On Thursday 22nd January the UK Government released draft legislation for a new Scottish devolution settlement. This sets out how they plan to put the recommendations of the Smith Commission into law. These are draft clauses with a new Scotland Bill to be included in the Queen’s Speech following the UK General Election this May.
SCVO has been working with our members on the consultation to the Smith Commission, and provided initial thoughts on the results of that Commission. For us it was a mixed bag.
We have now read the new draft clauses and accompanying document. Using the headings in the latest UK document, we highlight the top points, make some brief comments, and give a thumbs up, thumbs down, or a middling thumb as to whether we think these changes satisfy what the sector wanted to see or not.
Both the Scottish Parliament and Government will be recognised as permanent intuitions and the Sewel Convention, whereby the UK Parliament does not legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, will be given statutory footing. All powers over Scottish Parliament and Local Government elections are devolved. These include a wide range of issues such as campaign spending, party political broadcasts, and the voting system. The extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds, is already taking place to ensure that 16 and 17 year olds can vote in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. Overall the clauses deliver what Smith set out. Given that the making the Scottish Parliament permanent was a big issue for the sector it’s good to see this, and that Sewel is now in legislation and not just a nice idea, in the clauses.
The Smith Commission was clear on the need for an updated fiscal framework to create sustainable fiscal policy and protect the UK economy from risk. The principle of any updated framework is that Scotland contributes proportionately to the UK fiscal programme. The proposed framework includes a commitment to Barnett and notes that the Scottish Government block grant will be adjusted to reflect the tax and spending decisions of the Scottish Parliament. In short, it makes the Scottish Government more responsible for the money it spends. While there’s no draft legislation to enact this, the document looks at this idea in some detail. Any fiscal settlement will need to be agreed between the UK and Scottish Governments.
Welfare & employment support
The Crown Estate
Civil protections and advice
There’s a couple of things of note for the sector here. Essentially, the Scottish Parliament will get the power to legislate on equalities in respect of the public bodies in Scotland. So for example it would be able to introduce gender quotas on public boards. The big disappointment here is the ambiguity from the Smith Commission which stated that: ‘The Scottish Parliament can legislate in relation to socio-economic rights in devolved areas.’ However, under the legislation this is confined to socio-economic rights as the relate to public bodies and no more. The other aspect here is Consumer Protection and Advice. We were pleased to see Smith recommend this be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the clauses here do just that. Effectively the Scottish Parliament will gain the ability to design its own Scottish model of consumer advocacy and advice, tailored to the Scottish consumers.
Another mixed bag. The Scottish Parliament will be able to grant or refuse licences for fracking, but will only have a consultative role in designing incentives and priorities for renewable energy which will continue to operate UK-wide. Some powers to improve energy efficiency and prevent fuel poverty are also in the draft legislation.