We are facing a systemic problem in our politics, a problem that has persisted for decades, that without a solution will lead to damaging and insurmountable consequences. The problem is short-termism.
For too long we have seen policies that prioritise short-term outcomes with little or no regard for their long-term implications. Decisions made for the here and now that take little cognisance of their impact on future generations.
We are seeing these consequences now. The devastating flooding in Pakistan last year, and crippling droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa have demonstrated how climate change has truly deadly consequences. But without comprehensive action these tragedies will only become more extreme, more frequent and more deadly.
It is therefore of paramount importance that we make fundamental and comprehensive changes to the way that Governments make decisions. That’s vital so that we can ensure that decisions meet the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
That’s why in December 2022 I launched my Members Bill proposal consultation, which I’ve called a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill. This important piece of legislation would fundamentally change the way that the Scottish Government makes decisions, shifting the focus beyond the next electoral cycle and making decisions that are in the interest of those who are yet to be born.
That would be achieved by placing new duties and definitions on a statutory footing, ensuring public bodies make decisions that are in the interest of future generations as well as current generations. This would be made possible by a brand new Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Commissioner who not only ensures compliance with the new legislation, but who would have a proactive role in working with Government and Public Bodies constructively to improve outcomes across the whole of Scotland.
We have seen how this approach can work. The Future Generations Act in Wales has been a phenomenal success, with more money for the NHS, job creation and further investment in active travel all resulting from a collaborative, long-term approach championed by Former Future Generations Commissioner Sophie Howe. Her work has led Wales to implement a number of decisions that provide a healthier, happier future for the Welsh people.
Since launching my Bill I have spoken to businesses and community groups across Scotland about the potential for change. I have also seen firs thand how so many of our communities across Scotland are embracing long term sustainable thinking that improves their collective wellbeing. One such example is the Point and Sandwick community trust in Stornoway who are leading the way on community owned wind farms, where they are not only generating clean energy to power homes in their community, but they are reinvesting the profits into community projects and supporting individual households, most recently to give grants so that people’s homes meet new fire safety regulations.
This is just one small example, but it provides a blueprint that could be adopted across the whole of Scotland. Where policies are developed that take into account the needs of those have not been born, and do not have a voice.
The Scottish People overwhelmingly want to see a country that works together to deliver a more sustainable future. I believe my proposed bill will do just that, as well as providing an opportunity to create jobs and build a fairer, greener country. As a Scottish Labour and Co-operative MSP I strongly believe it would be a practical way to demonstrating our commitment to ensuring we leave behind a planet that is suitable for future generations.
Sarah Boyack MSP, is Scottish Labour and Co-Operative MSP for Lothian Region, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Just Transition.