UNISON Scotland publishes devolution plan

Yesterday UNISON Scotland launched its latest contribution to the constitutional change debate, ‘A Fairer Scotland – Devolution’. 

In the first ‘A Fairer Scotland’ paper we set out our approach to constitutional change. In common with much of the trade union movement, UNISON has not as yet taken a stance on the referendum itself. Instead the union has challenged all parties to the debate to explain how their preferred option will match UNISON’s priorities as laid out in ‘A Fairer Scotland’. 

The latest document opens up a debate which has so far focused on fiscal issues and argues that new devolved powers for the Scottish Parliament are essential to create a Fairer Scotland and improve the lives of working people. We start from the principle of subsidiarity, the idea that matters should be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority. Although we also recognise that others powers could be devolved because we would want to do things differently in Scotland, without undermining the principle of solidarity across the UK. 

On this basis we make the case for devolving employment matters including, health and safety, public service pensions, employment regulation and equalities. We believe devolving energy would enable the Scottish Parliament to play to Scotland’s generating strengths, while maintaining a democratic say in the UK market mechanisms. Devolving elections, data protection, consumer rights and others, largely tidy up anomalies in the current settlement. In total it adds up to a major shift in legislative powers to Scotland. 

While we think it is long overdue that more focus is placed on powers, we have not ignored fiscal powers. We argue that all property taxes should be devolved together with income tax including the power to vary the rate in bands. This could include National Insurance as the link with contributory benefits is becoming increasingly weak and government needs to see the full impact of their taxation policy on people’s incomes. 

We also accept that business taxes should remain at UK level. Tax competition is wrong in principle and in any case will be constrained by tightening EU rules in this field. The same applies to consumption taxes (primarily VAT) as EU rules don’t allow variable rates in the same state. There is a stronger policy element to fuel duty, tobacco and alcohol taxes, but given the integrated nature of the UK it is hard to see how these could be set differently in Scotland. 

We support fiscal devolution not because of any perceived ‘moral hazard’ in a parliament not raising the money it spends. But rather because under the current arrangements Scotland is pulled, at least financially, by English approaches to public services that have little support in Scotland. 

Devolution also doesn’t stop at Holyrood. At a time when there is increasing concern over the centralisation of services in Scotland, it is important that the constitutional role of local government should be recognised in any discussion over devolved powers. Local authorities should have a stronger statutory basis, gaining greater control over their finances including business rates and there should be less ring fencing of council grants. 

It is for the Scottish Government to set out the independence ‘offer’ in their White Paper later this year. Equally the pro-devolution parties need to set out what voting No means in terms of extended devolution and that is the focus of our latest paper. The status quo is not an option for the vast majority of Scots.

9 thoughts on “UNISON Scotland publishes devolution plan

  1. May I point out some contradictions in this article. In the first para Dave Watson states, “UNISON has not as yet taken a stance on the referendum itself”.
    He then beigins three subsequent paras “On this basis we make the case for devolving employment matters….”. then “We also accept that business taxes should remain at UK level”. and “We support fiscal devolution not because of any perceived ‘moral hazard…….”
    Mr. Watson, please explain. If not for my benefit, I think UNISON members deserve an explanation.

  2. Because there are two different processes being addressed as the full paper makes clear. The pro-devolution parties are considering the next stage of devolution so obviously trade unions want to influence that debate as well.

  3. That does not sound very objective to me. On the one hand Unison has still to take a stance on the referendum and on the other it wants to ‘influence the debate’ your words.
    The independence parties are also planning for the future after a yes vote. Why does UNISON not want to influence that debate?
    It strikes me that, for an organisation still claiming to be sitting on the fence, it appears to UNISON members that there is only one direction their leadership is facing.

  4. We do wish to influence the independence debate as well. That’s what the first ‘Fairer Scotland’ paper and the similar STUC ‘Just Scotland’ paper is about. You may wish that everyone would just talk about your campaign, but that isn’t where we and most people in Scotland for that matter currently are.

  5. I often disagree with Dave and others who share his position. But you have to recognise that debate requires an element of listening to the other argument and responding accordingly. Not just trumpeting your own opinions irrespective of the points made. Infantile abuse is also pretty ineffective and simply damages your case.

  6. Norrie Gray, “Infantile abuse ……….” ? Where? Name it. ,

    Dave Watson, I’ve never mentioned the pro independence campaign in any of my comments. The only issue I have raised is the dishonest position the leadership of UNISON are taking. In this one article you claim UNISON “has not as yet taken a stance” and then give examples of the further powers you think should be devolved and which powers should be retained.
    The membership of unions that represent government employees in Scotland will see their numbers soar under independence and you, as an advocate of retention of certain powers, are by definition clearly a supporter of a No vote to independence.
    This is not ‘infantile abuse’ , the accusation I am making is serious, it is, that you Mr. Watson are putting your own opinions and self interests ahead of the interests of UNISON in Scotland


  7. Dave Watson, What a pity you don’t feel inclined to defend yourself against a charge of dereliction of duty.
    If you think that hiding and hoping that this will all go way is the answer then let me assure you, it won’t. As the Communication Union that represents postal workers in Edinburgh and the Fire Fighters Union come out in support of a Yes vote it is beholden on you to state how Independence will impact on UNISON. That does not mean presenting your own personal views as UNISON policy instead of what is best way forward for the members you represent.

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