This week has been dominated by the seconding reading of the Scotland Bill and what amendments the SNP would seek, and the First Minister’s USA trip.
Scotland Bill receives second reading
The Scotland Bill, which seeks to implement the recommendations of the Smith Commission, passed its second parliamentary stage this week without a vote. The legislation now proceeds to committee for debate and amendment.
Having criticised the Smith Commission’s recommendations and more recently the enacting legislation, the SNP has lodged an amendment seeking to deliver on their General Election campaign pledge for Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) – responsibility for all areas of tax and spending except for defence and foreign affairs. The SNP amendment, if passed, would give the Scottish Parliament the legislative competence to remove the reservation on tax, public expenditure and borrowing.
The party also confirmed that they would propose amendments for further powers over business taxes, setting the minimum wage and taking more responsibility for welfare decisions.
In response, the UK Government has highlighted a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that FFA would leave Scotland with a £7-10 billion gap in its finances, through amongst other reasons, the ending of the Barnett Formula. The argument being this would lead to considerable cuts to public services and tax rises if implemented. Scottish Secretary David Mundell also pointed to comments by new SNP MPs Tommy Sheppard and George Kerevan who described FFA as “a disaster” and “economic suicide” for Scotland.
Select Committee Chairs announced
Pete Wishart MP and Angus MacNeil MP are set to become the chairman of the Scottish Affairs and Energy & Climate Change Select Committees at Westminster respectively. Having boycotted the Scottish Affairs Select Committee last term, Mr Wishart has said that it is his intention to move on from the past and return the committee to its “original purpose” of scrutinising the work of the Scotland Office – a department the SNP want abolished – and looking at legislation that affects Scotland.
Mr MacNeil similarly welcomed his appointment and his desire to continue to scrutinise the implementation of EMR. The Western Isles MP also highlighted some early priorities around ensuring consumer needs are met, and that Government renewable targets are achieved.
First Minster visits the United States
During her visit to the United States, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon split her time between learning about U.S. efforts to improve failing schools, meeting with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, and an appearance on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.
The First Minster visited schools in both New York and Washington D.C. to see what lessons she can impart from the US education system to improve attainment in Scotland, which has recently become a hot political topic following the publication of figures that indicate literacy and numeracy levels falling.
In a speech to the Word Bank, the First Minster stated Scotland’s desire for a competitive economy and a fairer society which she stated are not mutually exclusive propositions. She acknowledged the deep inequalities that exist in Scotland. She restated her desire to improve the lives of Scots through policies designed to improve attainment in schools, and release Scotland’s economic potential.
TNS has published a poll looking at voting intentions ahead of the Scottish Parliamentary elections next year. The poll suggests that support for the SNP continues to increase with the party on course to make further gains at next year’s elections. At a constituency and regional level the SNP are polling at 60% and 50% respectively, well ahead of their nearest challengers Labour who are on 19% across both.
When compared with the 2011 result, the poll suggests that Labour’s vote share has dropped 13 points; the Tories has increased one point; and the Lib Dems drop another 5 points.
If this were to be replicated in May 2016, the SNP would increase their parliamentary representation from 64 to 73; Labour would drop from 37 to 25; and the three current independent MSPs would be wiped out. However, the Conservatives would increase their representation by 2 to 17 and the Greens would jump from 2 MSPs to 10.
Greenhouse gas targets missed
Official government statistics show that Scotland failed to meet its climate change targets for the fourth consecutive year. Under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act, Scotland is required to reduce emissions by 42% by 2020 from a 1990 baseline. In response, the Environment Minister stated that despite the figures Scotland remains on track to achieving its world-leading targets and outlined a series of measures to reduce emissions.