Anniversary marks call for Holyrood powers to '˜make a difference'
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the referendum which saw Scots vote overwhelmingly in favour of devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament with tax- raising powers.
Nicola Sturgeon will mark the occasion with a keynote speech in Edinburgh which will look ahead to the “next steps” on Scotland’s democratic journey.
It came as the First Minister warned again that Westminster is posing the biggest threat to Holyrood’s powers since the devolution vote with the repatriation of powers from Brussels as part of the Brexit process.
But Tory leader Ruth Davidson said it is time to use Holyrood’s powers to make Scotland a great educational powerhouse after recent years saw the country fall down international standings.
“The 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament provides an opportunity to look back on what has been achieved in the last two decades,” Ms Davidson said.
“But we should also take the chance to look forward and talk about what we want to change over the next 20 years.
“The Scottish Conservatives have a clear idea of the kind of country that we want to live in.
“The top priority over the coming years must be a vast improvement in our educational standing – to get Scotland back amongst the best in the world.”
The First Minister has stated that closing the gap in attainment between pupils in the richest and poorer areas of Scotland is her key priority and has urged Scots to “judge” her on this. But the recent global PISA league tables saw Scotland drop to its lowest standing in areas like maths, reading and science. Education Secretary John Swinney set out plans for major reforms of the system, warning that the “status quo is not an option”.
Ms Davidson added: “At present, Scotland is simply ‘average’ in maths, science and reading. We should aim far higher than that.
“Scotland must return to the top ten in all three areas over the next two decades.”
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “The Scottish Parliament is the most powerful devolved parliament of its type anywhere in the world. The challenge it has now is to use those powers for the benefit of the people of Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon claimed at the weekend that the UK gGovernment’s EU withdrawal Bill represents a threat to the devolution settlement because it will see London take charge of policy areas traditionally devolved to Holyrood such as farming and fishing. UK ministers have said this is being done to protect the UK single market and that over time Brexit will mean a “powers bonanza” for Scotland as more responsibilities are handed to Holyrood.
But Ms Sturgeon said: “That approach utterly demolishes the principle outlined by the late Donald Dewar in framing Holyrood’s remit, which made clear that all powers were to be transferred to Edinburgh other than those explicitly reserved to Westminster.
“The Tories’ Brexit proposals, by suggesting that devolved powers which are currently exercised at European level should be repatriated to London and not Scotland, ignore that principle. Indeed they breach it, meaning that the founding basis of the Scottish Parliament, endorsed in a nationwide democratic vote, would be eroded.”
She added: “The UK government’s Brexit proposals – through the proposed EU (Withdrawal) Bill – constitute a blatant power grab which, far from enhancing the powers of the Scottish Parliament as has been claimed, would throw the process of devolution into reverse for the first time in two decades.”
Labour leadership frontrunner Anas Sarwar said the creation of the Scottish Parliament was one of his party’s “greatest achievements” in Government. But he said its powers have been left “languishing on the shelf” by the SNP and said it had to make more of a difference to the lives of ordinary Scots.
“Today we have a powerful Scottish Parliament within a strengthened union, and MSPs have the ability to transform lives across Scotland,” he said.
“But under the SNP, which is always seeking a fresh grievance and an opportunity to blame Westminster, the powers of devolution are languishing on a shelf.
“Scotland needs a government ready to use Holyrood’s powers to make our society work for the many, not the few, with a fairer tax system, measures to address the workforce crisis in our NHS, an increase to child benefit to lift thousands out of poverty, and a publicly-owned ScotRail.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said his party’s role in early devolved administrations helped make a “big difference” to the lives or ordinary Scots through policies like the free personal care and the smoking ban.
He added: “Looking ahead, devolved powers once again have the chance to set the agenda for the whole of the country from creating a world class education system to giving the attention that mental health deserves.”