13. Renew - A fairer and more sustainable Scotland beyond Coronavirus (COVID-19)
While many on the platform offered their views on the immediate priorities of the pandemic, there were a large number of respondents who also submitted ideas about wider action that could be taken to create a fairer and more sustainable future in Scotland beyond Coronavirus (COVID-19). There was support for the idea that the present lockdown provided an "opportune moment" to pause, reflect, and plan creatively for the future.
Ideas were advanced as tools for recovery, mechanisms for sustainability, or ways in which aspects of a future Scotland could be reshaped to be fairer. Among a range of areas for change advocated by respondents were:
- Public health
- City planning and transport
- Business norms and support
- Wider inequality
- Environmental policy
- Recognition for key workers
There was a general appetite for Scotland to learn lessons from Coronavirus (COVID-19) and ensure that it is better prepared for any future pandemics. For some respondents, there was an important question about investing in the health and social care sector.
For others, there was a need to make structural improvements to ensure that public spaces and interactions were more hygienic, and more equipped to minimise viral transmission in the future. Suggestions included the enforcement of higher hygiene standards in publicly accessible toilets - including "push to exit" doors and "touch free" flush/taps. Others suggestions advocated taking further steps to invest in becoming a "cashless" society using contactless and card payments.
"The government should work with businesses and banks to support a Cashless society, accelerate the use of contact less and card payments. This will reduce the risk of passing disease through notes and coins. It will also reduce the amount of people within bank branches, touching atms and queuing at banks and atms. Cashless transactions between teller and consumer are quicker and safer for all."
There are also calls for wider campaigns focused on health behaviours as a preventative mechanism to improve the public's immunity to viruses. Calls for improving Scotland's health behaviours include suggestions to improve the Scottish diet, increase physical activity levels, and reduce obesity.
"One of the best protections against Covid is being in good health. Scotland has a major problem with obesity /poor diet and nutrition/ lack of fitness. Let's encourage folk to Get Fit and Healthy (have a national campaign led by popular figures who may themselves have these problems) ."
City planning and transport
A number of respondents advocated for renewed energy in city planning.
Respondents discussed opportunities for the Scottish Government to do more to encourage increased levels of active travel in the long term. There was support from some for the development of new and improved infrastructure to facilitate different modes of active travel in towns and cities. There were also calls for investment into encouraging the take-up of electric bicycles and scooters (albeit with careful thought on impact for other road users).
"Many cities in Europe are using opportunity of low car use just now, to radically improve facilities for cycling and walking by converting existing roads (especially in and around towns) into car free areas. We must do likewise. People are going to be understandably wary of public transport post lockdown risking significant increase in car usage, pollution and environmental damage. If we want people to switch culturally and permanently to using bikes or walking etc we need proper car free routes that allow meaningful safe commuting; between residential areas and towns, within towns and between towns, like the Netherlands."
While there were those that emphasised the importance of promoting forms of active travel, there were others who highlighted an opportunity to minimise the need for travel in the future. Among these respondents, there were several who particularly advocated the minimising of heavy traffic and congestion in urban areas.
"Gov should accelerate the Transport Bill to make pavement parking illegal now or bring in new powers under Covid."
Business norms and support
Some respondents described how patterns of changes to working life throughout the pandemic had demonstrated the viability of remote home-working and communication via technology. It was argued that the Scottish Government could support employers to promote home-working in the future.
Many recognised that businesses were going to have to live with the legacy of the lockdown for the foreseeable future. It was suggested that the Scottish Government could create a competition or award to highlight the best practices that were supporting businesses, the arts, and community engagement during the post-lockdown period. Creative designs and innovations could be celebrated and then shared as guidance to others.
"Proposals would be invited from the community at large, architects, designers and existing businesses for conceptual ideas for businesses, educational institutions, arts and community organisations which may need to redesign their premises or business model . Proposals would be particularly encouraged relating to sectors facing the biggest challenges - e.g. hospitality, leisure, adventure/ outdoor sports, environmental organisations, retail sectors, places of worship, schools colleges and universities."
Other ideas included supporting small, local businesses and using this time to restructure food production in line with environmental goals. There were also suggestions related to teaching IT skills necessary for adapting businesses to the online marketplace. It was felt that a lack of technological knowledge had impacted certain businesses throughout the pandemic - particularly in the hospitality sector.
Some respondents felt that the Scottish Government should explore the benefits of shortening the working week. Practical issues to this were flagged including managing contractual agreements and maintaining services with fewer working hours.
There were numerous suggestions that Scotland could use this time to re-evaluate its tourism and housing strategy. It was felt that tourism was overwhelming certain areas - such as Edinburgh, the Highlands, and certain islands - and that short-term lets needed to be controlled, so as to stem the rising number of displaced people. Displacement was considered to be a problem that would only be exacerbated further in a weakened, post lockdown economy.
In addition to those who argued for a repeat of the school year, there were those arguing to delay entry into primary school permanently, as part of the perception that Scotland begins school too early.
In the longer term, there were calls for the Scottish Government to investigate and seriously consider new ways of schooling. Some felt that the current "one size fits all system" does not cater to the wide variety of educational needs in Scotland. Of those who supported a new educational approach, some argued for the freedom "to provide more apprentice type learning and focus on children's strengths," while others felt that there was an opportunity to "raise the school starting age and implement a Kindergarten stage."
There was a stream of advocates for a basic income for all citizens. They argued that a universal basic income would reduce inequality, increase innovation, and be an alternative way for supporting society compared to existing benefits and relief schemes.
"It's [UBI] a very interesting concept, and in the current situation, would have saved the invocation of the extremely expensive furlough scheme, which we'll all be paying for via taxes, possibly for decades. If everyone had non-means tested UBI (the costs involved in means testing and administering all the difference current schemes, whether under UC [Universal Credit] or not, are huge) in combination with a realistic tax system there would be many benefits. Definitely something worth looking at for the future."
There was also support amongst some respondents for changes to taxes in Scotland. Several thought that the pandemic had demonstrated how governments needed higher levels of tax revenue to fund services.
"Rethink taxation. Many people seem to object to paying more tax and yet are happy to support a number of charities or the efforts of individuals like the now famous 'Captain Tom' to raise money for good causes. If all the working people of Scotland donated £1 per week to a new Social Fund we could raise £500,000,000 a year for the NHS, Social and Homecare workers and other important services. (and that's only half the total population)."
It was claimed that after the crisis many would be in increased indebtedness and that debt cancellation - similar to those in the wake of the Second World War - should be considered.
Many were supportive of the idea that the lockdown offered an opportunity for the Scottish Government to pause, and begin to shift its approach on climate change.
"Many of us feel this is an opportunity to implement changes essential to Scotland meeting the zero carbon targets it has set itself. We don't want everything to 'get back to, normal', if normal means a return to high air pollution, dangerous levels of traffic and congestion, the inflexible busy-ness of 'business as usual.'"
Some described how the pandemic had made the world more environmentally friendly, and there was a danger that the "new normal looks suspiciously similar to the old normal."
There was also a call for a voluntary green tax to fund green transformation businesses and initiatives, which garnered both support and disagreement from other respondents.
"As part of the economic and social recovery, a voluntary green tax ( 1% of income) could be used to kick start and fund new environmental businesses, such as sustainable energy, clothing, food, travel. The government could then hold a 30% shares in these companies, and re-invest any profits back in to future emerging opportunities. I am suggesting a voluntary scheme, so not to increase taxation on the lowest income households."
More on respondents views relating to climate change and wider environmental action can be found in the 'Environmental impacts' chapter.
Recognition for key workers
Many shared a view that Scotland needs to recognise the work and efforts of the key workers who had put themselves at risk throughout the pandemic.
"The current pandemic has shown us more than ever that our key workers are essential for keeping the wheels turning in all aspects of our lives, and also that the poor are disproportionally affected by the virus, with worse outcomes than in affluent areas. 'Key workers' are typically undervalued and underpaid and it would be great to see this addressed in the response to the pandemic. Along with making sure that everyone has enough money to eat and keep warm, the wealth inequality across the UK is quite simply an embarrassment, and should be utterly unacceptable to all."