Alison Johnstone: Don’t leave us short-changed

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After two years of campaigning for a Yes vote, it feels like there is no chance to pause for breath.

The debate has now shifted on to more powers, with the Smith Commission on Devolution. But will it really deliver what Scots want? And will it keep hold of that astonishing engagement we saw during the referendum?

While I was disappointed at the result, I was heartened by how many people became re-engaged in politics after years of understandable cynicism. No matter what side of the debate you were on, I’m convinced the outcome is a positive one.

This campaign galvanised civic Scotland. I spoke in debates where political speeches were mixed with acting, poetry and song. I found myself on theatre stages responding to questions via Twitter. This campaign reached parts other campaigns have not, as yet, reached.

The challenge now is how to hang on to the truly participative democracy we know that we’re part of.

My MSP colleague Patrick Harvie and I have met with Lord Smith to hear about the remit he has been given. We stressed to him the need to engage as many people as possible, not just political parties. I don’t envy his task.

He is expected to produce an agreement by November 30 with recommendations for further devolution, with publication of draft clauses by January 25. And all this will be happening as the UK general election looms into view.

The timescales that Lord Smith has been given to work to are tight. While it’s right that we hold to account the Westminster parties and their last-minute “vow” of deep devolution, we must also do all that we can to ensure those who contributed to the referendum debate are given every opportunity to contribute to this process, too.

So what powers could Scotland gain? It makes sense for Holyrood to raise the taxes that fund the spending decisions it makes, but this would still leave big economic choices to a UK Government which is beholden to big business and the money markets. Would we be able to say no to austerity? If not, what would be the point of further powers? Lord Smith has already stressed the need to come up with a package of powers that has a purpose.

Scotland needs to be able to run a different economic model so we can improve wages and close the wealth gap. If income tax is devolved in isolation from other taxes such as excise, corporation tax and oil revenues, we’ll be no further forward than we are now. We need access to a broad range of economic levers. You can see why Conservatives like the idea of devolving income tax only, as it would be hard for a Scottish Government to put it up, but easy for it to cut it. This of course would come with serious cuts to public services. It’s vital in the days and weeks ahead that voices of ordinary Scots are heard as the future of our country is worked out.

There was widespread celebration at the record number of people registering to vote in the referendum after so many years of mistrust after the poll tax. That’s why I’m dismayed that councils, egged on by the Tories, are going to check new registrations against past council tax records. We should rejoice that democracy is thriving again in our cities and not be making voter registration into part of a controlling measure.

Fresh thoughts needed to find road solutions

It’s heartening that the 20mph zone in the south of the city has been well received.

I strongly back the proposal to extend these more widely, and if you’d like your neighbourhood to be included then there’s a council consultation running until October 17.

While we may not see kerbie played again, we know that reduced speeds save lives and give us all an opportunity to make the most of our streets.

Everyone knows that Edinburgh’s streets need a major overhaul but all the promises of action never seem to make much of a difference. The backlog isn’t helped by the council tax freeze and increased and heavier traffic on our streets.

You don’t often hear Greens calling for spending on roads but this is a massive safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians alike, so I want to see some fresh thinking to find better solutions, rather than continuing with a failed approach.

Seeing red over green belt work

My inbox is bursting with citizens concerned at the threat to Edinburgh’s green belt.

While the council says that it’s government policy that’s forcing it to sacrifice land from Burdiehouse to Balerno, the council’s planning committee rode a coach and horses through reams of the same policies and guidelines to allow 81 new luxury homes to be built on Craighouse Hill, previously an Area of Outstanding Landscape Value.

Sometimes I despair . . .