Let ordinary Scots have a say in new powers

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Scotland's leading civil society bodies have united to call for a more open process to decide on what Scotland will look like in the future

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12th October 2014 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

The commission set up to decide what additional powers should be devolved to Scotland is not listening to ordinary people, Scotland’s biggest civil society organisations have said.

The Church of Scotland, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) have called for citizens to be involved in deciding what powers should be within the control of the Scottish Parliament and what should remain at Westminster.

The bodies have warned the speed of the current timetable for reform, which will see new legislation put forward in January, means the views of the public are in danger of being ignored. They are calling for a citizen-led process to support the work of the Smith Commission, which is reviewing what new powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

In a letter sent to Lord Smith of Kelvin, who is leading the commission, the three bodies were joined by the National Union of Students and the Electoral Reform Society, and said: “We are concerned that there is a vital component missing from the process.

Martin Sime

Martin Sime

"Our message to Lord Smith is simple: a top-down deal on more powers for Scotland just won’t work, particularly if it’s based around existing fixed positions of our political parties" - Martin Sime

"The inspirational energy evident across Scotland during the referendum – including but also well beyond the membership of civil society organisations like our own, and reflected in the very high turnout – deserves and expects to be fully engaged in what happens next. This is not possible within the timetable you have been given.”

The letter goes on to urge the commission to commit to “a widest possible citizen-led process which would test the outcome of your discussions against the values and expectations which have been raised by the people of Scotland”.

Scotland’s political parties this week submitted reports to Lord Smith, while civil society organisation have been given until the end of the month to submit their views.

It is expected that Lord Smith will then create his own proposals for more powers before a new Scotland bill is drafted towards the end of the year.

However, civil society groups have raised concerns that the speed of the process means that not enough consideration is being given to a very complex issue and that the opportunity to create meaningful change may be lost.

SCVO itself sent an early submission to Lord Smith on Friday outlining some of the many areas where third sector organisations are considering devolution to Holyrood.

It highlighted its own call, backed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and other poverty groups, for welfare to be devolved.

It also highlighted that third sector organisations are exploring issues around equality laws, employability programmes, energy, international development, immigration and asylum and consumer protection.

Martin Sime, chief executive of SCVO said: “Our message to Lord Smith is simple: a top-down deal on more powers for Scotland just won’t work, particularly if it’s based around existing fixed positions of our political parties.

“This can’t be allowed to turn into yet another stitch-up. People won’t stand for that anymore.”

All five main political parties submitted evidence to Smith on Friday. They called for a range of powers to be devolved.

The Scottish Government called for substantial new powers, including full autonomy for income tax, national insurance, corporation tax, capital gains tax, fuel duty, air passenger duty and inheritance tax.

It said Holyrood should have responsibility for all domestic expenditure – including welfare – with payments made to the UK government for reserved services.

It also called for a sustainable framework for public finances including the necessary borrowing powers and responsibility for key economic levers such as employment policy (including the minimum wage) employability programmes; transport policy not currently devolved (including rail), competition, energy and broadcasting policy; and the Crown Estate.