Unfortunately, a watered down skinking ware is what has been delivered by the Smith Commission following the publication of the Government command paper and draft Bill. Far from the Home Rule promised by the now infamous ‘vow’, and while welcoming the further progress in the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament, these draft clauses highlight the limitations not the ambitions for Scotland’s future. Not least of the disappointments are the ‘veto’ clauses which would appear to enshrine Scotland’s begging luggie in the process of defining our own welfare system, fuel poverty, energy and transport policies. As one of the two SNP members who participated in the Smith Commission, Deputy First Minister Mr Swinney has made it clear that he will be demanding the removal of the vetoes from the final UK Bill and in so doing so ensure that the letter and the spirit of Smith is delivered for the people of Scotland.
But there are some steps forward, a few bits of meat in the broth after all; the long-called for devolution of air passenger duty looks to be delivered in the UK Government’s drafting, along with the aggregates levy. In the chamber this week John Swinney stated that “our initial assessment of the income tax provisions also suggests that they are close to delivering what the Smith commission recommended.”
In quoting from the UK document Mr Swinney went on to say:
“The Scottish Parliament will have new powers to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility … The Scottish Parliament will also have new powers to make discretionary payments in any area of welfare without the need to obtain prior permission from DWP.
“It is not credible to argue that this Parliament already has the competence to create benefits in devolved areas when social security schemes are specifically reserved under the Scotland Act 1998. Many in this chamber will recall the difficulties that the Parliament has faced on issues such as carers benefits and council tax reductions because of that reservation, so it is vital that the power to create new benefits in devolved areas is put beyond any reasonable doubt. Those proposals have rightly been hailed as some of the most important of the Smith proposals, so that is perhaps the most serious omission from the Bill as it was published last week.”
Why does this matter so much? As Deputy Convenor of the Welfare Reform Committee, I took part in the Stage 2 debate on the Welfare Funds Bill. Generally there was consensus in the Committee about building a system that will be responsive and efficient in delivering emergency help to vulnerable people in immediate need. One of the amendments, which had support in principle from all Members of the Committee, including Baroness Goldie, sought to provide for a new category of qualifying individuals of “families facing exceptional pressure. “
Despite the consensus of the Committee and the Minister, Margaret Burgess, the Scottish Parliament operates under the terms of the Section 30 Order which grants the Parliament the power to legislate in this area. This order restricts the changing of qualifying individuals because they are listed in this part of the Scotland Act that the Scottish Parliament has no power to change ! This is just one small example of the technical problems faced by MSPs each day because Scotland does not have the powers she needs or deserves to truly tackle inequality and poverty ! We need the full powers of a normal nation to fully tackle inequality and poverty !
Not more skinking ware that jaups in luggies! Gie Scotland a Haggis !