13th. November 2015
When the people of Scotland took part in the independence referendum, they were set two choices – full independence or a more powerful Scottish Parliament which remained part of the UK.
The status quo wasn’t on the ballot paper because there was broad consensus that people wanted change in our political system.
After a two-year debate in which we exhausted all the issues, we eventually decided to stay part of the UK and the debate moved on to which powers Holyrood should take control of.
As you will know, we had a ‘Vow’ which led to the all-party Smith Commission and then the Scotland Bill to decide and formalise the transfer of powers to Scotland.
This week, the long-awaited Scotland Bill was agreed and extensive powers over tax and welfare will now be coming to the Scottish Parliament.
It is the biggest transfer of powers to Holyrood since devolution and has the potential to transform the way we do politics in Scotland.
It has already sparked a whole raft of new debates as the political parties decide how they would use the powers if the people of Scotland elect them at next May’s election.
For Labour, we have made our taxation intentions clear – we will increase the top rate of tax to 50p, spending that money on education, and we will reverse George Osborne’s proposed cuts to family tax credits by keeping air passenger duty as it is.
That was the thrust of Kezia Dugdale’s speech at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth just a fortnight ago and this bold approach based on fairness received plaudits and support from right across Scottish life.
The real surprise is the reaction of the SNP.
Having argued for these powers to come to the parliament for so long, they appear to have no idea what to do with the new powers.
Reversing the tax credit cuts?
A more generous welfare system as they themselves promised in the referendum?
Nothing to say.
A more progressive tax system?
Not a clue. It looks like power for power’s sake rather than taking action to make Scotland a better place.
All they have promised so far is tax breaks for airline companies who are already enjoying bumper profits
The lesson for the SNP is to be careful what you wish for.
They created a demand during the referendum that they now can’t meet and people are beginning to see through their rhetoric.
Instead of getting on with doing what they can do, they prefer to moan about what powers they don’t have.
The litany of excuses is wearing thin now.
With these new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament, what was once Tory or Westminster cuts will now be SNP decisions if they don’t take steps to reverse them or recreate a better system.
I hope the transfer of powers will mark a new phase for Scottish politics, one where our politics is more grown up.
For its first 16 years, the Scottish Parliament was largely a place where we decided how to spend money but didn’t have to account for raising any of it. So when the money ran out, it was always someone else’s fault.
Now those excuses won’t wash. Tax and spending decisions will be decided by Holyrood, not Westminster.
Those of us who campaigned for a Scottish Parliament did so because we believed it could make a difference to people’s lives.
But too often debates in the Scottish Parliament have descended into a proxy fight with Westminster over decisions taken down there.
Now the hard decisions on tax and welfare will be taken in Edinburgh and the blame game we see so often will have to stop.
The buck stops with our Scottish Government, not the UK Government in London.
This era of new, more responsible politics can only be good for Scotland and can hopefully help us heal the divisions of last year’s referendum