Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South and newly appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland sets out Labour’s position ahead of the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill, one of the first Bills of the new Parliament.
Devolution used to be a controversial concept in UK politics. If you follow the principle that power devolved is power lost, you can see why. Politicians at the centre are unwilling to give away power, not least to other politicians.
However, the Labour Party has always been the party of devolution whether that be to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or to London and the English regions.
You can contrast that devolutionary principle with the example of the SNP Scottish Government. They have been one of the most centralising governments of my lifetime. They have exerted huge control over local government, by starving them of both power and money. They have forced unpopular and unworkable developments on local communities, against the wishes of local councils or residents. They have abolished local policing, in favour of a one-size-fits-all approach. The list goes on.
The effects of centralisation are not just a debate between parliaments and councils. Its effects are felt in our communities. In my constituency, that has represented itself in cuts to local services, fear of unsustainable housing developments, dilution of community policing and a rise in house break-ins.
In all of these cases the worst affect has been one of mistrust of politics, of politicians and of governments. Despite not being in Government, that doesn’t benefit Labour. We, more than any party, need people to believe in the power of government to change lives if we are to be successful in the future.
That’s why the devolution of more powers is so important. Before last year’s referendum, Labour promised that if we were in power after the General Election, that we would deliver a new set of devolved powers. When Scotland voted no to independence, it didn’t vote for there to be no change. All parties got together, and delivered a Smith Commission with a set of powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament:
- More power over income tax
Control over VAT
Welfare powers worth £2.5bn
The work programme
Labour will support the Scotland Bill and ensure the Smith Commission recommendations are delivered in full. We also want to go further than Smith, as set out in our manifesto, especially on social security, where we can protect the most vulnerable in Scotland from Conservative cuts. I’ll be tabling amendments to the bill to reflect those changes we can make, and I hope that all parties will vote for them.
However, we must also respect the result of the referendum. A majority of people voted to stay part of the United Kingdom. They know that the principle of pooling and sharing resources across the UK is one that benefits everyone. For me that means we must defend the Barnett Formula, which gives Scotland a good deal.
But what of Full Fiscal Autonomy? Before the election, in the SNP manifesto argued that we should scrap Barnett, and move to a system where we stop pooling and sharing resources across the UK, and instead every public service in Scotland would have to be funded by Scotland. This would result in up to £10bn less in the Scottish budget according to the impartial Institute for Fiscal Studies – a nightmare for Scotland and Scottish people.
We have to wonder why the SNP have gone totally silent on Full Fiscal Autonomy since the election. They certainly haven’t said they want to amend the Scotland Bill to deliver it. Perhaps it is because it is economically illiterate? Or because they know it can’t be delivered? The SNP lion is not roaring, but whimpering at the start of this new Parliament on their main manifesto pledge.
Either way it is a promise broken by the SNP. That’s a broken promise we should all be pleased about. Because the worst scenario for Scotland is the SNP’s flawed plan for Full Fiscal Autonomy, delivered by a majority Tory Government.