Never mind the SNP’s negativity, this is home rule for Scotland, says Nick Clegg
Thursday was a good day for Scotland and our United Kingdom. I was so relieved that you voted to remain in our family of nations last year but I also heard the plea for change. On Thursday, as promised, we published the draft clauses for new powers. This was done ahead of schedule.
The Scottish Parliament has grown in authority and stature in its short life and these new and significant powers will enable it to grow even more.
You will have the flexibility to do things differently in Scotland as Holyrood will now raise the majority of the money it spends. It means if you want to spend more on mental health care, like Liberal Democrats have advocated, then you can do that. Likewise if you want to cut taxes for those on low and middle incomes then that will be possible too. These are two priorities that Liberal Democrats will be making the case for.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
You will have a Scottish welfare system for the first time too. With a starting budget of £2.5 billion you can make more of the choices that are right for Scotland on matters like support for people with disabilities and carers.
And you will have votes for 16- and 17-year-olds for Holyrood and local government elections which we are fast-tracking through parliament.
This is a policy the Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for and I want to see it extended to the whole of the UK so all our young people are enfranchised.
I am delighted that these new powers have delivered home rule for Scotland within a strong United Kingdom, creating the third most powerful devolved institution in the world.
Home rule is part of the Liberal Democrats’ DNA. It’s part of our history going back to William Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign in the late 1870s. We have always been 100 per cent behind the transfer of powers away from London and these new powers mark an exciting time in Scottish politics.
This is why I have been dismayed by the antics of the SNP to manufacture a row about the draft clauses that the UK government has some kind of “veto” over policy areas that will be devolved to Scotland. This is categorically not true. The UK government has guaranteed we will not veto any such decisions.
Instead of welcoming new powers and talking Scotland up, the SNP spent Thursday in a fog of negativity desperately trying to find an excuse not to endorse a package they have already signed up to.
While strengthening the Scottish Parliament my party has endorsed the letter and spirit of the Smith Commission, including the right of Scottish MPs to vote on budget decisions.
The Tory proposals to take away these rights are plain wrong. They are trying to correct an anomaly in the UK Parliament in light of devolution by creating another anomaly.
The Liberal Democrats want an English and Welsh grand committee to consider bills from an English and Welsh perspective as they make their way through parliament. The committee must be constituted on a proportional basis of vote share at the general election and not on number of MPs. It’s how the Scottish Parliament makes decisions on devolved matters and should be the same for England.
But I also firmly believe there should be a constitutional convention for England to decide what constitutional set up works for that part of our United Kingdom.
I want to see these proposals in my party’s general election manifesto.
My party will be going into the general election on a platform of what we have achieved in government to create a stronger economy and fairer society, so there is opportunity for everyone.
We have delivered home rule, cut income tax by £800 for low and middle income earners, we have increased pensions by £800, and we have halved the deficit and cut unemployment.
These are the positive things people of Scotland have benefited from being part of our United Kingdom and with Liberal Democrats in government.