New powers for Scotland do not go far enough, it is claimed
A flawed, disappointing and incoherent piece of legislation which served mainly as an exercise in excluding the people of Scoltand from decision making.
That’s the damning verdict from a leading figure in Scotland’s charity sector on new powers for the country.
The UK government officially unveiled draft legislation today (Thursday, 22 January). Many of the proposals could take years to appear on the statute books.
It is based upon recommendations drawn up by the Smith Commission, which was set in motion following promises made by pro-union parties in the run up to last year’s independence referendum, where Scots voted to remain in the UK by a narrow margin.
The fatal flaw in all of this is the failure to make it a people-led process. This is not a good starting point, nor will it endure - Martin Sime, SCVO
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ (SCVO) chief executive Martin Sime claimed the settlement – entitled Scotland In the United Kingdom: An Enduring Settlement – is not a good starting point for the country’s post referendum future and is unlikely to last.
He said: “The piecemeal proposals put forward by the Smith Commission were never going to translate into coherent legislation, so we’re not surprised by today’s disappointing and incoherent offerings which simply will not create an enduring settlement or the fundamental change and greater social justice that so many people in Scotland want. Political fixes are not the way to develop devolution.
“The fatal flaw in all of this is the failure to make it a people-led process. To be successful, we need to pursue bottom-up devolution steered by what people in Scotland actually want.
“We need to find a way to open up debate to people and communities in Scotland if we’re going to reach a settlement on more powers that will stand the test of time and make a real difference to people’s lives. This is not a good starting point, nor will it endure.”
Sime’s comments echoed those of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said the proposals do not go far enough, do not represent the views of the Scottish Government and contain too many restrictions on the use of new devolved powers – including the right of the UK government to use vetos in key areas.
Among the powers which will now be devolved to Scotland are the setting of income tax rates and bands, but not the ability to alter the threshold above which tax is paid.
A proportion of VAT raised in Scotland will be assigned to Holyrood and air passenger duty will be fully devolved.
Welfare will also be tinkered with, with the devolution of a range of benefits to support older people, carers and disabled people and the Scottish Parliament being able to create new benefits in devolved areas and make discretionary payments in other areas of welfare.
Many third sector groups have demanded a halt be put on UK welfare reform which will eventually be devolved to Scotland – such as the introduction of Universal Credit and switching people from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independent Payments.
Citizens Advice Scotland’s (CAS) chief executive Margaret Lynch said that while CAS welcomed the transfer of some powers, the body was alarmed at the intransigence shown over welfare reform.
She said: “To put up to 190,000 people in Scotland through two benefit upheavals is both uncaring and reckless. I am concerned that the real reasons behind the forced transition is to reduce the benefit pot before it is transferred to the Scottish Parliament.”
David Ogilvie, head of policy and public affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland, gave the process a cautious welcome, saying: “We are particularly pleased to see that the draft legislation looks to improve the way the UK and Scottish governments work together, as well as providing greater flexibility on welfare payments in Scotland, including universal credit and the bedroom tax.
“While this doesn’t represent a solution for the various problems facing Scotland’s housing system at the moment, it should at least increase the range of powers at the disposal of the Scottish government to address them more directly and in a way which is relevant to Scotland.
“However, there is still some way to go before the impact of these extra powers can be made real, so CIH will be maintaining a close eye on the progress of this legislation.”