From the moment David Cameron walked out from 10 Downing Street on the morning of September 19 last year and spoke to the world’s media the rug was swiped from beneath the people of Scotland’s feet. No longer was his “focus and desire” to ensure Scotland got what it was promised, but it was to shift the devolution goalposts to what the Prime Minister really cared about: English votes for English laws.
Gordon Brown, de facto leader of the No side, announced in the final days of the referendum campaign that if Scotland voted with him we would have home rule within the UK and the radical proposals would be “as close to federalism as is possible”.
The people, it seems, took him at his word. Fast forward nine months and Mr Brown’s claims are in stark contrast to what has been delivered by the Scotland Bill. So where are we now?
The Scotland Bill published last week falls far short of anything truly substantial in almost every one of its 81 pages. Not only do these proposals fail to deliver what the people of Scotland were promised in the closing days of the referendum, namely, “home rule”, “devo to the max” and “as close to federalism”, they fail to deliver even the limited proposals of the Smith Commission agreement.
That was the view of the Scottish Parliament’s devolution further powers committee in its report earlier this month when it looked at the earlier draft legislative clauses. MSPs across all parties unanimously agreed that in a number of key areas, particularly in relation to welfare, the draft clauses did not meet the spirit or substance of Smith.
There are also continued limits on who the Scottish Government would be able to pay carers benefits to, failure to devolve the full range of employment support services (currently delivered by the Department of Work and Pensions) and no or restricted powers in areas of consumer protection, energy and the Crown Estate. Significantly, the Bill contains eight separate vetoes, including the roll-out of Universal Credit, where the Scottish Government must seek the agreement of the Secretary of State before exercising devolved powers.
Regrettably, but not unsurprisingly, it seems the Conservative government’s proposals have left us with a weak, watered-down Bill that leaves Holyrood at the mercy of Westminster. It seems that a Tory government, which the people of Scotland didn’t vote for and that has no mandate in Scotland, is still able to call the shots.
The publication of the Bill should have been a democratic milestone, a chance for the Scottish Parliament to gain further powers to take Scotland forward. Those of us who want to call a halt to the UK government’s failed austerity programme, the additional £12 billion welfare cuts and the further erosion of trade union and employment rights will not get that opportunity under these current proposals.
During the election, the SNP argued for full control of welfare, as recommended by Smith. Greater powers over corporation tax, employment and trade union law and the minimum wage would allow the Scottish Government to create jobs, grow the economy and lift people out of poverty.
The Scottish Parliament needs to have control over National Insurance to reduce the cost to employers and be able to raise the minimum wage for our lowest paid workers. It should have the power to bring in post-study work visas to ensure international students are able to live, work and contribute to the country where they went to university, and control Capital Gains Tax to benefit our entrepreneurs and manufacturers.
This is a battle that is only just beginning. But I know my colleagues both in Holyrood and Westminster will continue to play our part in ensuring the Scottish Parliament has the powers we need to create a better Scotland.
Jim Eadie is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Southern