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More Powers for the Scottish Parliament: Scottish Government Proposals




The need for constitutional change in Scotland is widely accepted on both sides of the referendum debate. As the Prime Minister said towards the end of the referendum campaign:

"'Business as usual' is not on the ballot paper. The status quo is gone. This campaign has swept it away. There is no going back to the way things were. A vote for No means real change." (15 September 2014)

The Scottish Government remains of the view that independence is the best long-term constitutional future for Scotland. However, we accept that a majority of people did not choose that option on 18 September. If Scotland is to become independent in future - as we believe it should and will - this will be as a result of the people of Scotland choosing this option in a referendum.

The Scottish Government has agreed to support the process led by Lord Smith of Kelvin to produce recommendations for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. We do so in good faith with the intention of reaching agreement on a set of proposals that in due course we can recommend to the Scottish Parliament for agreement. In line with the Edinburgh Agreement, we will also work constructively with the UK Government in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Smith Commission will not deliver independence - we accept that. The Scottish Government recognises that there are significant functions of a state, such as defence, citizenship, the currency and financial stability, monetary policy and many aspects of foreign affairs, that could not be the subject of devolution while Scotland remains within the United Kingdom.[2] However, we believe that if the promises made to the Scottish people are to be honoured in substance, not just in rhetoric, then the Westminster parties must agree maximum self-government.

The Vow for change

The necessity of change was acknowledged by those campaigning against independence throughout the referendum campaign. The three main UK parties each set up a commission to produce proposals for further devolution. The parties did not agree on a single package of further powers and responsibilities, but offered the public a process that would develop proposals to an accelerated timetable, with legislation then following the 2015 UK General Election. The three parties published a joint declaration, signed by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, setting out the steps they would take jointly after a No vote, and supporting a timetable for action proposed by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. And in the Vow published by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband on 16 September the three party leaders said:

"We are agreed that: The Scottish Parliament is permanent, and extensive new powers for the Parliament will be delivered by the process and to the timetable agreed and announced by our three parties, starting on 19th September."

They concluded:

"People want to see change. A No vote will deliver faster, safer and better change than separation."

The language used by leading figures in all three parties to describe the change required has created an expectation that the new powers will be substantial:

"The plan for a stronger Scottish Parliament we seek agreement on is for nothing else than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the United Kingdom."
(Gordon Brown, 8 September 2014)

"We're going to be, within a year or two, as close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation is 85% of the population."
(Gordon Brown, 14 August 2014)

"Scotland will have more powers over its finances, more responsibility for raising taxation and more control over parts of the welfare system - effective Home Rule but within the security and stability of our successful United Kingdom."
(Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, 13 September 2014)

"If we get a No vote on Thursday, that will trigger a major, unprecedented programme of devolution with additional powers for the Scottish Parliament."
(David Cameron, 15 September 2014)

Polling and research evidence shows that public opinion supports extensive further powers for the Scottish Parliament. For example, a poll conducted after the referendum showed that 66% of people supported giving the Scottish Parliament control of all areas of government policy other than defence and foreign affairs; 71% of people supported full powers over taxation raised in Scotland and 75% full powers over welfare and benefits.[3] Other polls and the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey from before the referendum have similarly shown that a majority of people think that the Scottish Government should make the decisions in these areas.[4]

The proposals published so far by the UK parties meet neither this public demand nor the expectations raised during the referendum campaign. Their proposals would provide the Scottish Parliament with responsibility for only between 20% (Labour) and 30% (Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) of taxes raised in Scotland and would leave the Scottish Parliament responsible for raising less than half of the revenue it spends. Proposals for devolved control of welfare are restricted to housing benefit and attendance allowance, which together represent only 13% of the welfare budget. These are not "extensive new powers".

Proposals that leave Westminster responsible for most of the taxes raised in Scotland and for most of the revenue to fund public services in Scotland, even devolved services, do not amount to a meaningful commitment to home rule.

Lord Smith has invited all participants to refresh their proposals for more devolution. The Scottish Government believes that a much more substantial proposal is needed to deliver the practical and democratic benefits of self-government.

The practical and democratic benefits of self-government

The Scottish Government supports extending the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament to bring the benefits of self-government to the widest range of government activity in Scotland. Since the re-establishment of the Parliament in 1999, devolution has shown us the benefits of self-government: ground-breaking legislation on smoking and climate change, and protection of the principle of free education, a distinctive Scottish approach to the National Health Service and care for older people. It has also enabled our confidence as a nation, communities and individuals to grow, as was seen most recently in the unprecedented resurgence of democratic participation in the referendum.

The case for extending the benefits of devolution rests on two fundamental arguments that are widely accepted:

  • People who live and work in Scotland will do the best job of running our country, because we understand our culture, resources, strengths and needs better than anyone else. This is the practical and principled argument in favour of self- government, and is reflected in a range of successful policies for Scotland such as the smoking ban, free personal care for older people and free higher education
  • Greater self-government will extend democratic and financial accountability of the Scottish Government and Parliament to the people of Scotland. This is the democratic argument for recognising, as the existence of the Scottish Parliament already does, that Scotland is a distinct political community with different views and voting patterns than other parts of the UK. The Scottish Parliament has given people, businesses and organisations in Scotland access to decision-making to a degree that Westminster never could

The record of the UK Government shows how centralised decision-making at Westminster fails to take account of the practical needs or democratic rights of the Scottish people. For example:

  • The 'bedroom tax' took no account of the reality of Scotland's housing stock - the smaller homes to which people were apparently expected to move simply do not exist in the numbers required - and was imposed despite the opposition of a majority of Scottish MPs
  • Immigration policy is driven by circumstances elsewhere in the United Kingdom, regardless of the needs of Scotland
  • Economic growth is still primarily focused on London and the South East creating an unbalanced UK economy

In our view the Scottish Parliament is better placed than Westminster to reflect Scottish priorities and preferences and the views of the people of Scotland. The proposals for maximum self-government set out in this paper are designed to give the Parliament responsibility for wide areas of social policy and the economic powers to ensure Scotland's prosperity.

Effective government across the UK

The Scottish Government believes that a particular policy area being reserved does not mean policy has to be uniform across the UK.[5] Neither does devolution mean policy has necessarily to be different in Scotland from the rest of the UK if there are common interests.

In many areas of existing devolved competence, the Scottish and UK Governments have worked together to benefit the people of Scotland and the rest of the UK. For example, there is close co-operation on issues relating to policing, security and intelligence across a range of devolved and reserved responsibilities. Similarly there is close co-operation in matters of research and innovation that should be preserved and enhanced.

With a significant extension of self-government in Scotland, there are likely to be a number of further areas where such co-operation agreements are wanted or needed. We would be open to discussing areas where such frameworks may be of benefit.

Equally, the fact that a particular area remains reserved to Westminster should not mean that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government should have no formal role in decision-making. The Scottish Government proposes that, in reserved areas, new procedures and structures are established to allow the Scottish Parliament and Government a formal role in key decisions affecting Scotland directly. This is especially important when the UK Government's proposals do not have popular or Parliamentary support in Scotland. The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament could also have a formal mechanism to make positive proposals for the exercise of reserved functions in Scotland, which the UK Government would be obliged to consider.[6] Similar arrangements could be put in place for all the administrations and legislatures in the United Kingdom for certain decisions affecting the future direction of the United Kingdom as a whole.