This week in Scotland: EVEL overshadows Scottish Devolution

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Sturgeon takes the reigns
On Wednesday it was confirmed that Nicola Sturgeon MSP will succeed Alex Salmond as leader of the SNP as First Minister of Scotland. Sturgeon, who stood unopposed, will be formally endorsed as SNP leader at the party’s conference in Perth next month and as First Minister of Scotland following a parliamentary vote in November.

On being confirmed the SNPs new leader, Sturgeon pledged to “build a better country” and to govern for the whole of Scotland and not just those that voted Yes and/or voted SNP. She went on to put the UK parties “on notice” that her party and Scotland expects substantial further devolution as she confirmed that the SNP would fully participate in the Smith Commission.

Sturgeon, however, also stressed that it was her belief that Scotland would become and independent country within her lifetime and that a second referendum would be determined by public opinion and circumstances.

One of the immediate issues facing her on becoming leader will be the challenge of amalgamating the tens of thousands of new party members who joined the SNP in the wake of the referendum. To do this, and in order to set out her vision to the wider party, she also confirmed her intention to conduct a tour of Scotland.

EVEL overshadows the debate
The issue of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) overshadowed a House of Commons debate on the issue of Scottish devolution. MP after MP stood up to defend or attack the desire to prevent non-English constituency MPs voting on issues that are devolved – health and education for instance. As such, the issue of what powers Scotland could receive played a largely minor role.

EVEL is widely popular amongst the Conservative party and was linked to the issue of Scottish devolution by the Prime Minister in his reaction speech following the official declaration of the referendum result. However, Labour, and in particular Scottish Labour MPs are far from convinced. They fear the creation of “second class MPs” (arguably this is already the case given English MPs cannot vote on devolved matters) and the possibility that a future Labour UK Government would be hamstrung when wishing to pass legislation on key policy areas without their Scottish and Welsh colleagues support.

Smith Commission operating on an “unrealistic” timetable….
MPs were yesterday warned by academics that the Smith Commission maybe being pushed through too quickly without proper consideration under at timetable that has been labelled “unrealistic”. Giving evidence to the House of Common’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Professor Michael Keating of Aberdeen University confirmed that a more realistic timetable would have been a year before raising concerns about there being “no scope” for the public to get involved.

The deadline for submissions to the Smith Commission is the end of the month. Smith will then produce a report by St Andrews day. The UK Government will then respond in draft legislation in late January 2015.

Brown petitions for devolution promises

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has presented a petition to Parliament calling on Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to “stick to those promises on the timetable you agreed. Scotland won’t accept less.

The petition, which has been signed by more than 120,000 people, comes as some English MPs seek to link further Scottish devolution to the issue of English Votes for English Laws, which Brown believes would mean Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs becoming “second class.”

Brown also urged Labour to maintain its opposition to the full devolution of income tax as proposed by the other UK parties. Amongst signs that Labour are considering changing their stance on the issue, Brown warned such devolution could create a “constitutional crisis” that would be a “Trojan horse” for independence.

Moving in the right direction
Official Government statistics have indicated that the Scottish economy continues to recover. Statistics suggest that the Scottish economy grew by 0.9% during Q2 of 2014, providing an annual GDP growth rate of 2.6% compared with the same period last year. Providing a breakdown of the figures, the stats indicate that the services sector grew by 0.9%, production by 0.3% and construction by 3.6%.

Official figures also confirmed the largest quarterly fall in Scottish unemployment since records began. Scotland’s unemployment rate is now 5.5% (151,000), 0.5% below the UK’s.

Support from the Finns
It has been reported this week that the Finnish Government is set to support the Scottish Government in its attempt to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol. The policy is currently sitting with the European Court of Justice following a legal challenge by the Scottish Whisky Association after the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled in favour of introducing the controversial policy.

Although the policy is widely supported by health professionals and the Police, the SWA believes that the policy, if implemented, would raise the price of a bottle of whisky in an “un-targeted, misguided and illegal” attempt to solve Scotland’s alcohol problem.

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