Submission to the Smith Commission

The STUC welcomes the opportunity to submit its views on further devolution to the Smith Commission. It does not underestimate the difficulty of the Commission’s task and believes significant compromise will be necessary on all sides if agreement is to be reached which is coherent and matches the aspirations of a majority of the Scottish people. The STUC’s concerns about the process for agreeing further powers are a matter of record. We have joined with a range of civil society organisations to argue that whatever proposals are agreed should be tested in a citizen led process involving the use of maximum consultation and the creation of citizens’ juries. The STUC is also on record as stating that the most important outcome is an optimal proposal and this, for us, is much less important than adhering to the very testing timetable laid down, both for the Commission and the subsequent parliamentary process.

The STUC has been disturbed at the enormously divergent accounts of what has been ‘promised’ with respect to further powers. We do not believe that the content of the proposals previously published by the three pro-devolution parties, or the wording of the ‘Vow’ can be categorised as a promise of ‘Devo Max’ or full fiscal autonomy. Equally, however, a strong impression was conveyed that the powers proposed would extend significantly beyond that which had previously been promised. Opinion polls suggest that there is strong public support in Scotland for the devolution of very meaningful fiscal, welfare, employment, equality and other powers. The detail of what this means has not been tested which is why the STUC is so strongly in favour of the outcome of the Commission being tested in an environment which is capable of investigating the detail and engaging the wider public.

The STUC’s proposals fall short of what would normally categorised as full fiscal autonomy or ‘devo-max’. This is grounded in an honest assessment of what arrangement would best serve the people of Scotland in the years ahead. Equally, we do not propose the devolution of all aspects of welfare. However, our proposals go significantly further than the sum total of the proposals of the three pro-devolution parties. Our appeal to all parties in the negotiations is that they should be prepared to make significant compromises and that political advantage should take a back seat. Taken together the proposals offer a coherent approach to tackling inequality and promoting sustainable economic growth. Fundamentally, they recognise that the role of government is to support and nurture society and that the Parliament must be empowered to play a leading in role in meeting that challenge.

Summary of STUC recommendations:
Democratic ownership and the public good
1.1 There should be a process of consent between Westminster and Holyrood over EU decisions affecting areas within the Scottish Parliament’s jurisdiction particularly as it impacts upon democratic ownership.
1.2 The full devolution of the Crown Estate to the Scottish Parliament.
1.3 Increased borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament to enable it to undertake public funded investment without recourse to mechanisms such a PFI.
1.4 Devolution of powers to enable a public sector led bid for the ScotRail franchise.
1.5 Removal of any reservations preventing the Scottish Government forming publicly owned enterprises.
1.6 To enable the Scottish Parliament to tackle the inequities of land ownership, the devolution of all relevant income and land related taxes including inheritance tax and capital gains tax reliefs.
1.7 The devolution of Housing Benefit as recommended by the Scottish Labour Party and various others as well as any additional power required to enable the Scottish parliament to control private and public sector rents.

Fiscal powers
2.1 The devolution and assignment of taxation amounting to at least two thirds of Scottish public spending (over 50% of all spending in Scotland).
2.2 A commitment, with appropriate legislative safeguards, that the Scottish Block Grant will continue, for at least a generation, to guarantee funding at existing levels relative to the rUK.
2.3 Devolution of income tax at all bands & other personal wealth related taxes as well as Air Passenger Duty and Aggregates Taxes as proposed by the Calman Commission but not included in the Scotland Act 2012.
2.5 50% of VAT and alcohol/tobacco/fuel/gaming duties should be assigned
2.6 The agreement of a financial memorandum allowing adjustments to the block grant to recognise discreet actions by the Scottish Government using devolved funding which have a positive impact on UK welfare spending in Scotland.
2.7 The capacity should exist for the Scottish Government to borrow at the maximum level negotiable with the UK Treasury.
2.8 The capacity should exist for the Scottish Government to issue bonds within normal and negotiable limits.
A better labour market and workplace protection
3.1 The devolution of employment law, health and safety, trade union law and the minimum wage as well as of public sector pensions schemes with the exception of the Civil Service Scheme.

Equality
4.1 That employment law and equality law not be separated with respect to further devolution proposals.
4.2 The full devolution of equality law, provided that employment law is also devolved.
4.3 In the case that employment law is not devolved, the STUC favours the devolution of equality enforcement along with the industrial tribunals and health and safety enforcement.
4.4 There should be no impediment under a devolved settlement to the Scottish Parliament legislating for mandatory 50-50 gender representation in the Scottish Parliament and local councils, or for gender equality on company boards.

Basic Rights for Scottish Citizens
5.1 STUC recommends that the Sewel Convention is given full legal force.
5.2 Consideration to how Scotland can have a stronger level of control around constitutional issues, including any change to agreed international treaties and the agreement of new international treaties. Focus on both the powers of the Scottish Parliament (and the other devolved Parliaments) and the weight given to voters in Scotland (and the other devolved nations) in referenda be considered.
5.3 The franchise in all UK elections should be extended to include 16 and 17 year olds.
Welfare
6.1 The devolution of Housing Benefit, Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, the Work Programme and other employability programmes run by the DWP; and the creation of a Scottish Job centre Plus.
6.5 The adoption of the recommendation of Andrew Tickell in Securing greater Social Security autonomy and restating the Union.

Other powers
7.1 A presumption in favour of the right to Scotland to pursue distinctive policy on migration, subject to the UK Government providing substantive evidence of detriment to the rUK.
7.2 An agreement that the Scottish Government be able to offer asylum to refugees, subject to reserved Immigration and Nationalities Department consent
7.3 The Scottish Government to be enabled to legislate for those seeking asylum to work in Scotland whilst their applications are being processed.
7.4 Devolution of additional powers to tailor support for low carbon generation and the full scope of regulation of energy efficiency.
7.5 A more formal role in energy industry regulation but recognising the challenges of delivering a distinct regulatory approach within an all UK energy market. Therefore, it is essential that all stakeholders are fully engaged in discussions about how new powers and responsibilities might be utilised.
7.6 The Scottish Parliament to be given formal regulatory power over broadcasting in Scotland. It is particularly important that the public service broadcasters are accountable to, and seen to be accountable to, the Scottish Parliament.

The full STUC submission can be found at http://www.stuc.org.uk/news/1112/stuc-publishes-smith-commission-proposals

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