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White paper: How independence will change Scotland

An independent Scotland would take a distinctive approach to issues such as immigration. Picture: PA

An independent Scotland would take a distinctive approach to issues such as immigration. Picture: PA

  • by ANDREW WHITAKER
 

THE Scottish Government’s white paper spells out how it hopes to transform Scotland in the event of a Yes vote next year.

It contains key pledges on education and employment, justice and security and culture and communications.

Among the plans unveiled are a Scottish security and intelligence agency to tackle terrorism and cyber crime and protect Scottish citizens and infrastructure. Scottish students would continue to be able to study at universities in Scotland without paying tuition fees, and there would be more training schemes to boost youth employment.

A separate broadcasting service would be launched, but Scots would still have access to popular BBC programmes such as Doctor Who.

And there would be no increase in the tax burden faced by the oil industry without further consultation, the white paper says.

Home affairs: Inclusion not aggression to be new watchword

AN independent Scotland would take a distinctive approach to issues such as immigration, national security and home affairs.

An SNP government in an independent Scotland would be handed powers over immigration, national security and firearms in addition to those already held by Holyrood over police and prisons.

A new Scottish security and intelligence agency would be launched to target terrorist threats, cyber security and to respond to national emergencies. This service would co-operate with the police and intelligence agencies in the rest of the UK, with its responsibilities clearly enshrined in law.

There would be “strict legal controls” on the activities of the service, which would be accountable to the Scottish Parliament, the paper says.

And it would have close links to European Union (EU) and Nato agencies engaged in cyber-security and anti-terrorist operations.

As an EU member, Scottish borders would remain open to all EU nationals with Scots also free to move throughout the EU. Ministers say there would be no restrictions on movement in the common travel area between Scotland, the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Isle of Man. A lower drink-driving limit has already been proposed, and police would also be given powers to conduct random breath tests. Firearms law would be simplified

The Court of Session and Appeal Court would become the Supreme Court.

Immigration policy would see the greatest shake-up, with an independent Scotland taking a more liberal stance in contrast to the “aggressive approach” of Westminster. Restrictions on overseas students remaining after completing their studies would be eased. A point-based system for immigration based on skills would be introduced alongside a reduction in the income threshold and minimum salary levels required for immigrants. The Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire would be shut and dawn raids on immigrants halted. A Scottish Asylum Agency would oversee immigration applications, with the approach being “robust and humane”.

People “habitually resident” in Scotland would be classed as citizens, as would Scottish-born British citizens living abroad. A Scottish passport would also be available through naturalisation.

Existing UK passports would continue until expiry date, and dual citizenship would be allowed.

Education: Free provision that aims to tackle early years’ inequity

FREE university tuition and a massive expansion in employment training schemes are among the flagship pledges.

Free tuition for Scottish students studying at Scottish institutions would be maintained, the white paper claims.

The Scottish Government says this will save such students £9,000 a year.

It will fund the system by charging students from other parts of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Under independence there will be an “objective justification” for the charging regime, it says.

Students from other parts of the UK studying in Scotland would still have paid substantial fees in their own country, it points out.

However, the white paper goes on to say that this charging policy would be reviewed if Westminster decided to scrap tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year south of the Border.

There is also a commitment to maintain a “common research area” through Scottish universities co-operating with those in the rUK on key projects to boost skills and improve standards of learning.

Universities in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland would share some resources under the arrangement, which would benefit charities and businesses,.

The Scottish Government says this would provide high levels of public investment to drive university research and improve the competitiveness of Scottish institutions.

Scotland’s universities could also attract hundreds of millions of pounds in research funding through its membership of the European Union and status as an independent nation.

The white paper goes on to suggest that a more liberal immigration policy would benefit universities and colleges by attracting an increased number of talented students from overseas than currently comes to Scotland.

Another strategy unveiled in the white paper is the plan to use taxes and benefits to tackle child poverty by offering increased support during early years.

This suggests a shift away from policies such as the UK government’s cap on working age benefits, which the SNP administration estimates has already pushed a further 150,000 Scottish children into poverty.

There are also a series of commitments to improve the employment prospects of young Scots with a pledge to reinvest and fund more work training programmes.

The document highlights the Scottish Government’s modern apprenticeships scheme as an example of a policy that could be improved under independence, if the country votes yes next year.

It also talks about investing “increased tax revenues”, gained from having full economic powers, in training schemes to boost employment and develop skills to improve the employment prospects of young people.

When it comes to Scottish schools, the paper suggests the government would be able to deliver smaller class sizes and drive up standards by improving on its flagship Curriculum for Excellence.

The document also looks at the prospect of increased investment in new school buildings.

It says there is a need to reduce the number of children being taught in “substandard buildings”.

An independent Scotland would also look to expand places in the further education sector by making more courses available.

It says that the overall aim of the education system would be to lift people out of poverty and help them into employment.

Constitution: Rights-based approach to democracy

SCOTLAND would always get the government the majority of people vote for under independence, the white paper promises.

A written constitution setting out the democratic rights of voters would be at the heart of a “modern democracy” it says. And a “constitutional convention” would be set up to write the new constitution following a Yes vote.

The white paper restates the SNP commitment to make Scotland an independent nation on 24 March 2016 The first election of an independent Scotland would then take place on 5 May 2016, the paper says.

An independent Scotland would accept the European Convention on Human Rights and have its own formal commitment to equality and human rights.

Parties with a minority share of the vote, who have been rejected by the majority of the electorate, would be kept out of government, the white paper says.

There is also a commitment to increase the devolution of powers from Holyrood to councils, with the position of local government formally recognised in the constitution of an independent Scotland.

The white paper talks about a developing a “modern participatory democracy” with a clear set of rights for Scottish citizens enshrined in law.

Culture, communications and digital: SBS aims not to make a drama out of switchover

A SEPARATE broadcasting service would be launched but viewers will continue to have access to popular BBC shows.

The Scottish Government wants to establish a Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS) initially to be founded on the staff and resources of BBC Scotland. It would begin broadcasting in 2017, providing TV, radio and online content. However, there would be a formal relationship between the BBC and SBS to supply the same level of network programming, which would see shows such as Doctor Who and EastEnders continue to appear on Scottish screens.

There could be joint working between the SBS and the BBC to create other programmes in the fields of drama, comedy, natural history and documentaries.

Under the plans the current TV licence fee would continue with the existing exemptions.

The new scheme would also fully honour existing operators’ licences for broadcasters in Scotland.

Scots would still be able to play the National Lottery. Current franchise holder Camelot would keep its licence.

There is also a pledge to bring the recently privatised Royal Mail back into public ownership, and to improve telecommunications coverage in remote rural areas.

Environment, energy and resources: Stability of household bills to become long-term objective

SCOTLAND is blessed with an abundance of natural resources that can deliver prosperity and ensure the global challenges of the 21st century are met, the white paper says.

Protection of the environment could be enshrined in a written constitution ratified by the Scottish Parliament under independence if the SNP is in power.

A single UK-wide market for electricity and gas would continue, with the existing market arrangements unchanged “provided they meet Scottish requirements” for energy supplies.

There would be a Scottish Energy Fund to provide investment for future renewable energy schemes.

The white paper commits an SNP government to refrain from increasing the overall tax burden on the oil industry and not to change the fiscal regime without consulting first.

Scotland would be able to show “international leadership in tackling climate change” through its representation at the United Nations and in the European Union.

The government of an independent Scotland would also have the powers to negotiate greater funding from Europe for environmental protection measures. The SNP’s flagship plans to expand renewable energy, through developments such as wind farms, could increase the amount of electricity generated and allow the export of any energy surplus, the white paper says.

It also restates the Scottish Government’s opposition to nuclear power and talks about creating “long-term stability” for household energy bills.

There is a commitment to tackle fuel poverty and to make properties more energy efficient.

And an independent Scotland would also have direct representation in Europe and a voice in negotiations on agriculture and fisheries.

Fishing quotas would be retained in an independent Scotland as part of a plan to preserve a “national asset” for future generations.

Rural communities would also get a better deal under independence, the white paper says, with greater protection for the natural environment and support for farming.

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