This week in Holyrood MSPs have been discussing …
Scotland and the Euro
There has been much media coverage this week over claims that a newly-independent Scotland would be forced to start using the Euro in order to ‘regain’ membership of the EU. The SNP position is clear, and has been repeatedly made by the First Minister, with reference to Your Scotland, Your Voice. This states that an independent Scotland would continue membership of the EU. Scotland meets the terms of membership of the EU already and an independent Scotland would continue to fulfil the responsibilities of membership. EU academics and experts have spoken supporting the view that an independent Scotland would be part of the EU. Emile Noêl, former Secretary General of the European Commission, has said: “Scottish Independence would create two new member states out of one. They would have equal status with each other and the other states. The remainder of the United Kingdom would not be in a more powerful position than Scotland.”
The Scottish Government believes Scotland should retain Sterling on independence and a decision on joining the Euro should only be taken based upon economic conditions and only with the approval of the Scottish people in a referendum. The Your Scotland, Your Voice states with independence choose “the monetary framework and currency that best suited the needs of the Scottish economy…Scotland would continue to operate within the sterling system until a decision to join the Euro by the people of Scotland in a referendum when the economic conditions were right.”
Fraser of Allander report
The latest Commentary from the Fraser of Allander Institute – published this week – indicates that Scotland is definitely weathering the economic downturn better than most of the UK. It emphasises the success of the construction industry compared to the rest of the UK and the 25,000 apprenticeships delivered by the Scottish Government. It ends up by saying that while Scotland has done well compared to the UK, It requires more financial levers to save itself from the economic errors being committed by the UK government in Westminster. The recession in Scotland was both shorter and shallower than that experienced across the UK, and while our economy is forecast to continue to grow into next year and the Scottish labour market continues to outperform the UK as a whole, this report reinforces the urgent need for the Westminster Government to deliver an economic ‘Plan MacB. For the UK as a whole, unemployment levels are now at their highest level since August-October 1994, while in Scotland unemployment has fallen by 25,000 from the recession peak in May-July 2010. And apart from the South East of England, Scotland is the only nation or region in the UK where unemployment has fallen over the past year – and it has fallen most in Scotland. The Fraser of Allander report also highlights that the recovery in the Scottish construction sector has been stronger than in the UK as a whole. Therefore accelerating capital investment was undoubtedly the right thing to do. The Scottish Government are also delivering a record 25,000 Modern Apprenticeship places this year and in each year of this parliament, and the ‘Opportunities for All’ programme – guaranteeing a training or learning place for all 16-19 year-olds – will help give our young folk the life chances and opportunities they deserve.
Rehabilitation and Enablement in Scotland
On Wednesday there was a Scottish Government debate on rehabilitation and enablement in Scotland. The motion emphasised the importance of this in supporting our growing older population, people with people with long-term conditions and those trying to remain in or return to work after illness or injury. Rehabilitation and enablement were highlighted as important in supporting people to live independent and productive lives in their own home and communities.
Keeping Communities Safe
The Scottish Government are committed to protecting frontline policing. Reform of the police service will ensure we can maintain the 1,000 extra police officers the Scottish Government have delivered. During the debate, the Scottish Government emphasised important action being taken, from the CashBack for Communities scheme and the extension of No Knives Better Lives.
Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2010/11 shows a falling risk of being a victim of crime, lower than in England and Wales and the public are more positive about the general crime rate in their local area. Importantly, the survey shows alcohol as an influence in offenders committing crimes and so links to the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Bill.
Scottish Policing Performance Framework Annual Report 2010-11 shows a fall in complaints about police, a decrease in the total number of crimes and offences recorded and a rise in the value of efficiency savings.
Recorded Crime and Offences involving Firearms, Scotland, 2010-11 shows the number of offences fell 24% and the number of recorded offences involving firearms is now at a 32-year low.
Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2010-11 shows recorded crime fell again to the lowest level since 1976, a 35-year low.
On the 6th November, a report by Altium Securities on renewables highlighted Scotland’s leading role in the green energy sector and finds that ‘Without Scottish based renewables, the rest of the UK would be required to build far more Megawatts of renewable energy (most likely wind) to achieve its climate change objectives.’ This is a balanced and considered report. Altium recognises the importance of Scotland in Europe’s energy future and foresees, as we do, that comparatively cheaper and more efficient renewable energy from Scotland will play a key role in reducing emissions across the UK. This report makes it clears that investment will continue whatever Scotland’s constitutional status, including under independence – that is the view in the international markets, and a common view among those who actually buy the energy. It also demolishes nonsensical claims made recently – the fact is there will be a continuing need for Scottish renewable electricity to be exported to help keep the lights on in the UK. International corporations and domestic firms are investing for the future in Scotland’s world leading renewables industry. There is a pipeline of 17 Gigawatts of renewable electricity projects, nearly three times peak Scottish demand, with total estimated capital investment of £46 billion, ready to create thousands of new jobs in Scotland. For as long as the wind blows and the tides turn, that investment will continue.” On Wednesday 9th November a new joint agreement was struck between Scottish and Southern Energy and Shell UK Limited for the development of the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project at SSE’s gas-fired power station in Peterhead.
NSPCC All Babies Count report
On Thursday, the NSPCC launched its UK-wide All Babies Count campaign. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the danger that babies face from neglect and abuse. In response to the report, the Scottish Government said that it absolutely agreed that all babies count and highlighted the action being taken to make early intervention a priority with the move toward preventative spend. It is also difficult to determine the methodology and definition the NSPCC has used to arrive at the Scottish statistics that are used in the report. Over the past few months, the Scottish Government has announced a number of measures designed to support children from pre-birth to age five. These are: The £50m Early Years Change Fund; £6.8m in support to the third sector with the Early Years Early Action Fund; An Early Years Taskforce chaired by the Minister for Children and Young Peple to co-ordinate policy across Government and the public sector, including parents, NHS, local authorities, police and the third sector; The £1.2m Playtalkread campaign that encourages parents to interact with their children as much as possible; The National Parenting Strategy to help parents hone their parenting skills; A Framework for Maternity Services launched in January this year to help identify and manage risks in pregnancy; £4.2m investment in the Family Nurse Partnership in NHS Lothian and Tayside; New National Child Protection Guidance launched in December last year. Initial reports are that child protection standards are rising, with 92% of reports being positive so far.
Call for VAT cut for renovations, repairs and home improvements
During a debate on architecture and placemaking, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop urged the UK Government to reduce VAT on renovations, repairs and home improvements to 5% to help boost the construction sector. The current rate is 20%, while on new builds it is 0%. Ms Hyslop explained that a VAT cut would also help reduce the amount of construction waste going to landfill by encouraging renovation of existing buildings, as well as provide jobs.