With less than six months to go before the referendum, most polls continue to indicate that Scots will vote to remain within the United Kingdom.
While I hope that this will be the outcome, there is no room for complacency. I believe that we need a positive vision for stronger devolution.
That is the issue that dominated last weekend’s Scottish Labour Party conference as delegates considered the final report from the party’s devolution commission.
Powers for a Purpose sets out Scottish Labour’s vision for the future of devolution. Devolution was never meant to be about creating a strong Scottish Parliament at the expense of local decision-making. So we’ve looked at the opportunities to give power back to local authorities and to communities – double devolution.
I’m particularly proud of the recommendations which were the focus of my own work on the commission from that aim to strengthen local decision-making.
The Scottish Parliament has allowed Scotland to set its own priorities on areas like health, education, transport and the environment while benefiting from the strength that comes from being part of the UK.
However, central government has come to play a more dominant role in determining the shape and functions of local government. In recent years under the SNP, this has seen the loss of 40,000 local government jobs, an increase in service charges and the scaling back of some frontline services.
Scottish Labour’s proposals would reverse this centralising tendency with new powers and new funding options for councils to enable them to tackle the big issues that blight communities and people’s lives as they deal with economic inequality and deprivation. New powers on housing benefit would let our councils do more to tackle our housing problems.
New powers on training and the devolution of the Work Programme will enable councils to address the skills shortages and provide investment that businesses desperately need. Our proposals sit alongside the campaign led by the Labour councillors in our Scottish cities for city deals, too. We also support the principles of the cooperative movement so that local government is not just about delivering for people but with them too. Edinburgh is leading the way with its cooperative energy proposals.
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament has allowed it to shield us from the worst effects of the Tory-led UK Government. However, we benefit as part of the UK, pooling resources and sharing the risks and rewards across our successful union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I believe it continues to makes sense that on issues which affect us across the UK, such as defence, monetary and foreign affairs, decisions continue to take place at a UK level.
The time is right to consider what powers should lie with the Scottish people in order to continue the transformation of our country.
I am proud of proposals put forward by Scottish Labour and feel that the work of the commission continues the party’s strong legacy on devolution and home rule. The proposals answer the desire for many of us who wish to stay part of the UK but are not satisfied with the status quo. The referendum will be a clear choice – stronger devolution and powers to transform Scotland to create jobs and opportunities for our communities or separation.
• Sarah Boyack is a Scottish Labour MSP for the Lothian region