The Queen opened parliament with the traditional Queen’s Speech that detailed the directives of the first majority Conservative government since 1996.
As expected an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership; the promise of further devolved powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were outlined, as was a guarantee that English representatives would secure more influence over independent English matters.
The business community looks set to benefit from the Enterprise Bill which comprises a number of measures to reduce the regulation on SMEs, significantly reducing red tape by an estimated £10 billion; and establish a new Conciliation Service for small businesses which will handle inter-firm disputes, especially concerning payments, without involving the courts.
Other areas of focus were an extension of the Right-to-Buy scheme in England, measures to increase energy security, immigration reforms, and action to tackle the broadcasting of extremist material.
FM Nicola Sturgeon responded critically to the Queen’s Speech claiming that it did not take into account Scotland’s new political environment. Sturgeon claimed that it was, “abundantly clear that the priorities this UK Government have outlined in the Queen’s Speech are not the priorities of the Scottish Government” as she continues to advocate it is possible to eradicate the deficit whilst simultaneously making mild spending increases to ease austerity.
Scottish Business Pledge Launched
Sturgeon launched the Scottish Business Pledge in an effort to form a partnership between the government and Scottish businesses to promote fair and sustainable business practices.
Sturgeon claimed that an endorsement of the pledge is to be seen as a “badge of pride” for businesses. Businesses must comply with paying the Living Wage and two of the other nine pledges, which include initiatives aimed at encouraging internationalisation, establishing a more balanced workforce by promoting diversity of thinking and talent, and promoting fair and ethical prompt payments.
Cabinet secretary for Finance, John Swinney, claimed there is “credible evidence” to suggest that involvement in the scheme and commitment to these principles of fairness, equality and sustainable economic growth can “benefit companies through increased productivity, enhanced employee commitment and improved reputation.”
Scottish Secretary, David Mundell has presented the latest Scotland Bill to the House of Commons. David Cameron has stated that the legislation will make Scotland the most powerful devolved assembly on earth and if approved the Bill could be in practice as early as February.
At the core of the Bill are increased economic responsibility and accountability. This includes the Scottish Government being able to set thresholds and income tax rates on earnings and controlling the first 10 percentage points of standard VAT revenue. Further to this, the legislation also looks to secure new welfare powers for Scotland, give Holyrood control over programmes that help people into work, and allow them to vary the frequency of Universal Credit payments.
The SNP has criticised the bill for “selling Scotland short”, claiming that it does not adhere to the Smith Commission’s recommendations, which they also feel are too mild. John Swinney notes the lack of power to create new benefits, failure to devolve the full range of employment support services and continued restrictions on carer benefits amongst their key objections to the proposed legislation. The SNP now have the opportunity to lodge amendments as the bill seeks to progress through the required legislative processes.
MSPs debate cutting the voting age to 16
It is expected that MSPs will back plans to extend voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds for the Scottish Parliament and local government elections next year. The previous extension of voting rights to this age group for the independence referendum was widely deemed a great success in engaging young people in politics, highlighted by the 84.5% overall turnout rate. The move has already been unanimously backed by the a Scottish Parliamentary Committee which concluded that , “the parties call on the UK Parliament to devolve the relevant powers in sufficient time to allow the Scottish Parliament to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds for the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections, should the Scottish Parliament wish to do so”.
MSPs reject Assisted Suicide Scotland Bill
The assisted Suicide Bill was dismissed in Holyrood this week by 82 votes to 36. The proposal, which was originally advocated by the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald, was rejected on the grounds that it contained significant flaws. However MSPs such as Liam McArthur claimed to support the general principles of the bill despite the imperfections. Green MSP Patrick Harvie was disappointed with the result commenting that, “the significant support in the chamber reflects the clear public desire for people to have choice and for the law to be clarified”. It is yet to be determined whether the proposed legislation in this sphere will be completely thrown out.