A view from Scotland on Ontario’s basic income pilot

By Guest Columnist

Jamie Cooke, leading basic income advocate from Scotland.

As a Scot and a leading Basic Income advocate, I was delighted to see the leadership of Ontario demonstrated in initiating experiments to test out the concept in the Province. Given our cultural and historical links, there was a huge amount that we could tap into, allowing a chance to shape the pilots which we are also developing in Scotland.

In particular, the harnessing of civic society and communities was particularly inspiring, and a motivator to do the same in our context – truly making an experiment for everyone, not just academics or policy makers.

As a beer lover, I am therefore disappointed and angry that it has been used as a diversion while arbitrarily cutting the experiments. We have sadly seen the growth of populist politics in a number of different contexts globally, but seldom to such a blatantly ridiculous level. Let us not be fooled – this is an ideological decision around public spending policies, dressed up in a bribe. It takes no care for evidence, impact or human cost, burying these under the hope that communities won’t notice what is happening.

Thankfully, even in the midst of such a disappointing and short-sighted decision there are grounds for optimism. Firstly, Ontario is not alone. I’ve just returned home from the 18th World Congress on Basic Income, which took place in Tampere, Finland, and was struck by, yes the anger, but more importantly the support and interest which was prevalent for the people of Ontario. With the renowned academic Evelyn Forget outlining the situation in Ontario, and sharing heart-breaking examples of the impact it is having, there was a commitment to supporting the activists and participants in any way we can.

Secondly, Ontario’s experiment is an inspiring learning opportunity for the rest of the world, and one which will shape policy in numerous other countries. The harnessing of community activism by groups such as the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction helped create a people-led experiment, one already resplendent with stories of positive impact a short period into its existence.  Following the decision, the harnessing of community anger and betrayal has already started to highlight the emptiness of the new Government’s thinking – the evocative images and stories captured by the Humans of Basic Income campaign by Jessie Golem as one powerful example.

And this is the critical point – the people of Ontario are not having the wool pulled over their eyes by the nonsense of buck a beer.  Instead, opposition, both legal and activist, is growing across the Province. The level of ownership and understanding around the basic income experiments is increasing, with the Ford administration ironically improving awareness of the work to a higher level.

Whilst Ontario’s political leadership is being viewed with disdain internationally for their decisions, its people are being viewed with admiration as they fight back. That is the type of context that helps to lead to renewed commitment to combating social injustice and inequality.

So, know that there are many of us across the world who are keen to support you in responding to the decisions that have been made. Be proud of the community leadership that is being shown in Ontario and relish that it provides a model that many of us will be looking to learn from in numerous other contexts. And don’t stop believing that the goals that motivated these experiments, to improve the lives and opportunities of all your citizens, are important and timely ones, which will help to drive forward a better, fairer and more successful vision for society.

Jamie Cooke is a leading Basic Income advocate and Director of RSA Scotland. He is closely involved in taking forward the plans for Basic Income experiments in Scotland and elsewhere, and is an international speaker and writer on the subject. You can connect with him on Twitter @JamieACooke He writes here in a personal capacity.

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