Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Scottish Mandate Yields Small Results

SNP dissatisfied with devolution of 

powers outlined in Queen's speech

Nicola Sturgeon says general election results were mandate for measures beyond those recommended by the Smith commission and contained in the Scotland bill

Nicola Sturgeon (right) visiting a gardening project at a housing association development in Craigmillar, Edinburgh.
Nicola Sturgeon (right) visiting a housing association development in Craigmillar, Edinburgh. She said it was clear ‘the priorities this UK government have outlined in the Queen’s speech are not the priorities of the Scottish government’. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Nicola Sturgeon has said that “dramatically changed political circumstances in Scotland”, which saw the SNP win 56 out of 59 seats in the general election, amounts to “a mandate for substantial further powers beyond those recommended by the Smith process” and thus contained in the draft Scotland bill.
The rudiments of the new Scotland bill confirmed in the Queen’s speech, including powers to raise 40% of taxes and decide about 60% of public spending, appear to follow faithfully the draft legislation laid out by David Cameron in Edinburgh in January. That was based on the recommendations of the cross-party Smith commission, which was convened to agree more powers for Scotland in the wake of last September’s closely-fought vote to reject independence.
At the time, the SNP dismissed the clauses Cameron put forward as watering down the Smith agreement in key areas, and on Wednesday the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, reiterated that “anything less than implementation of the Smith commission in full would be a breach of faith”. But, echoing Sturgeon, he added: “The Tories must also respond to the election result and react positively to proposals for a transfer of powers beyond Smith, a position which won overwhelming support in the election.”
Following its landslide victory across Scotland earlier this month, the SNP believes it now has an electoral mandate for the far more ambitious set of powers detailed in its manifesto, including the power to increase the minimum wage in Scotland at a faster rate than the UK, control national insurance rates, introduce separate equality policies and set other business taxes independently of the Treasury, and will continue to push for those.
The SNP manifesto also included the flagship policy of full fiscal autonomy, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated would leave a £7.6bn “black hole” in Scotland’s finances.
While none of these elements were included in the Queen’s speech, it did cover allowing the Scottish parliament to set thresholds and rates of income tax on earnings in Scotland and keep all income raised in Scotland, giving Holyrood control over the first 10 percentage points of standard rate VAT revenue raised in Scotland, new welfare powers worth £2.5bn, and devolution of air passenger duty. It also stated that a new fiscal framework for Scotland would be negotiated alongside the bill.
Robertson also said the SNP would seek urgent clarity on legislation relating to “English votes for English laws” and, during the Commons debate following the speech, SNP MPs expressed concern that the Conservatives intended to amend their voting rights using the standing orders of the House rather than a full bill. In an interview with the Guardian before the general election, Sturgeon insisted that it was “not just legitimate … but absolutely essential” that Scottish MPs had the right to vote on issues with a “knock-on effect” on Scotland, such as the NHS budget.
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Scotland, Ian Murray, described the tabling of the Scotland bill as a “significant moment” and insisted that his party would work to ensure that the now infamous “vow” of more powers for Scotland, made by the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem leaders in the days before the referendum vote, was kept in full.
Murray reiterated Scottish Labour’s commitment to keeping to the Barnett formula, after a reduction in how much money the devolved Scottish government receives was signalled in the Queen’s speech. He added: “The test now for the Tories is if they can deliver the devolution Scotland wants without leaving Scotland worse off.”
Sturgeon said: “It is abundantly clear that the priorities this UK government have outlined in the Queen’s speech are not the priorities of the Scottish government.”

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