Swinney threatens to block Scotland Bill reforms

16 Sep 15

The Scottish Government stands ready to block the additional powers devolved to Holyrood under the 2015 Scotland Bill unless UK ministers underpin the reforms with a fair fiscal settlement, deputy first minister John Swinney will tell MSPs this afternoon.

It comes as the Bill, which seeks to implement the proposals put forward by the Smith Commission after last year’s independence referendum, takes centre stage today in both the Edinburgh and London parliaments.

At Westminster, Labour are pushing changes that would assign all Scottish VAT revenues to Holyrood, rather than the proceeds of the first 10 percentage points, as proposed by the Bill. This, they say, would enable the Scottish parliament to operate a significantly different welfare regime to the one provided by Westminster.

"We are focused not just on making sure that the Scottish Parliament gets the powers it needs, but also on how we will use those powers to improve the lives of people across the country,” shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said.

"Our amendments would significantly increase the powers currently in the Scotland Bill by devolving £5bn more of revenue and ensuring that the Scottish Parliament has the powers over welfare that Scotland needs to design its own social security system."

Swinney, Scotland’s finance secretary, will meanwhile step up the warning he first issued at CIPFA’s Scottish conference in March, that the additional devolution proposed in the Bill will not be acceptable unless it is accompanied by a just financial settlement that fairly balances the proceeds of Scotland’s new tax powers against continued grant aid from Westminster.

Opening a debate at Holyrood today on the progress of the Bill, Swinney is expected to tell MSPs that Scottish Ministers are prepared to clock the new powers if financial negotiations with the UK government do not produce what they regard as a fair outcome.

Swinney today described the Scotland Bill as “a series of missed opportunities.”

He said: "The Bill takes every opportunity to constrain and limit new powers and utterly fails to deliver the spirit of the Smith Commission. It maintains vetoes over Universal Credit and energy schemes and waters down the Smith proposals on social security, employment support and the Crown Estate.

“Despite receiving detailed evidence from the Scottish Government, the [Holyrood] cross-party Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and a broad range of civic Scotland, no amendments to the Bill were accepted at its committee stage in the House of Commons.”

He urged MSPs of all parties to act together to ensure that the proposals of the Smith Commission, in which they all participated, were implemented in full. “That is the absolute minimum the people of Scotland expect and deserve," he said.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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