TOMORROW the Scotland Bill, delivering the Smith Commission Agreement in full, will be debated in the House of Commons for the first time. It is the next step in turning Holyrood into a powerhouse Parliament.
It is what the majority of Scots voted for in the referendum. It is what we promised to do. It is what we will deliver.
When the Bill comes into force, the Scottish Parliament will become responsible for raising the lion’s share of its budget – and accountable to Scottish taxpayers for how it does so.
MSPs at Holyrood will have to debate where the bands and thresholds of income tax should be set – not just how the budgets are spent.
Both sides of the Scottish taxpayer’s coin will be a part of the political equation for the first time.
With more powers over welfare on the way too, the Scottish Government will be faced with some significant choices.
If they want to spend more, or pay higher welfare benefits, they will have the power to do so. But they will need to decide where the money to pay for it will come from, in higher taxes or increased borrowing.
In the weeks since the Scotland Bill was published, the debate in Scottish politics has moved on from the question of “what” new powers should be devolved, to “how” the Scottish Government will use the powers coming its way.
Of course, Holyrood already controls a number of important economic and social levers – and more powers are shortly on the way through the Scotland Act 2012.
It is vital that we make sure these are being used to their best effect in the here and now, even as the Scottish Government considers what further powers it might like to see devolved in the future.
Let us take a minute to remember how we got to where we are.
Straight after the referendum – and for the first time – representatives from Scotland’s five main political parties sent delegates to the Smith Commission.
They sat down around the table, put political differences to one side and worked together to devise a package of powers designed to make life better for us all.
A key player in that process was John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister.
He was certainly not just there to make up the numbers. He and his SNP colleague, Linda Fabiani, were crucial members of the all-party consensus which set the course for Holyrood becoming one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.
They showed that if politicians of different views come to a task with good will and concentrate on what is best for Scotland, we can make real progress together. That, after all, is what the Scottish people expect.
In fact, we will begin a series of regular meetings tomorrow.
A crucial part of this process is constructing a fiscal framework – a process which allows us to transfer control over income tax, a sizeable chunk of the VAT receipts raised in Scotland and other financial measures to Holyrood in a sustainable way. As well as his meeting with me, John will also be talking to the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
These discussions are crucial and I know they will be conducted in a spirit of co-operation.
Let’s replicate that collegiate approach – not just on the constitution, but on other issues, so we can maximise the impact of Scotland’s two governments for the better.
I have worked well with John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon in the past – we’re old colleagues from the Scottish Parliament’s first days up on The Mound.
Far more unites us than divides us.
We agree on the need to create jobs so more families can have the security of a regular pay packet. We want to help businesses to expand and take on more staff, so more of our young people can get a good start in life. And we want to target help and support to those who need it most. Neither of us can do it alone – we have to work together.
The Scotland Bill and the new powers it contains are ripe with possibility.
We can provide Scottish solutions to Scottish problems, while retaining the strength and security of being part of a family of nations.
The debate about our country’s constitutional future during the referendum was full-hearted and extensive. It resulted in a clear and decisive verdict in favour of remaining part of the UK. That was the sovereign will of the Scottish people.
Now let’s bring our United Kingdom together in common purpose and dedicate all our efforts to securing the best possible future for the people of Scotland.
• David Mundell MP is Secretary of State for Scotland