SNP pledge to tackle flawed Scotland Bill

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The SNP have pledged to improve and strengthen the Scotland Bill to help make the Scottish Parliament more accountable and boost Scotland’s economy.

The bill is currently making its way through the Westminster Parliament and the party have said they will attempt to address the flaws and focus on securing job-creating powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The Scotland Bill is the UK coalition government’s implementation of some of the Calman recommendations.  It was drawn up by the Tories and has the backing of the Lib Dems and Labour.

However the Scottish government and respected academics have claimed the tax raising proposals could seriously damage the Scottish economy and would lead to the Scottish budget being slashed.  They, along with respected Scottish business leaders, have called on full fiscal autonomy to be given to the Scottish Parliament in order to help protect Scottish jobs.

Commenting on the debate at Westminster, SNP Constitutional Affairs spokesman, Pete Wishart MP said:

“If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly but as it currently stands the Scotland Bill is a job badly done.  This will be a wasted opportunity unless we improve the Bill so that it delivers real benefits for people in Scotland.

“There are some parts of the Bill that we welcome, where there is a consensus for change which the Scottish government has been leading – such as devolution of control over air-guns, speed limits, and borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament, albeit they’re too limited.

“Scotland needs full financial responsibility to boost our recovery, invest in our public services and support long-term sustainable growth.  This Bill falls far short of that – it is ‘Calman Minus’ which threatens to short-change Scotland.

“SNP MPs will table amendments to the Bill to devolve to the Scottish Parliament the powers we need to grow the Scottish economy and create more jobs.”

Holyrood MSP and External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop echoed her colleagues description of the Tory plans as a “wasted opportunity” and insisted that as they stood they posed a risk to public services in Scotland.

Ms Hyslop said, “The Scotland Bill is a wasted opportunity as it does not give Scotland financial responsibility to grow the economy and, in its current form, poses a significant risk to the funding of public services.

“The level of devolution proposed offers no effective economic levers and none of the flexibility required to grow Scotland’s economy.  In fact, Scotland would only control 15 per cent of its tax revenues.

Ms Hyslop claimed that had the plans been implemented in 1999 then Scotland would have lost around £8 billion in funding.

She added, “There are fundamental problems with the financial proposals in the Bill.  Had these measures been in place since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, Scotland’s budget would have fallen by almost £8 billion over that period.  Even the welcome powers on borrowing will be too late and too limited to help deliver the vital economic growth Scotland needs to support jobs.

“There are also serious flaws in the Bill’s proposals which seek to take powers and responsibilities back to Westminster which have been exercised by the Scottish Parliament since 1999.

“The Scottish Government has provided constructive proposals and recommendations on how the Bill should and must be improved.  We will continue to engage at all levels as the Bill is scrutinised.”

Lib Dem MP and Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore claimed that the Bill had already been scrutinised in the Scottish Parliament and that he himself had given evidence to Wendy Alexander’s controversial scrutiny committee.  Alexander’s handling of the committee caused outrage after respected academics were hounded and harassed by the disgraced former Labour leader and Tory committee member David McLetchie.

Mr Moore admitted that Scotland would be over-dependent on income tax but responded to claims that the Scottish budget would have been cut by £8 billion by claiming that only £700 million would have been lost.

Mr Moore said, “Our own figures from the Scotland office indicate that if you draw the line from devolution through to 2010/11 you might cumulatively have lost up to £700 million.  But if you take through our projections to 2014/15 as tax receipts recover from that terrible recession you actually see a cumulative gain of £400 million.”