Malcolm Chisholm calls for ‘flawed’ Scotland Bill to be scrapped


by a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has welcomed the publication of an article by prominent Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm in which he calls for the ‘flawed’ Scotland Bill to be scrapped.

Pointing out that public opinion in Scotland has already moved on from the provisions contained in the Bill, Mr Chisholm called for the establishment of a civic convention on far greater powers.

Mr Chisholm highlighted what he saw as the fundamental weakness of the current devolution settlement: “the fact the Scottish Parliament is responsible for almost sixty per cent of all public expenditure in Scotland, but is only able to raise about seven per cent of Scottish tax and revenue income.”

Mr Chisholm noted that the Scotland Bill, which he described as “a watered-down version of the already timid Calman Commission proposals”, “simply can’t and won’t enthuse the people of Scotland”.   He added: “I am glad that some prominent people in my own party are at last beginning to realise that.”

In the article Mr Chisholm argues that the choice in the planned independence referendum ought to be between independence and a “devo max / devo plus” option, but noted: “Unfortunately, very few people have as yet have worked up a detailed alternative model of devolution.”

Other senior Labour figures have recently come forward in support of far greater powers for the Scottish Parliament than any of the Unionist parties currently envisage.  Former First Minister Henry McLeish, as well as Douglas Alexander and George Foulkes, have all expressed support enhancing the powers controlled by Holyrood, including even possibly welfare benefits, and for devolving to Edinburgh the control of a number of tax raising powers.

However other figures within the Labour party remain dead set against the extension of further powers and remain committed to the Calman proposals which survived into the Scotland Bill.  All three of the leading contenders for the leadership of the party in Scotland have ruled out “devo max” as an option.

As well as an increasing demand for great tax raising powers for Holyrood, there is also a developing consensus in Scotland that Holyrood should have greater control of spending.  Many are now calling for the devolving of welfare and benefits to Holyrood. There is widespread unease in Scotland at the Conservative led changes to the UK welfare and benefits system in the Welfare Reform Bill going through the Westminster Parliament.  None of the Unionist parties currently support this proposal.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper earlier this week, Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said that there is now a “fast moving consensus” amongst Scottish voluntary sector organisations that control over social security, unemployment benefits and housing benefit should be devolved to Scotland.

Mr Sime said:  “What we’re seeing from voluntary organisations is a realisation of the dreadful impact that the welfare reform proposals and cuts will have on the poorest people in Scotland.  There’s an immediate practical abhorrence of what’s on the table but a wider appreciation that we need to design a welfare system that fits Scottish values and aspirations as well as Scottish health and social care structures.”

Speaking to the Guardian, shadow Scotland Secretary Margaret Curran said that Labour would be “sceptical” about devolving the welfare system.  Ms Curran said that “breaking up the British welfare state” would be “incendiary” to Scots.

Ms Curran added:  “It’s just too crude to say we’re better in Scotland and we’ve a better attitude to the welfare state in Scotland.  The break-up of the British welfare state?  If that’s what’s at risk in ‘devo max’, I think people will be very interested in that.”

Stewart Maxwell, SNP MSP for West Scotland and member of the Scottish Parliament’s Scotland Bill Committee, welcomed Mr Chisholm’s contribution to the debate, saying:

“Malcolm Chisholm makes a serious contribution to the debate over Scotland’s  constitutional future, and the Labour party should follow his positive lead.

“Following similar interventions by Henry McLeish, Douglas Alexander and Lord Foulkes, Labour’s current leadership, and contenders, look increasingly out of touch with their own party membership as well as the wider public.

“Labour and the Lib Dems need to understand that the only alternative to campaigning for ‘devo-max’ is for them to stand with the Tories in opposing any more powers for Scotland – a totally disastrous position to adopt in Scottish politics.

“The ambitions of an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland go way beyond the status quo and even the flawed Scotland Bill to more powers and independence for Scotland.

“The SNP will bring forward a referendum on Scottish independence in the second half of this parliament.  If opposition parties have any sense they will listen to the advice from people like Malcolm Chisholm, take the debate seriously and put forward a positive vision for the people of Scotland.”