Tuesday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon laid out her party's political plans for the next year. Among the many commitments, which include sending an aid package to every new parent in the country going forward, is a promise to fund local experiments in implementing a basic income in Scotland.
A basic income for citizens is an old idea that's gaining renewed traction as governments prepare for a future when robots are doing much of today's menial work. The idea is to give everybody a living wage (or the equivalent of that in tax credits, or some other scheme) simply for being alive. Previous experiments have suggested it can work: A Canadian trial in the 1970s showed that supplying people with a basic income obliterated poverty and caused high school completion rates to shoot upwards. Finland launched a basic income trial in 2017, and Canada is gearing up to launch its own trial in Ontario. Hawaii is also looking into the idea.
Scotland will fund "research into the concept and feasibility" of a basic income, the country's first minister said on Tuesday. It's unclear if the government will fund pilots itself, where groups of people actually receive a basic income while their behaviour is monitored by authorities, or if it will fund studies to determine if pilots are possible.
"While we must take a range of actions now to tackle poverty, we should also consider options for more fundamental reform in the longer term," Sturgeon said in a statement to Scottish parliament on Tuesday. "I can therefore confirm that the Scottish Government will work with interested local authorities to fund research into the concept and feasibility of a citizens' basic income, to help inform Parliament's thinking for the future."
This commitment would presumably provide funding for local initiatives like that proposed by the city of Glasgow in February. At the time, city council voted to dedicate roughly $6,000 USD to research the feasibility of launching a pilot in partnership with Scottish think tank RSA.
"We are delighted to see this commitment from the Scottish Government to support the development of [basic income] pilots," Jamie Cooke, director of RSA Scotland, said in a statement. "We have been working closely with the various Scottish Local Authorities who have shown leadership in this field. Support from the Government will provide a huge impetus for action."
None of this is guaranteed, however, since the Scottish National Party (SNP) is a minority government, meaning that it has more seats than any other party but not a majority overall. So, the SNP will need to reach across the aisle in order to push through its most radical legislation.
"I am also mindful that as a minority government we must build alliances across our Parliament in support of our Budget," Sturgeon said in her comments to parliament. "For all of us, it must be the interests of our public services, households and economy that drive our decisions."
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