WESTMINSTER ISN'T WORKING FOR SCOTLAND

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MSP Angus MacDonald supports SNP Westminster Leader’s protest to Prime Minister over Scotland Bill failure

The MSP for Falkirk East, Angus McDonald, has welcomed a move made by the SNP Leader in the House of Commons challenging the Scotland Bill devolution settlement.

The SNP Westminster Group Leader and MP for Moray, Angus Robertson, has written to UK premiere David Cameron outlining details of where the Bill currently falls short of the cross-party Smith Commission agreement.

Mr. Robertson challenged the Prime Minister at PMQs last week on the issue of the Scotland Bill, with the Prime Minister again claiming that “the Vow” had been “delivered-in-full”, despite all evidence to the contrary. 

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Indeed, to contradict that, within hours of making this comment, the Prime Minister suggested that an amendment would be required to the Scotland Bill to live up to the basic commitment to secure the future of Holyrood.

The Member of Parliament for Moray’s subsequent letter to the Prime Minister reads:

Dear David,

At Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday last week you suggested that in answer to my question regarding the obvious shortcomings of the Scotland Bill in relation to the Smith Commission, “We have delivered on all the promises that we made”.

Within a matter of hours you then suggested that you would be laying an amendment to the Scotland Bill in contradiction to your comments in the House.

I attach a copy of the cross-party Scottish Devolution (Further Powers) Committee – which has support from the Scottish Conservatives – which sets out the key shortcomings of the current bill.

I also wish to raise the following aspects specifically. Under the current Bill, the UK Government retains the right to a veto over changes to Universal Credits; the power to create new benefits in all devolved areas has not been included; the ability to top up reserved benefits has been watered down; the Scottish Parliament will also be prevented from creating additional benefits to mitigate the impact of welfare sanctions and conditionality; and there is also unwarranted restrictions on who carers’ benefit is paid to.

On employment, the Scotland Bill is inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of paragraph 57 of the Smith Agreement. The Bill does not include the full range of employment support services currently delivered by the Department of Work and Pensions. Similarly, the Bill in its current form limits what can be done for disabled people and those at risk of long term unemployment.

Finally, on the constitution, I welcome the news that the promise of the permanence of the Scottish Parliament will now be honoured, however the Sewel Convention has not been put on a statutory footing in the legislation as proposed by Smith.

On issues of welfare, employment and the constitution, the Scotland Bill does not deliver on what the people of Scotland were promised or what the people of Scotland voted for at the ballot box in May. That has been made clear, not just by the SNP, Gordon Brown and the Labour party, but also the Scottish Trade Union Council, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Carers Scotland, and Enable Scotland – all say that the Bill in its current form does not deliver on what was promised – a view also backed by the House of Commons Library.

I would be grateful if you could let me know your thoughts on these matters,

Yours Sincerely,


Angus Robertson MP

 

Backing Mr. Cameron’s position,Scottish Secretary David Mundell – the nation’s sole Conservative MP - has also stated this week that the current settlement was as far as devolution would go, with a stark choice remaining between the Scotland Bill in its unamended form and independence.

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There have been a number of objections to what is widely perceived in Scotland as Tory intransigence and major goal post-shifting on key principles of the Smith Commission and ‘the Vow’ - even from some surprising quarters.

Speaking on BBC radio Scotland’s Big Debate programme on the anniversary of last year’s referendum, Labour’s new Scottish Deputy Leader, Alex Rowley, stated, “No ifs, no buts, Smith has not been delivered…We will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with SNP ministers to deliver Smith.”

Former UK Prime Minister and champion of the anti-independence lobby in Scotland, Gordon Brown, has also expressed dismay at the way things have gone since the referendum went in favour of retaining the Union. 

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In this connection, Mr. Brown recently exclaimed, “The case for action is even stronger than then with the Government falling short on the delivery of the recommendations of the Smith Commission on Scottish Devolution. and the case for action is enhanced if the Government is unwilling to listen to alternative views; and if, instead of discharging its duty to unite the country, and instead of seeking to build consensus, practices the politics of divide and rule.”

Commenting, the leader of the SNP Westminster Group, Angus Robertson, stated,  “Both the Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary have their heads buried in the sand on this issue and have now lost control of the Bill process."

"First we have the Prime Minister announce that there will be amendments to the Scotland Bill, and simultaneously have David Mundell saying that it is this or independence. It is clear to the vast majority of Scots - only nine percent believe the Vow has been fulfilled - and also the architect of the Vow Gordon Brown that the Scotland Bill is not delivering on what was promised to the people of Scotland.”

“The Bill at the very least must meet the standard set by the Scottish Parliament Devolution Committee, whose detailed report assesses the numerous areas where it currently falls short, particularly on welfare and is backed by all parties in Holyrood. The Prime Minister asked for a list, well this is one that even his own party has signed up to.”

“On issues of welfare, employment and the constitution, the Scotland Bill does not deliver on what was promised in 'the Vow' or what the people of Scotland voted for at the ballot box in May. This is backed up by the Scottish Trade Union Council, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Carers Scotland and Enable Scotland, who have all said that the Bill does not deliver enough. Even the House of Commons library explicitly states that the Bill does not deliver on Smith in full.”

Concurring with Mr. Robertson’s sentiment, the representative for Falkirk East at Holyrood, Angus MacDonald MSP, stated, “The Scotland Bill in its present form is as ludicrous as it is outrageous and unfair. There are a number of key areas where the Bill falls significantly short of the cross-party Smith Agreement on further devolution for Scotland.”

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Mr. MacDonald expanded on this by explaining, “Take the issue of Welfare for a start. The UK Government’s veto over changes to Universal Credit is unacceptable. The Scotland Bill stipulates that any changes require the agreement of the UK Government (clause 20 (4)), which is extremely concerning, as it could see the Scottish Parliament’s ability to improve the welfare system blocked by Westminster."

"Moreover, the Smith recommendation for a power to create new benefits in devolved areas has not been adequately reflected in the Scotland Bill, where this provision is incredibly limited. The clauses would only allow Holyrood to create new benefits in the much narrower areas of welfare to be devolved under the Bill. The Scottish Parliament must be empowered to set up new benefits in any field of devolved competence, whether education, justice or health.”

“Similarly, the ability to top up reserved benefits has been watered down, so that this ability is limited to cases of hardship. The Bill must implement the agreement to grant Scottish Ministers powers to top up any reserved benefit.  Under the Scotland Bill, the Scottish Parliament would be prevented from creating additional benefits to mitigate the impact of welfare sanctions and conditionality, which are one of the main causes of poverty and have seen levels of food bank use soar.  There are also unwarranted restrictions on who the Scottish Parliament would be able to pay carers’ benefits to.”

“In terms of the Constitution, The Sewel Convention has not been put on statutory footing in the legislation, as Smith proposed – rather the existence of the convention is simply recognised. The Scotland Bill clauses are vague and don’t require the UK Government to have the Scottish Parliament’s consent to legislate in devolved areas.”

“And when it comes to employment provision, the Scotland Bill is inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of paragraph 57 of the Smith Agreement. The Bill does not include the full range of employment support services currently delivered by the Department of Work and Pensions.”

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The Falkirk East MSP added, “Indeed, Work and Pensions is another major area of policy-making in which the Scotland Bill falls woefully short. As currently drafted the clauses limit the Scottish Parliament’s competency to services for disabled people and those at risk of long term unemployment. 

"For those at risk of long term unemployment, service provision must last more than one year.  These are fundamental points which would restrict the Scottish Government’s ability to support the unemployed and fully integrate services.”

“In reality, the situation that we are now in is one where David Cameron thinks that he and his one Tory MP in Scotland can dictate to everyone else what is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and what is not – the Prime Minister should just do what he promised and deliver the Smith Commission package in full.”

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Mr. MacDonald concluded his statement by saying, “I therefore commend my colleague in Westminster, Angus Robertson, for taking an honest and frank approach on behalf of the Scottish people in writing to David Cameron. His openly challenging the UK Government on the shortcomings of the devolved settlement is a right and necessary step in the accountability process."

"As Alex Salmond famously put it, we need to hold the Westminster establishment's 'feet to the fire' on the pledge made of near-federal powers for Scotland if the electorate voted ‘No’ in last year’s independence referendum.”

Copyright © Angus MacDonald MSP 2017

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