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Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change - Taking Forward our National Conversation

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Executive Summary

  • Successive Scottish Governments have worked within their devolved responsibilities to improve Scotland's rural areas and environment and tackle climate change. Significant progress has been made. The first decade of devolution has seen internationally acclaimed legislation on climate change, improving the environment and tackling flooding. Scotland has developed an approach to national parks, land reform and nature conservation which is designed for specific Scottish circumstances and therefore different from the choices taken elsewhere in the UK.
  • Current limits on Scotland's responsibilities constrain and have constrained this and previous Scottish Governments' capacity fully to deliver the environment and rural prosperity which Scotland needs.
  • In terms of taxation, we cannot ensure that tax levers in Scotland reflect Scottish priorities, identifying and prioritising key areas for intervention. The paper notes Landfill Tax and tax on agricultural land as being areas where a new approach is needed.
  • In terms of regulation, we cannot adapt the regulatory regime to fit Scottish needs. The complexities surrounding the regulatory arrangements in the marine environment are of particular concern.
  • The paper outlines the Scottish Government's relationship with the EU and the UK highlighting a number of examples relevant to improved rural prosperity, an improved environment and tackling climate change where the current arrangements do not operate satisfactorily.
  • The paper then considers the potential impact of some of the recommendations of the recent Commission on Scottish Devolution. Some of the recommendations offer a welcome move forward, but others are inadequate if we are to make the most of the opportunities available to our nation.
  • The paper examines what the significant extension of devolved responsibilities - "devolution max" - could mean for Scotland. It notes examples in animal health and welfare and environmental issues where a different balance of responsibility within the UK could allow the Scottish Government to ensure that Scottish interests were better served.
  • Finally the paper considers the options for reform and what independence could mean over and above the improvements that would flow from "devolution max".
  • With the responsibilities that full fiscal autonomy ('devolution max') or independence would bring, Scotland's Government would be in a position to work with its partners to provide a significantly more cohesive package of support for the environment and rural areas, and for tackling climate change. Scotland's Government would also be in a stronger position to ensure that the potential for optimising the utilisation of Scotland's natural resources to deliver sustainable benefits for families and communities is fully realised.