Smith Commission

Scottish PA submission to the Smith Commission on devolution.

Dear Lord Smith, 

Thank you for your invitation asking our view on what further powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament we would like to ask that consideration is given to the following areas.  

It may be helpful to explain who we are, who we represent and what our aims and objectives are. 

The Peoples Assembly Scotland held its inaugural meeting on the 23rd of January 2014  over four hundred attended this initial meeting representing organisations from all over Scotland . The PA was established to campaign against welfare cuts and the general austerity agenda which negatively impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities.  We and our affiliates campaign on this basis regardless of whether the attacks come via the Scots parliament or directly as a result of legislation in Westminster.  Affiliates act on an individual basis with the PA coordinating activities and offering support, advice and campaign materials to those groups without funds or organisational resources. 

Affiliates to People’s Assembly Scotland include the majority of Trade Unions operating in Scotland along with locally based community campaigning organisations. The overall membership of affiliates is circa 350.000 members. 

During the referendum the PA did not take a position and the PA was a place where both Yes and No supporters could engage in political discourse that was not viewed through the prism of the referendum. 

However since the referendum it has become abundantly clear that the people of Scotland want change regardless of how they voted. 

The PA and our affiliates have continually argued that the Austerity agenda is unnecessary , unfairly impacts on the poorest in society and that an alternative programme is possible that would impact less negatively on those most vulnerable. We believe that a further transfer of powers to the Scots Parliament would greatly assist in achieving our objectives. 

The PA Scotland was established with six key principles and these are; 

1. A Fairer Economy for a Fairer Scotland. 

2. More and Better Jobs. 

3. High Standard and Quality Homes for All. 

4. Protect and Improve Public Services. 

5. For Fairness and Justice. 

6. For a Secure and Sustainable Future. 

While we believe that political parties should be delivering these principals as a matter of course and that they should be telling US how they will achieve them through their election manifestos we believe the transfer of the following powers will assist in them meeting our objectives. 

 

1. A Fairer Economy for a Fairer Scotland.  

In order to advance economic and social democracy we need to ensure sufficient tax-raising to be able to redistribute geographically reflecting social need and to counteract uneven levels of national and regional economic development.  For this reason taxes on corporate profit, on wealth in land and property and 10p in the pound at the basic 20 per cent rate of income tax should be levied at a federal level.  National insurance and benefit payment should remain under the control of the UK government with the exception of housing benefit, attendance allowance and employment schemes which should similarly be determined at Holyrood.  

Indirect taxes (VAT and Excise Duties on fuel, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as environmental taxes) to be levied at a Scottish level. Funds raised from this should be used directly to address inequality and anti-poverty initiatives.  

The redistributive element within the block grant to be calculated on the basis of social need within the existing arrangements continuing to use the Barnett Formula. 

Powers to ensure that the minimum wage in Scotland is at least that of the living wage should be transferred to the Scots Parliament. Similarly legislation to address the increasing use of zero hours by employers should become the responsibility of Holyrood with a view to the practice being ended with few exceptions.   

2. More and Better Jobs. 

Scots parliament should be allocated powers over indirect taxes and 10p in the pound of the basic rate income tax enabling them to raise loans on this basis in order to invest in infrastructure and economic development.   

These powers should include the powers to increase the level of tax on higher income brackets as well as freedom to delegate the levying of local taxes on property and land on a progressive basis to local authorities. 

3. High Standard and Quality Homes for All. 

In order to advance local democracy throughout Scotland and provide a source of income independent of  both UK and National control, Local Authorities should have the power to levy an additional local surcharge on property values (residential and commercial), or, when introduced, land values. Funds raised in this way to be directed to the building of affordable social housing and ensuring that the poor and vulnerable are not forced into to high cost private housing . In addition to providing good quality regulated housing it will provide ongoing employment and an increase in valuable skills for our young people through apprenticeships and training. 

4. Protect and Improve Public Services. 

Central to the power of the national parliament should be the ability to overcome the legacy of poverty, underemployment and low wages by enabling public sector investment across the productive economy from life sciences to creative industries, to intervene in plant closures and to ensure the efficient provision of infrastructure services and basic utilities through public ownership. 

Powers to be devolved that allows for public ownership of transport services and infrastructure including rail, bus and ferry networks. 

5. For Fairness and Justice. 

While the legal framework for collective bargaining itself should remain at UK level in order to maintain sectorial bargaining, the Scots parliament should have legal powers to require trade union recognition and to outlaw discrimination on the basis of trade union activity.  Such powers are essential to restore the bargaining strength of working people without which the inbuilt and growing inequalities of our society cannot be effectively challenged.  

In order to ensure that the people of Scotland have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights legislation were the UK to derogate or alter the link to the ECHR, then there should be a legal obligation to consult the Scottish Parliament. 

The Scottish Parliament's powers are currently largely restricted to promoting equality. We believe that Scotland's demographics are different to England and that we have different equality concerns (e.g. sectarianism). Therefore these provisions should be devolved. There are precedents for this: Northern Ireland has had different equality legislation from the rest of the UK, and Scotland already has its own Human Rights Commission.  

We further believe that the various Acts under the provisions of Employment Law including the arrangements for Employment Tribunals should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and re-written under Scottish Statute once this is approved it would in our view pursue the Tenets of Natural Justice. 

The referendum campaign extended the franchise to young people aged 16-18 and their participation was high ,their continued involvement in the democratic process should be continued by the lowering of the voting age to 16 for all Scottish elections at all levels.  

The PA is cognisant that some of our public service affiliates are pressing for further consideration of local government accountability and devolution to enhance the fully function of local democracy. 

In order to create a fairer Scotland the benefit system, control and administration, would have to be devolved to Holyrood. With the introduction of universal credit it would be difficult to just cherry pick with Scotland having control of some benefits and Westminster controlling the rest. This move to universal credit and the introduction of PIP, with the changes to DLA and ESA will in reality create even more divisions and further increase the gap between rich and poor. These need to be devolved as the current system is at breaking point with large numbers of people being left with no, or reduced benefits, for prolonged periods of time. Devolving such benefits would also allow a strategy focused on sick and disabled people, which was integrated into the already devolved areas of health and care. 

 In order to have full control over Employment schemes and to create more and better jobs, Holyrood would require control over JSA, WCA etc in order to facilitate the movement of people from unemployment into employment. This would need to be carried out by a new system that is fairer and more efficient than the current “workfare” and WCA schemes that have been inflicted on the unemployed and the disabled 

6. For a Secure and Sustainable Future. 

The Scottish parliament should have the right to challenge the continued deployment of nuclear weapons.  The Scottish parliament should also have the right to withhold consent on matters pertaining specifically to Scotland in negotiations between the federal parliament and the EU or on matters relating to international trade e.g. the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership 

Scottish Parliament should have final say over planning matters in relation to alternative energy and the hydraulic fracturing exploration for gas [“fracking”]. 

Further information about the Peoples Assembly Scotland 

I have attached for your information a PDF copy of our campaign handbook. 

 

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