WITH Standard Life switching from its ancient mutual status into a plc, the game may seem to be up for the mutual model - private entities that are owned by their membership rather than shareholders.
I am a firm admirer of the dividend-paying company over other versions of human collaboration. Companies are the best institutions we have evolved to serve everyone.
Yet I see rich opportunities in Scotland to use the mutual model to liberate and activate many of our sleepiest institutions. Some live in a twilight world - not quite businesses. They are camouflaged as charities. Others are arms of the Scottish Executive and ought to be set free of the stifling civil service ethos.
One example of ambiguous status is Scotland's independent schools. In law they are charities. I think they could convert into mutual societies and rethink their roles.
Some Labour Party Jacobins want to remove their charitable status. This is simply class jealousy but it could make schools more agile. Teachers as owners would be different people. They could double or treble their incomes, though dud teachers would not endure.
The mutuals that do still prosper are mostly our friendly societies, of which Scottish Friendly is the most lively. The regulations need to be relaxed so they can evolve further. That means do more and with more money.
This will seem bold but it seems to me much of the welfare state could be subcontracted through such agencies. So, the state could ensure benefits - yet need not be the direct supplier of the services. We have all forgotten that unemployment benefits were contracted out to friendly societies until 1946.
The Church of Scotland is owned by nobody, if you exclude its divine sponsor. I think its vast property portfolio and other assets could be converted to a mutual fund. This would represent tangible benefits of being a member of the kirk. The conversion of its status could only be benign. It might awaken the kirk from its respectable slumbers.
The National Trust for Scotland seems a highly praiseworthy body but as a mutual its vitality could be magnified. It would still be a voluntary personality, but with defined and attentive owners. I urge the same tonic for Historic Scotland. Nominally we all own its collection of national treasures but that only means nobody owns it. What a transformation could be worked if Historic Scotland were to become a mutual entity, owned by its staff.
Malcolm Cooper and his scholarly colleagues would see a different landscape. This is easily caricatured. I am not suggesting asset stripping. I am suggesting a different