Nicola Sturgeon: Proposals fall short of PM’s boast

Nicola Sturgeon says yesterday's proposals involved a further watering down. Picture: TSPL
Nicola Sturgeon says yesterday's proposals involved a further watering down. Picture: TSPL
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DAVID Cameron’s trip to Scotland yesterday saw him claim that the ­pre-referendum “vow” to Scotland was being delivered in full.

Sadly, the reality falls a long way short of that boast.

For a start, the proposals of the Smith Commission, published last November, did not match the rhetoric of the Unionist parties in the run-up to the independence referendum, which saw Scotland promised “home rule” “devo-max” and “near federalism” if the people voted No.

Modest though they were, we supported the Smith Commission package as far as it went.

However, yesterday’s proposals involve a further watering down by, crucially, giving Westminster an effective veto over any Scottish Government proposals to chart our own course on welfare policy, including any moves to scrap the Bedroom Tax.

That means an urgent rethink is required on several of the legislative clauses outlined by the Prime Minister if both the letter and the spirit of the Smith Commission are to be delivered.

The welfare provisions do not enable the Scottish Parliament to create new benefit entitlements across devolved areas and require the approval of UK ministers for any changes to Universal Credit.

Proposals for the full devolution of unemployment support fall well short of what was promised, by devolving only a section of the current support network and leaving important levers in the hands of UK ministers.

Scotland would be tied to the UK’s current austerity fiscal framework and, under the plans set out, could see capital borrowing powers replace, and not augment, the existing capital grant.

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Throughout this process, I have been clear that, despite it falling short of the real “home rule” powers we need to create jobs and tackle inequality, the Scottish Government would be a constructive participant, working with the UK government to bring forward what Lord Smith recommended.

We remain committed to this process, despite the difficulties we have experienced in getting information in a timely fashion and we will continue to work with the UK government and other stakeholders to ensure that the changes are made ahead of the Bill being taken through Westminster.

Ultimately, however, the decision on whether the Smith proposals go far enough in delivering the powers we need to create prosperity, tackle inequality and protect our public services will be for the people of Scotland to take.

And they will deliver their verdict at the ballot box in May.

• Nicola Sturgeon MSP is First Minister of Scotland.