Debate: Scotland Bill

Linda spoke in the debate on 9 December.

“I welcome the publication of the Scotland Bill, not because I agree with it all but because, if it is passed in a suitably improved form, the bill could mark the beginning of a new phase in the devolution process.

In devolution’s first 12 years, our Parliament’s economic and fiscal powers have been constrained either by statute or by the refusal of the UK Government to co-operate on their use. Under the new proposal from the Conservative-Lib Dem Government at Westminster, Scotland has an opportunity to use its Parliament to advance its interests. That means having full discussions and debate, and refining proposals under which Scotland’s interests are not always sidelined for the sake of taking a standard UK approach.

As the motion in Iain Gray’s name says, the bill has its basis in the Calman commission. Calman was conceived in a very different world, however. At the end of 2007, the economic crisis was still in its infancy and the full effect of Gordon Brown’s failure as Chancellor of the Exchequer was yet to engulf his successors. The election of May 2010, which resulted in Westminster’s first coalition Government in 65 years, was more than two years away.

As we look at the proposals in the bill, we should remember how quickly things can change.

We should recognise that, under its proposals, the most significant changes—the tax-raising and financial powers—are at least five years away. The impact of decisions that will be taken over the next few weeks will be felt not in this or even the next session of Parliament, but many years ahead. We need to use our time wisely to ensure that the changes that emerge from the debate live up to Scotland’s ambition.

At the Finance Committee a couple of weeks ago, Danny Alexander spoke, as we would expect, of his aim

“to give the Scottish Parliament significantly increased financial responsibility”.—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 25 November 2010; c 2818.]

He also used neutral jargon, such as “policy spill-over” and “no detriment” to reassure the Scottish people about the risks that are associated with the proposals. However, his promise of “no detriment”, even if it is real, extends only to further actions by Westminster. If the powers of this Parliament are inadequate or badly designed, as they were under the Scotland Act 1998, the Scottish economy and our public services could face detriment indeed.

We have been there before. Given the incomplete powers at our disposal and the straitjacket of the funding agreement with the Treasury, the abolition of the council tax became unviable. Before that, on free personal care, Westminster took a windfall benefit when this Parliament acted within its powers, and continues to do so. Unless we are to operate on the premise that the last Labour Government was uniquely truculent regarding devolved matters, we should work together to ensure that the Scotland Bill mark 2 delivers a better relationship between the Governments and Parliaments in terms of responsibilities, risks and powers.

Never again should Westminster trumpet its granting of devolved powers when, in reality, it has built in roadblocks to their use.

I ask all members to keep in their sights what is best for Scotland. We might, and do, have different goals for the destination of this devolution journey, but we should be able to unite to protect Scotland’s interests in the short, medium and longer terms. Elected and civic voices have already united to defend Scotland’s right to regulate charities, which has led to the rejection of the Calman proposal in that area. We should take further opportunities to allow Scotland’s voices to prevail, to Scotland’s advantage.

If Scotland is to get the best out of devolution, Parliament must allow the full range of Scottish opinion to be heard and not muffled by party politics. There are many issues on which people feel strongly, including income tax proposals, the scope of borrowing powers, the inability to vary corporation tax and the interaction between the tax and benefits systems. Surely the most important decisions over taxes and the welfare system should be controlled in Scotland; we hear that over and over again.

Scotland, as an independent nation, would make those most important decisions on taxes and the welfare system. We would control the destiny of Scotland to the benefit of the Scottish people.

Jeremy Purvis: Like Ireland.

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Linda Fabiani: I heard Jeremy Purvis muttering about Ireland, as people do. People should really think about how they talk about one of our nearest neighbours. Even in the settlement that Ireland has agreed, it still has power over corporation tax. There is something that an independent nation can do as it considers what is best for its future.

I ask members to consider the anomaly whereby Governments in Westminster have considered corporation tax reductions for the north of Ireland that they will not countenance for Scotland. Members of other parties in Westminster, including Baroness Jay, are pushing for Northern Ireland to have that ability. Why cannot we get together and push for Scotland to have that ability? That would be worth talking about at the committee that has been set up.

The Parliament must listen to all Scottish society. It must listen to all people who have an interest in improving Scotland. Scottish parliamentarians have an opportunity to make the bill better and to ensure that the Parliament has the power that it needs to advance the interests of Scotland’s people. That is why the legislative consent motion should be properly and independently scrutinised, and that is why the amendment in the name of Scotland’s First Minister should be supported.”

The full debate can be read at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/officialReports/meetingsParliament/or-10/sor1209-01.htm

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