This Week in Scotland: Devolution, Energy and Land Reform

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Parliament Sworn in

The 56 SNP MPs along with their colleagues from other parties were officially sworn into the House of Commons this week. Swearing allegiance to the Queen, the new MPs took their oaths in the ‘Scottish style’ as they were required to read a short passage in English, though a number also performed the rite in Gaelic, Doric and Scots.

Having taken the oath of allegiance, the SNP made a statement of intent by finalising their Westminster team, which cover all policy areas regardless of whether devolved or not. As such, Alex Salmond becomes International Affairs Spokesperson, Joanna Cherry takes on the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio, Dr Phillippa Whitford is given health, and Carol Monaghan education.

The party is expected to assume the chairmanship of two select committees, including the Scottish Affairs Committee which it boycotted in the last term. It has been reported that the second committee could be foreign affairs, international development, or rural affairs.

Reportedly the SNP chief whip Mike Weir has had tell his colleagues to “behave yourself and act like adults” following concerns that an unflattering caricature of the newly enlarged SNP block is developing. The move follows an ongoing spat with the Labour party over seating arrangements in the Chamber and concerns about a backlash surrounding MPs defying established Chamber conventions such as taking selfies and applauding in the Chamber.

Questions over future devolution

New Scottish Secretary David Mundell has defended the UK Government’s commitment to further devolution to Holyrood, following a Scottish Parliament report which criticised the proposals for falling short of the spirit of the infamous ‘Vow’. Defending the UK Government, Mundell said that the UK Government is committed to pushing forward with a new Scotland Bill that would enact Scotland and create a “powerhouse” Scottish Parliament.

However, SNP MSPs are suggesting that Cameron’s promise to create the “strongest devolved government anywhere” is all talk and little substance, pointing out that the Canadian provinces will still have more power that the proposed ‘beefed up’ Holyrood. They highlight that the Provinces have powers over natural resources, most labour legislation incorporating minimum wage and health and safety, and most social security.

UK Energy Policy Needs Scottish Voice

The First Minister has called on the UK Government to agree to a “new start” to relations with the Scottish Government on energy matters. Following a meeting of the Scottish Government’s energy board, Sturgeon sought assurances over the future of renewable subsidies, the closure-threatened Longannet Power Station, a rethink over the current transmission charging regime which penalises remote Scottish developments, and action to deliver more interconnectors.

A fight over land

Rural Affairs Minister, Aileen McLeod, defended the Scottish Government’s controversial Land Reform proposals at a conference organised by Scottish Land and Estates. She claimed that the reforms, (which would take action against landowners who pose a ‘barrier’ to development and remove a series of tax and business tax exemptions from Scottish estates), had “strong support” from the public. She further outlined the Government’s desire to see “much more” land being brought into community ownership.

The proposals have been heavily criticised by Opposition parties and Scottish land owners after it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph that the Scottish Government has not conducted any analysis on the impact of the proposals on the agriculture industry, which is worth nearly £800 million a year to the Scottish economy or how the Government intends to pay for the reforms.

The Scottish Government plans to introduce a Land Reform Bill before the summer recess.

Permanent Secretary announced

The Scottish Government has confirmed that Leslie Evans will succeed outgoing Permanent Secretary Sir Peter Housden in July. Evans is currently the Scottish Government’s Director General for Learning & Justice.

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