Late last year, I found myself writing on the Smith Commission report for Week in Scotland and now the draft bill arsing from the commission has been published, so this feels like déjà vu.
A new Scotland Act
The command paper to further devolve powers to Scotland published, by the Westminster government, sets out a timetable and a commitment to further devolution. This command paper will now be subject to consultation and will become one of the first bills for the new government in May. The Prime Minister said it will become law whatever the outcome of the general election due to the agreement all of the main Scottish Political Parties.
One of the main constitutional principles is to enshrine the permanency of the Scottish Parliament and Government in law. The paper includes draft legislation to enact the Smith Commission recommendations including the power to set income tax bands, welfare provisions, borrowing powers and air passenger duty.
Areas which will remain reserved include employment legislation, pensions and much of the benefits system.
The Scottish Government stated the proposals did not give total powers to Scotland as agreement would have to be reached with Westminster before changes on welfare could be implemented but inevitably there were complaints from MPs that too much power was being devolved without the promised changes on the English legislative process. However, that will be an argument for the new government and if the SNP hold the balance of power, they will seek to enhance devolved powers.
It therefore, was surprising and strange that at First Minsters question time, the opposition leaders continued with prepared questions on the NHS and property tax, leaving it to the Liberal Democrats to commend the draft bill.
It was also slightly farcical that the Devolved (Further Powers) committee was taking evidence from business leaders as the bill was been published. They called for caution in using devolved powers to increase taxes as companies could move headquarters south of the border. However, they did say that different economic policies were required to increase research and development and that the UK immigration system was devised for the south east whereas in Scotland they wanted graduates to be allowed to stay.
The Economy committee is presently conducting a review of the economic impact of the creative industries. The Film representatives who give evidence were critical of the lack of ambition of Creative Scotland in bringing films and TV productions to Scotland. In particular the loss of Game of Thrones to Northern Ireland however, they neglected to mention that the American series Outlander was brought to Scotland and consumed much of the production resources.
This criticism received considerable media coverage while the previous week’s evidence on video gaming received much less coverage even though it is arguably a bigger business.
Happy Light Year
On a lighter note, the 2015 international year of light was launched this week in Paris, which is of interest personally as my doctorate was in laser physics and for Scotland which has strong research in light based technologies and companies producing lasers. The Scottish launch will take place on the 23 February.