The idea of a citizen's income (a guaranteed, non means-tested, basic income granted to every adult citizen of the country, regardless of whether they are working or not working) is growing in popularity and political support.
A citizen's income (CI) would turn the tide on the brutal backdrop of welfare reform. The number of disabled people left in destitution and despair after failing inadequate work capability assessments is well-documented.
Loading article content
The new sanctions regime is driving thousands into using food banks. The bedroom tax is turning a housing crisis into a disaster, with thousands in arrears.
The obvious question is: where would the incentive to work be? It comes from everything you earn on top of the CI. A basic income is just that. The poverty trap, in which people can end up poorer or no better off in work than out would no longer exists.
Furthermore, it's possible we would see an increase in overall employment. Part-time jobs that were previously not an option could be taken on.
Risky entrepreneurial ventures that weren't previously viable could be launched. Business could boom. Indeed, when a form of the basic income was trialled in Namibia, what was found was that economic activity actually rose, and that people became mini-entrepreneurs.
Non-CI income rose by some 200%. Scotland has its own communities devastated by de-industrialization: under a CI and a proper industrial strategy, these communities could be reborn.
And let's not forget that a colossal amount of work is done in society that is not formally regarded as work. There are several examples: parenting, care of the disabled by family members and voluntary work in the community.
Much of this work goes unremunerated and is even regarded as inferior to proper, paid work in the formal sense.
As Professor Ailsa McKay, the late economist, explained: "Formal social security arrangements have traditionally served men more favourably than women. This is in part due to … policies that fail to recognize the diverse role of women as wives, mothers, carers and workers."
This also involves class politics and how the relationship between labour and capital is affected. It seems to me that welfare reform has a very specific agenda, which is to create a more pliable workforce.
If people in work know there is no longer much of a safety net, then they will hold on tenaciously to jobs with bad conditions and poor pay. All of that means higher profits.
A CI in a new, bolstered welfare state begins to tip the bargaining power back in favour of labour. This is why a CI should be taken up by the trade union movement.
But, for me, the best argument for a Citizen's Income is to improve public health, through the stress relief that it would bring. I write this as someone who has been on and off benefits for the past few years, and I can testify that the stress of it all sometimes made me feel physically ill.
As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of the Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, suggest, what could account for economic inequality and poor social outcomes is, simply, stress. Obesity, depression and addiction are all rooted in the intensely stressful society we live in. A CI, as well as being profoundly redistributive, would, in one fell swoop, lift a corrosive level of stress from our society.
A Yes vote in September could help make this a reality. There is a growing movement clamouring for a CI. The policy is endorsed by the Green Party, the Radical Independence Campaign, the Common Weal initiative, and some independent MSPs.
A CI under Westminster rule is not impossible (I don't think any form of political change is impossible) but it would inevitably be far more difficult, with yet more devastating welfare cuts on the table.
But, Yes or No, this is certainly an idea worth fighting for.
:: Professor McKay died on Wednesday but news of her death did not emerge until after The Herald print edition had gone to press.