Scottish Labour Devolution Commission

The inaugural meeting of Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission was held this morning in Glasgow, to discuss the programme of work and principles of the Commission for the coming months. The Group is expected to produce an interim report which will be debated at Scottish Conference next April.

Red Paper Collective member Jackson Cullinane is a member of the Commission, he said:

“Polls of our members show that they are unconvinced by the case for independence but do not favour the status quo. The labour and trade union movement in Scotland has historically been a movement for devolution and this Commission provides an opportunity to explore the options for decentralisation of powers to give ordinary people a greater say and influence over decisions affecting their lives.”

“I am particularly encouraged that the Commission will reach out to community and trade union organisations, listening to their views, focusing on producing a vision of a more equitable and just Scotland and considering how powers can be best re-distributed to make that vision a reality.”

The Commission will be seeking views over the coming months as to where additional powers and responsibilities should lie, not just those devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but from the Scottish Parliament to local authorities across Scotland.

Sterling zone implications

In my contribution to People Power on the fiscal implications of constitutional change I argued that a vision of independence within a Sterling zone, that doesn’t even exist, has major limitations.

“Handing over monetary policy to rUK also limits the scope of fiscal policy. We only have to look at the Eurozone crisis debate to see the link between monetary and fiscal policy. If the key economic levers are controlled by another country, then there is less influence on monetary, and fiscal, policy than under devolution.”

Professor Brian Ashcroft in his Scottish Economy Watch blog has developed this point further. Referring to Alex Salmond’s “flip flop” on whether Scotland would have to sign up to a fiscal stability pact if an independent Scotland adopted sterling, he says:

“There is no doubt in my mind that if an independent Scotland adopts sterling then it should enter into a formal monetary union arrangement with the rest of UK government and agree/accept a fiscal stability pact.”

He sets out the reasons for this in some detail in the blog. The Scottish Green Party might also like to consider these points given their plan for a separate currency.

However, even if the rUK was prepared to agree such a fiscal stability pact, it comes at a price. As Brian Ashcroft points out, there will still be a risk premium on borrowing costs, because small countries have more volatile finances, particular Scotland with its dependency on oil revenues. I would add that it is inconceivable that the Bank of England would not put other fiscal and monetary conditions in such a pact. It all adds up to something far short of real independence.

Devolving health and safety

Stirling University’s Andrew Watterson  and Rory O’Neill have published  ‘Regulating Scotland:  What works and what does not in occupational and environmental health and what the future may hold.’

This is a useful commentary, not only on the shocking state of safety enforcement in Scotland, but also on the constitutional debate. Two recommendations are particularly relevant:

  • Serious consideration should be  given to the creation of a Scottish Occupational Health and Safety Agency, controlled from Scotland and freed from Westminster’s financial and political control.

 

  • Scotland should establish itself as a vocal defender of the environment and workplace standards and of the rights and health of its population, not an apologist for Westminster’s deregulatory obsession or an evidence-blind advocate of the skewed ‘business burdens’ argument that transfers risks and costs to the public and the public purse.

A number of trade unions, including UNISON, argued in their evidence to the Calman Commission that health and safety should be devolved. Sucessive Scottish administrations have shown a willingness to get involved in health and safety, but the engagement has been limited.

This report makes a convincing case for change.