The Red Paper Collective has argued the case for greater devolution of powers to a Scottish Parliament for many years. It is pleased that this is now almost universally accepted. But it is important to recognise that not all parties involved want powers for the same purpose.
The Tories would be pleased to devolve sufficient powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so they could argue that henceforth Westminster will double up as an English Parliament as well as a UK Parliament. They would try to present themselves as the defenders of England against the other parts of the UK that are after its wealth and Scottish Tories would be happy to pursue a low tax low, low public expenditure approach in Scotland.
The SNP would shamelessly absorb each new power while continuing to blame its failures to raise families out of poverty, or to secure working people decent wages and conditions, as being out of their hands. Each new power would only be stepping stones to independence.
The Red Paper Collective, however, believes that new powers, if used effectively, can make a substantial difference now. It does however mean that those in power in the Scottish Parliament must have the political will to challenge the vested interests of big business.
Support for Devo Max or Full Fiscal Autonomy could only benefit working people if it was implemented with the intention of reclaiming the Scottish economy for the Scottish people. It would have to involve bringing the economy, particularly oil and gas, into public ownership. It would probably involve asking people to make sacrifices in the short term so that a new type of economy could be built with the needs of working people at its core. And even then success would almost certainly depend on extensive solidarity from workers in the rest of Britain. No-one, least of all the SNP, is suggesting this.
Full Fiscal Autonomy became central to the election campaign but once the numbers were shown not to add up it was claimed firstly, that the Smith Commission had said there should be no detriment to Scotland from its new powers, even though full fiscal autonomy was never an option under the Smith Commission and secondly, it was not going to happen so therefore the Institute for Fiscal Studies critique of it is “absolutely irrelevant.”
The new powers that should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament must be ones that enable it to undo some of destructive effects of not just the coalition austerity package, but the centralisation of power introduced by the SNP Scottish Government. We need to end what Professor Prem Sikka calls the “organised humiliation of ordinary people”. The Scottish Government’s 8 years of council tax freeze has taken over £2.5bn out of local authority budgets. The Small Business Bonus Scheme has cost £900m without a shred of evidence to show its benefits. The underspending by the Scottish Government for this year alone has been £444m. Each of these is a political choice by the Scottish Government. None of them have been imposed by Westminster. But each exposes an intervention on behalf of the better off at the expense of the poor.
The new powers that will certainly come to the Scottish Parliament could be used effectively in so many ways by effective use of taxation and borrowing, but the Scottish Parliament has not even begun to make effective use of its existing powers largely because it has lacked the political will. As Neil Findlay MSP a contributor to a new Red Paper Collective publication has said:
“We need an alternative to the way our economy works, who owns it and therefore controls it and in whose interests it works. We need prosperity in place of austerity and democratic socialism in place of trickle down free market economics. We must judge the use of any further powers on the basis of whether they enable Scotland to achieve these goals.”
Pauline Bryan is Convenor of the Red Paper Collective which today publishes its new publication Scotland: Myths, Realities, Radical Future. www.redpaper.net
The Red Paper Collective welcomes aspects of the Smith Commission:
- the maintenance and indexing the Barnett formula to take account of the newly devolved areas which supports the principle progressive redistribution within the UK;
- powers over some benefits like the ‘bedroom tax’ (under-occupancy penalty) and disability benefits, which can pave the way for an end to blatant injustices in both these areas;
- powers to enable public sector companies to bid for rail franchises which could at long last provide the basis of a publicly owned rail system in Scotland;
- an increase in borrowing powers commensurate with greater tax raising, which could allow the Scottish government to end the iniquitous use of PFI/PPP.
We believe that the power over income tax (which does not include unearned income) should be used to bring about better and more Scottish and locally provided services such as health, education and social care. It is therefore regrettable that the Commission made no attempt to address the undermining of local democracy by enshrining powers of local government especially over the right to raising income and local economic development.
Indeed there are no significant new powers for economic development. In light of this austerity will continue and intensify unless policies at UK level (as impacted by the EU, for example EuroPlus Pact) are changed.
As the Red Paper Collective has argued for the past three years, it is how these power are used that will determine whether they are progressive or not.
We note that The SNP government programme announced yesterday contained no proposals for income redistribution via tax and postponed implementation of any policies to end the council tax freeze for implementation in 2017-18.