Scotland Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Graeme Morrice Graeme Morrice Labour, Livingston 2:52 pm, 27th January 2011

I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona O'Donnell on her excellent and entertaining contribution. I would also like to congratulate her-on behalf of the whole House, I am sure-on it being her birthday. She tells me that she is 21. That is 21 plus VAT at a rate of 30%-do the math! [Interruption.] She is the same age as me-well, slightly younger.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. There can be no matter of greater importance to Scotland than the question of how we strengthen the devolution that has helped to improve the lives of our constituents over the past 11 years. Nor should we forget that it was a Labour Government who brought devolution to Scotland, through the creation of a Scottish Parliament with a significant and comprehensive range of statutory powers. Now, after more than a decade of devolution, the time is right to take the next steps in developing Scotland's democracy and its relationship with the other nations of the United Kingdom.

That opportunity was provided, of course, only through the establishment by the previous Labour Government of the Calman commission. The proposals in the Bill, which are rooted in Calman's cross-party work, reflect the overwhelming desire of the Scottish people to anchor Scotland's future firmly in the United Kingdom. On that basis, I support the principles in the Bill. There are differences of detail, of course, between Labour's approach and the plans in the Bill. For instance, the aggregates levy, food labelling and charity registration have been omitted from the Bill. Matters of considerable detail will need to be thrashed out, but the principles are the right ones. Greater magnitude of fiscal autonomy and improved accountability and transparency will ensure that Scotland's stability and her place in the United Kingdom remain strong.

There are those who say that the Bill is part of the slippery slope to independence. There are those who said the same thing about creating a Scottish Parliament, but 10 years on, support for independence is at an all-time low. Strengthening devolution does not undermine the United Kingdom; it makes it stronger. The importance of that strength could not have been demonstrated more acutely than by the economic events of the past three years, yet the SNP still preaches separation. Rescuing the Scottish banks could never have transpired under independence, and the turmoil in the Irish economy demonstrates how vulnerable independence would have left the Scottish people.

The question of devolution is settled; how we make it work better for Scotland is the challenge that the vast majority of Scottish people want us to address. It is perverse that the SNP, which stands on a platform of autonomy, has refused to engage with the Calman commission to create and shape new powers for Scotland. There is an incredible irony at the heart of the SNP position. It rejects the Calman commission because it exposes Scotland to falling tax receipts. The SNP talks about full fiscal autonomy as an answer to Calman, but exposure to falling tax receipts would apply to Scotland's budget whatever the degree of financial powers it acquired. Far from improving, the position under independence would be considerably worse.