Neil Findlay MSP responds to the Smith Commission.
Yesterday’s announcement by the Smith Commission marks another remarkable and historic day for Scotland’s body politic.
It is clear that a key promise has been kept to the Scottish people and that represents a potentially transformational increase in the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament.
However, let nobody be under any illusions: constitutional change is not social change. Real, lasting and beneficial change for working people will occur only with the right level of political willingness to use every power, existing as well as new, that the Scottish Parliament has at its disposal.
The Smith Commission has delivered the change demanded by the Scottish People during the debate over Scotland’s future. It has not pleased everyone, indeed there are areas within it that I could quibble at; for example I would have liked to have seen more reference to public ownership and advancing that agenda.
However, we need to maximise the powers that are there to deliver a radical policy programme that is grounded and fully focused on making Scotland a fairer and more just place.
We need a policy agenda that addresses as a priority, the deep-seated and persistent health and wealth inequalities and poverty that shamefully still scar Scotland today.
Smith has given us powers to help us achieve some of these objectives; but as always it depends on the priorities set by, and political willingness of, by those in power. Income tax is a case in point, what tax we yield is dependent on whether tax is raised or reduced.
Tax provides and pays for the public services that are the civilising forces in our society. As a believer in progressive taxation, that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden. You can be rest assured that I will make the case to the Scottish people that tax is important and a vital component in building a better society.
Without Ensuring much needed policies such as a world-class social care services for our older people, ensuring sufficient college places for all who want one and an early years educational system that is good enough to help break the cycle of health inequality and allows mothers to go out to work.
The increased borrowing powers are vitally important. These new powers offer the Scottish Parliament scope to raise money that can be invested in capital projects. For example it can assist in building more homes, thus meeting a pressing social need while also creating demand in our economy and in turn increasing our tax yield. We can also use that borrowing power to build schools and hospitals and other public assets without the need to rely on the costly and unaccountable PFI and NPD methods.
Making work fairer and safer is an absolute priority for me – after ten years on a building site , I’m aware that this can be a matter of life and death. As such I was pleased to hear that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to be devolved to Scotland.
Since the Tories and their Liberal associates unleashed their unprecedented attack on working people, they have seriously weakened the scope and power of the HSE: the Tories seeing making work safe as a ‘burden on businesses’. I am also pleased to see the Employment Tribunal System come to Scotland. The Tories have also diminished the tribunal system for working people, charging fees for those workers who challenge unscrupulous employers at a tribunal. Having a Scottish system will allow the Scottish Parliament to abolish fees and make it far fairer and easier for workers to get justice in the workplace.
Devolving various tranches of welfare is another seismic change and again is an area where given the political will the Scottish Parliament can develop policies in tune with the needs and demands of the Scottish people. Yes, it is important to incentivise work but we will now have the power to set a policy that humanises parts of the welfare system and reminds us that welfare is, and always has been, a social insurance system that helps people when they fall on hard times.
I have kept my counsel about the work of the Smith Commission. I felt, as a candidate in the Scottish Labour leadership contest, that my intervention during its work would have been unhelpful. However, now that Smith has concluded I am absolutely clear that all of us, within and out-with the Labour Party must get on with the job in hand and start delivering for the Scottish people the social and economic change that they are crying out for. That is my purpose and that is why I’m standing for the Scottish Labour Party leadership.