Devolution: STUC call for immigration & tax powers

Members and affiliates of the STUC have lodged their submission to the Smith Commission. Picture: John Devlin
Members and affiliates of the STUC have lodged their submission to the Smith Commission. Picture: John Devlin
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UNIONS HAVE called for sweeping new powers for the Scottish Parliament, including full devolution of income tax, a raft of benefits and the ability to set a distinctive policy on immigration and asylum.

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has lodged a submission with the Smith Commission on Scottish devolution which it says falls short of the SNP’s ambition of devo max, full fiscal autonomy and full devolution of welfare, but goes “significantly further than the sum total of the proposals of the three pro-devolution parties”.

Fiscal powers should include the devolution and assignment of taxation amounting to at least two-thirds of Scottish public spending, over 50% of all spending in Scotland, it said.

In the first of a new series exploring what civic Scotland wants from the Smith Commission, Stephen McGinty finds out the views of the STUC

Tax powers should include income tax at all bands and other personal wealth-related taxes, air passenger duty, aggregates taxes, all land taxes, inheritance tax, capital gains tax reliefs plus 50% of VAT and an assignment of alcohol, tobacco, fuel and gaming duties.

The Scottish block grant should continue “for at least a generation” to guarantee funding at existing levels relative to the rUK, it said.

Housing benefit, attendance allowance, carer’s allowance, the work programme and other employability programmes run by the UK Department of Work and Pensions should all be devolved and a Scottish Job Centre Plus should be created, it added.

Scotland should be able to pursue a distinctive policy on migration, subject to the UK Government providing substantive evidence of detriment to the rUK, include the ability to offer asylum to refugees and allow them to work.

Dave Moxham, STUC deputy general secretary, said: “Our submission to the Smith Commission challenges all sides to make compromises and put aside any thoughts of political advantage.

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“The referendum proved that many of those on both sides of the debate had an appetite for a fairer society and an economy which empowers communities and working people.

“We make substantial proposals which go beyond what is currently offered by the three pro-devolution parties, on fiscal powers, employment law, equalities and welfare.

“However we also hope that the other parties in the talks will recognise that there are real risks associated with full fiscal autonomy and that they should be driving a hard bargain for a guaranteed block grant to buttress major new tax powers including all income tax powers.

“On employment law, minimum wages and equality legislation, our position is straightforward.

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“It is now time for Scotland to enjoy the same devolved powers as Northern Ireland to enable distinct and progressive action to tackle the gender pay gap, low pay and scandals such as zero hours contracts.

“Full devolution of equality legislation would enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate for equal gender representation in parliament, local government and on company boards.

“Our new vision for welfare powers would see the basic security and pensions system remain reserved, but see a whole number of new powers in Scotland, including the freedom for the Scottish Government to provide additional protections for those in need.

The benefits of new tax powers must outweigh the costs of setting up those new powers, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (Icas).

“Other proposals include a presumption in favour of distinct Scottish policy on migration and the right for asylum seekers to work whilst in Scotland.”

STUC has also called for full devolution of the Crown Estate, which controls the seas and foreshore, increased borrowing and the power to form publicly-owned enterprises including a public rail operator.

Scotland should have maximum borrowing powers and the ability to issue bonds, it said.

Employment law, health and safety, trade union law, equality law and the minimum wage should be devolved, as should public-sector pensions schemes with the exception of the civil service scheme, it added.

The franchise in all UK elections should be extended to include 16 and 17-year-olds, it said.

Scotland should have a more formal role in energy industry regulation but recognise the challenges of delivering a distinct regulatory approach within an all UK energy market.

Public service broadcasters should be accountable to, and seen to be accountable to, the Scottish Parliament.