The Wellbeing Economic Approach is the path to independence

A new report released today by Scotianomics, Scotland’s wellbeing economy think tank, sets out their plan for achieving a wellbeing economy through the Wellbeing Economic Approach. This article will take you through some of the many questions around the wellbeing economy and why it is important for achieving Scotland’s independence.

The single biggest roadblock to achieving independence is the lack of an inspiring vision of the kind of nation an independent Scotland should become. In the campaign for independence we must put the vision for a better Scotland front and centre.

Scotland is looking to chart a new economic path, one that will lead to a happier, healthier, wealthier, prosperous and ultimately independent nation through a wellbeing economy. The Scottish Government has signalled its commitment to this path by appointing Neil Gray MSP as the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy. 

But questions, and criticisms remain. What exactly is a wellbeing economy and how is it different to our current system? How do we decide what to prioritise in implementing a wellbeing economy? And how will we know when we have achieved it? But what you’re probably asking yourself most is: what does this have to do with the campaign for Scottish independence?

What is a wellbeing economy and how is it different from our current system?

A wellbeing economy aims to move government, businesses and individuals away from focusing only on GDP growth as the dominant measure of economic success. Scotianomics believes the best way to achieve this is through the Wellbeing Economic Approach, which treats quality of life, equality, fairness, happiness and health as economic outcomes that should be given equal weight in decision making as GDP growth. 

Our current economic system is broken. It failed to predict the Financial Crisis and then lied to us about the recovery. It has stoked income and generational inequality, created a climate crisis and weakened our ties to one another. It is time for an overhaul of the system – root and branch.

The values of society should be the values of the economy

So, how do we decide what this new system will look like? Easy – we ask the people. In creating their Wellbeing Economic Approach, Scotianomics went to the people of Scotland to ask what values they think the wellbeing economy should be built around. Their analysis found support for 17 key values but in short, people agreed that quality of life, equality, fairness, happiness and health are all economic outcomes that should be given equal weight to economic growth. From there, Scotland can create an economic system that reflects our values and brings society, the economy and the ecology into balance. 

How do we know if we are succeeding?

Critics argue that wellbeing is subjective and cannot be measured. They are wrong. The right wants to double down on GDP as they believe that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ but growing inequality has destroyed the trickle-down economics case. The left see it as a threat to socialism and it is – it is equally a threat to capitalism, taking the best and workable elements of both systems and turning them to a higher purpose than just economic growth or shared ownership of the means of production.

Scotianomics answers this question of measurement with the Scotianomics Wellbeing Economy Index, which measures national indicators across five dimensions of wellbeing. Each dimension is composed of sub-measures which are summed together to give a dimension score. These are then averaged to give each nation an overall Wellbeing Score. This allows for easy comparison between nations and for policymakers to quickly understand in which area their nation needs improvement or strengthening. Scotland, which lacks the data gathering tools of an independent nation does not appear on the 2023 Index. Scotianomics covers this in the report and makes recommendations about how this can be rectified.

The Wellbeing Economic Approach is measured across five dimensions:

  • Economy
  • Human Development
  • Living Environment
  • Community
  • Future Proofing

Here are the top ten in the list compared with the UK (in 16th place) You can see the full table of 33 countries in the full report here. The Index makes use of a traffic light system, where the darker the green is, the stronger the score.

With sometimes dozens of measures within each dimension, it presents a more robust measure of what nations are further along their journey towards a wellbeing economy.

The first thing that jumps out is that the top ten is dominated by small to medium sized Northern European nations. The Nordic/Scandinavian nations with similar sized populations to Scotland dominate the top five of the index.

Independence and wellbeing economics – a symbiotic relationship?

In February 2023, Believe in Scotland polled 2000 Scottish voters. On independence, Yes came in at 48%, as you would expect at the time. We also asked a series of questions around wellbeing – one key question was:

“If there was a referendum on independence tomorrow, how would you vote, if the Scottish Government put a wellbeing economic approach at the heart of its economic plans for an independent Scotland. A plan that recognises that quality of life, equality, fairness, sustainability, happiness, and health are all outcomes that should be given equal weight as it does to traditional measures such as GDP?” 

With that particular framing, Yes instantly reached 56%, demonstrating that a wellbeing economics vision increases independence support by 8%.


In 2014, there was no real vision for independence. We needed radical change but the whole Yes campaign was about what wouldn't change or how we would micromanage change, while the No campaign was about making change seem difficult. This time, independence is within reach – we simply need to do the right thing by the people of Scotland and offer them a wellbeing socioeconomic vision that inspires, one with the purpose of creating greater prosperity, equality and environmental sustainability. 

Follow Scotianomics on Twitter @scotianomics