I can well remember returning from school on 2 March 1979 to be greeted by my mother with some disappointing news: the yes campaign had not secured enough votes in the referendum to establish a Scottish assembly. As a 15-year-old, I had been captivated by the sense of possibility that would have come from the people of Scotland being able to shape our own future. A few weeks later, I joined the Scottish National Party, to play my part in securing Scottish self-government. So today is, for me, a very significant day. Today, the Scottish Government is inviting Parliament to give its legislative consent to the Scotland Bill, the next step in extending the responsibilities of this Parliament and in Scotland’s journey towards greater self-government.
The aspiration for self-government centres on ensuring that decisions about what happens in Scotland are made as close as possible to the people whom they directly affect—decisions that reflect the views, issues, priorities, hopes and aspirations of the people of Scotland.
The vibrant debate on Scotland’s future that was conducted during the independence referendum campaign is what has brought us here today. Although my aspiration for independence was not supported sufficiently by the electorate, it was crystal clear that the people of our country wanted to exercise more control over their lives here in Scotland and that the political parties and the Parliaments and Governments of Scotland and the United Kingdom had to make that happen. As we approach the end of this parliamentary session, it is appropriate to reflect on the journey that this Parliament has taken—in particular, the momentous events of the past five years.
Since 1999, this Parliament and the Government have continually evolved their powers, but the pace of devolution quickened after the former First Minister published the constitutional consultation document, “Choosing Scotland’s Future”, in August 2014, and we began the national conversation, discussing the powers that people in Scotland wanted the Parliament to have. In response, other parties and the United Kingdom Government established the Calman commission, publishing a Scotland Bill in 2010. This Scottish Parliament eventually gave its legislative consent to that Scotland Act in May 2012, so this is the second Scotland Bill that we have considered in this session. They come along with remarkable regularity.
We have used the powers in the Scotland Act 2012 to address the scourge of drink driving, take action on air guns and reform stamp duty with land and buildings transaction tax. However, it was clear at the time that the 2012 act lagged behind the aspirations that the people have for this Parliament. As we all considered whether we wished to be an independent country, an offer was made to the people of Scotland: they should vote against independence and they would be offered a secure, modern form of Scottish home rule. The UK parties made a vow promising extensive new powers for the Scottish Parliament.
The outcome of the referendum led to the establishment of the Smith commission to agree a basis for the implementation of the commitments made by the UK parties. Along with my friend and colleague Linda Fabiani, I represented the Scottish National Party on the Smith commission, and agreed the contents of its report. I pay tribute to my co-commissioners here in this Parliament—Annabel Goldie, Iain Gray, Tavish Scott and Patrick Harvie; and to those elsewhere—Michael Moore, Gregg McClymont, Maggie Chapman and Adam Tomkins. I pay particular tribute to Lord Smith, whose patient yet firm guiding direction enabled us to reach an agreement. Clearly, for me, it did not go far enough. As was painfully obvious during the process, for others it went far too far.
The Smith process delivered an agreement for additional powers that—if they are used in the right way—can benefit the people of Scotland. Those include extended powers over tax, new powers over welfare, and responsibilities for the Crown Estate, the British Transport Police, tribunals and licensing of onshore oil and gas activity.
However, the Smith commission produced only a report. A bill and a fiscal framework were necessary before anything could be implemented. The Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, under the distinguished leadership of Bruce Crawford, has been crucial in getting us to where we are today. Its scrutiny of both Governments, along with the diligent work of the Finance Committee, under the convenership of Kenneth Gibson, has significantly and materially improved the bill that is before us today. Both committees created the tests that would be central to agreeing a fiscal framework, and that work highlights the excellence that we have come to expect from the strong committee system of this Parliament.
While the bill is not perfect, it reflects the efforts of many people, in this chamber and beyond. There has been much joint working between the UK and Scottish Governments, and ministers are prepared to recommend that Parliament consents to the bill completing its parliamentary passage at Westminster.
The Government has already set out a number of proposals to use the powers that will be conferred on it to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. Those proposals include a social security bill to establish a social security agency, to move to abolish the bedroom tax as early as possible, to introduce support for carers, to create greater flexibility over universal payments and—importantly—to create a social security system that is based on dignity and respect for the individuals that that agency has to serve. Other proposals include effective employability services that support people while coping with severe cuts in funding, as highlighted in the report of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, and consultation on replacing and reducing air passenger duty to boost the economy.
Already, for the elections in May, we have extended the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. That is a right that they will exercise in a few short weeks, to the close interest of all of us in the parliamentary chamber. We will set out further proposals in due course and, if returned as the Government in May, will fully utilise the powers available.
Of equal importance to the Scotland Bill has been the fiscal framework that accompanies it. My overriding aim has been to secure a fiscal framework for Scotland that is fair, workable and faithful to the principles that Smith set out in his report. Throughout the negotiations, my approach was that I would not sign up to a deal that would impose systematic cuts to Scotland’s budget. That outcome has been achieved for the Scottish interest. The fiscal framework states that the Barnett formula will continue to determine the size of the block grant and is the benchmark against which we must assess the operation of the principle of no detriment, which was central to the conclusions of the Smith commission.
The Governments agreed that the block grant adjustment for tax and benefits should be affected by using the comparable model and the Barnett formula respectively, while achieving the outcome that is delivered by the index per capita method. Each year, it will be necessary to concurrently calculate the block grant adjustment, based on both the comparable and Barnett models, and the IPC model. The first step will be to calculate the adjustments on the basis of the comparable and Barnett models. The second, concurrent, step will be to calculate the adjustments on the basis of the IPC model. Finally, if there is a difference between the Barnett, comparable and IPC calculations, there will be a reconciling adjustment to the calculations to ensure that the mechanism delivers the IPC outcome before the start of each financial year. I accept that the agreement is complex, but it ensures that the Scottish ministers’ IPC model drives the outcome of the block grant adjustment process and, crucially, ensures that the Scottish budget does not carry any detriment.
After that, the UK Government cannot default to a funding model that would deliver detriment in the future—future arrangements must be agreed jointly. One of the key issues—and one of the great benefits—of the conclusions in the Smith commission’s report is the fact that Smith required the arrangements for the fiscal framework to be agreed jointly by the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments, making us equals in determining the issues. It is that factor that has enabled us to protect Scotland from the implications of the detriment that could have arisen. Therefore, the arrangement fully delivers the Smith principle of no detriment. To aid transparency, the results of the two models will be presented in the annual reports to each Parliament.
Besides setting out the block grant adjustment, the fiscal framework sets out the agreement that has been reached in other important areas such as capital and resource borrowing, funding for administration and implementation costs and, effectively, the policy spillovers that are associated with tax and welfare. It provides a governance framework for the future, making it clear that decisions in relation to the framework will be taken jointly by both Governments in the joint exchequer committee.
Yesterday, the two Governments published a technical annex to the fiscal framework, which sets out in further detail the agreement that was reached with the United Kingdom Government and then published. I would have preferred to have published it with greater time available to members to scrutinise it before the debate, but it amplifies and provides more detail on the agreement that the First Minister announced to Parliament a couple of weeks ago. It is there for members to scrutinise as background to the process that has been agreed.
We have an agreement on a fiscal framework that increases the Scottish Parliament’s financial responsibility, is consistent with the Smith principles of no detriment and is fair to the people of Scotland. I am therefore in a position to recommend that Parliament provides legislative consent to the Scotland Bill today.
This session has seen a remarkable journey for Scotland and her Parliament, from the legislative consent motion on the Scotland Act 2012 through the legislation for our own referendum, then the referendum itself and the enormous engagement of members of the public on the constitutional question, followed by promises to the people of Scotland of federalism and home rule. Then there were the 10 weeks of the Smith commission, a draft Scotland bill and a UK general election. There was then the consideration of the Scotland Bill at Westminster, with hours of scrutiny by the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the Finance Committee, and seven months of negotiations over the fiscal framework.
The result is a set of powers that do not enable us to do all that the Government would want to be able to do but are a range of powers that we will use to the full in the interests of building a stronger Scottish economy, tackling inequality and ensuring that all our people have the opportunity to flourish in Scotland.
I believe that the more we exercise self-government here in Scotland, the more the benefits become clear to members of the public and the stronger the argument becomes for extending our powers even further. That is Scotland’s journey, and I encourage Parliament to take a further decisive step on that journey by supporting the Government motion.
That the Parliament notes the agreement on a fiscal framework for the Scotland Bill published by the Scottish and UK governments on 25 February 2016, and agrees that the Scotland Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 28 May 2015, as amended, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
Does Mr Gray think that we have such a UK Government at this moment, which is trying to break the trade unions and public services? Does he think that it would be better if we had even more powers to deal with such matters, rather than relying on the Tories at Westminster to deal with them?
I am delighted to speak as the convener of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. I thank all the members of the committee, past and present, for the manner in which they have approached their task. I make special mention of Duncan McNeil. I remember fondly that, when a witness was being evasive, Duncan would roll up his sleeves in that shipyard fashion of his and make sure that they answered the questions that we wanted answered. We thank Duncan for that. I also thank all the parliamentary committees that contributed to our report on the bill, and I thank our two advisers, Christine O’Neill and Professor Nicola McEwen. Finally, I pay particular tribute to Stephen Imrie, Stephen Herbert and Andrew Howlett, who did a remarkable job as clerks to the committee.
The process of development and negotiation of the proposals for further devolution has at times been pressurised and has frequently taken place behind closed doors, in a private space where the two Governments could negotiate. As a parliamentary committee, we felt strongly that we had a responsibility to try to open up the process to place transparency, accountability and parliamentary scrutiny at the heart of our work. In that light, I am grateful to all the individuals, experts and organisations, particularly those from civic society, who engaged so fully with our work, particularly with regard to the proposed welfare powers.
As a committee, we set ourselves two straightforward litmus tests to be passed before we considered that the committee would be able to recommend legislative consent to the Parliament: first, that the Scotland Bill should meet both the spirit and substance of the Smith commission recommendations; secondly, that any fiscal framework agreed between the two Governments must be seen to be fair and sustainable—that is, that the Scottish budget should experience no detriment. We considered that both tests were equally valid and of the same value.
I will keep my remarks on the Scotland Bill brief, but I want to welcome the changes that the UK Government has made to the bill and the role that has been played by the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell. Many of those changes reflect the recommendations that the committee made in its interim report. I will give just a couple of examples: first, the provision that the Scottish Parliament cannot be abolished without a referendum of the Scottish people—after all, the people of Scotland are sovereign; and secondly, a clear articulation of the new powers that is closer to the spirit and substance of Smith in relation to the new and top-up benefits, carers allowance and the ability to introduce gender quotas.
However, the committee continues to have some concerns regarding the content of the Scotland Bill. For instance, on employment support it remains the case that only the programmes relating to individuals who have been unemployed for more than a year will be devolved. Nevertheless, I can say that, on balance, we consider that the Scotland Bill meets our first test for legislative consent to be agreed.
The fiscal framework became the key issue in our scrutiny of the proposals for further devolution. Ultimately, it was also the critical element in the whole process as far as both Governments were concerned. I, too, congratulate the Deputy First Minister on his negotiating skills. In doing so, I am reminded of President Kennedy’s words when he said:
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
However, it would be wrong not to recognise that the delay in agreeing a fiscal framework had a negative impact on the scrutiny that we were able to undertake on that crucial agreement.
I mentioned earlier that the fact that there should be no detriment to the Scottish budget was a key issue for the committee. We therefore welcome the agreement that has been reached on block grant adjustment and indexation for the transitional period to 2021-22.
However, we have some remaining concerns, which are shared by the Finance Committee. It was clear that the two Governments, in their evidence to us, appeared to have differing interpretations of what will happen if no agreement can be reached following the review of the transitional period. To be fair, the Deputy First Minister was clear about what he thinks will happen; the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was far less so. However, I would say to the chief secretary in the words of another American president, Abraham Lincoln:
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Nevertheless, we welcome the fact that there will be an independent review of the operation of the fiscal framework, which will report by the end of 2021. It is also right to recognise that, despite the agreement that has been reached, there remains a significant amount of detail to be agreed. All the arrangements must be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the next session of Parliament.
Despite the lack of detail in some areas and the undeniable challenges that lie ahead, the committee was, on balance, prepared to endorse the fiscal framework. Accordingly, we consider that both the tests that we set ourselves at the outset of our work have, on balance, been met, and we recommend that the Scottish Parliament gives its consent to the Scotland Bill.
It has been my privilege to be the convener of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. It is now time to pass the baton of responsibility on to the next Parliament, whose members will have a big job ahead of them, scrutinising any new legislation that will flow from this bill. To do that job justice, it will be vital that the structures and operations of the committees in the next session are made fit for purpose, to deliver the changes that the people of Scotland will rightly expect.
I am pleased that we have reached this point, which, as was outlined by the Deputy First Minister, has come from Calman, the Scotland Act 2012 and the promises that were made to Scotland just before the independence referendum—federalism and home rule.
Iain Gray talked of misleading rhetoric on the promises. My contention would be that, in the days running up to the independence referendum, it was those who live in Scotland who were misled. Indeed, with the understandable dissent of Alex Johnstone MSP, the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee concluded in paragraph 7.1.0 of its report:
“There are still some areas where we feel that the Scotland Bill continues to fall short of the spirit and substance of Smith, notably in relation to the devolution of employment programmes”.
Bruce Crawford outlined those areas.
Lord Smith can answer for himself. What I can talk about is what was agreed by the committee, with the exception of Alex Johnstone. The fact is that what was agreed by the Smith commission and outlined in the agreement has been changed. Funding that is coming for the work programme has been slashed—that cannot be denied.
Let us look further at the committee’s report. Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green committee members concluded:
“The Committee is disappointed with the decisions that have been taken in the area of employment programmes both in terms of the degree of devolution ... and now on the stark reductions in the actual budgets that will be devolved.”
As I said, there has been a complete change from what was in the Smith agreement. The committee also said:
“These decisions will seriously undermine a future Scottish Parliament’s ability to make a meaningful change to some people’s lives through tackling unemployment.”
Let us not pretend that Parliament is today considering a package of additional powers that will allow this or any future Scottish Government to truly transform lives. We must be realistic.
No, thank you.
During the Smith commission sittings, there were overriding themes: the potential use of additional powers, the principle of no detriment, and the principle that both Governments should enter into further negotiations with parity of esteem, as equal partners.
On the no-detriment principle, despite the Treasury’s initial attempts to use the negotiations on the fiscal framework to cut Scotland’s budget to the tune of £7 billion, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister negotiated a deal to deliver some of the powers that were promised to Scotland, without allowing the removal of a single penny from the Scottish budget. We should thank both of them for that very much indeed.
The committee discussed parity of esteem and the principle of coming together as equal partners, although it was difficult to get a definitive answer from the Treasury minister. All members of this Parliament should be behind anyone who negotiates for Scotland in the future, and they should insist that that parity of esteem and equal partnership is maintained.
The other overriding theme is what we will do with any additional powers that come our way. I am pleased that the SNP Government has already set out plans to use the new powers that will be delivered. Already there have been statements about increasing the carers allowances to the same level as jobseekers allowance, and we will have the power to abolish the bedroom tax. That is very important, because we have spent a long time mitigating the effects of what has been coming from Westminster to Scotland. Although the bill does not contain the full package of powers that we would want to transform lives, there are things that we will be able to do with the powers, instead of always chasing behind and trying to make up for the shortfalls of a Westminster Government that, let us face it, was not voted into Power by Scotland.
We can do practical things, such as allowing benefit claimants to be paid fortnightly rather than monthly. We can scrap the 84-day rule, which removes income—that will be very important to families who have disabled children. As John Swinney said, we can introduce a social security bill to create a system that has dignity at its heart—that is very important. Despite the huge cut to the work programme funding, we will use the powers to do what we can to support people back into employment.
There are many other things that we can and will do in, I hope, a spirit of parity of esteem and equal partnership between the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government. There will be times when we look at an issue and say, “Right. It would be much more sensible to make an adjustment here on powers.” The Devolution (Further Powers) Committee made such a suggestion in relation to gift aid, because there is an anomaly in that regard, and I am sure that there will be many other things that we can discuss, in a way that accords respect to both sides, as equal partners who are working in the best interests of everyone who lives in Scotland.
I support the motion in Mr Swinney’s name and express my delight that we have arrived at this debate and this question. After all, like him, I spent 10 weeks of my life locked in the Smith commission, thrashing out an agreement on what further powers the Parliament should have.
The one major thing that Smith left undone was the fiscal framework, which was left to be negotiated between the Scottish and UK Governments. I confess that there were times when I thought that those negotiations would break down irrevocably and that the whole agreement would fall. That would have been a travesty.
Although the negotiations were in effect between only two parties—the Scottish National Party and the Tories—those parties were both signatories to the Smith commission report. If the Tory Government had failed to reach agreement, it would have betrayed the promise that was made to the Scottish people at the time of the referendum. Equally, had the Scottish Government failed to reach a deal, it would have meant the grotesque outcome of a nationalist Government being presented with the opportunity to make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world, through the biggest transfer of powers to Scotland since 1999, but letting that opportunity slip through its fingers.
Happily for me, I was not in the room, so I do not know why the agreement went to the wire, but I know that I agreed with John Swinney’s interpretation of no detriment in the Smith agreement, which is that it applies not simply on the day of devolution but over time, too. I supported him, too, in arguing that the adjusted block grant should not be reduced as a result of differential changes to population. He was correct in arguing that the Barnett formula, which is population based, already adjusts for that, so a further reduction would be superfluous.
I have the highest regard for Mr Swinney as a negotiator—in spite of his many flaws. I take the chance to congratulate him again on reaching a good deal for Scotland and securing the benefits of the Smith agreement and the consequent Scotland Bill. He deserves all our thanks for that. [Applause.]
The devolution story that brings us here this morning has both a longer-term narrative and a more immediate narrative. Mr Swinney also referred to that. From the moment that the Parliament began, it was clear that it was imbalanced. Our Parliament was created with a high degree of legislative competence—with full powers to legislate over many critical areas of our nation’s life—but it was clear that we had little fiscal or financial power. The original variable rate involved a flawed power and was—not surprisingly—never used. The Calman powers began to address that, but the Smith agreement and the Scotland Bill will write the next chapter in the story of devolution.
That is also the final chapter in the more urgent and febrile narrative that was born of the referendum campaign in 2014. The Smith commission and the legislative process that ensued delivered the vow that was made in the final days of that campaign—that remaining in the United Kingdom would mean not the status quo but rather a new devolution settlement and substantial new powers for the Parliament.
It is worth reminding ourselves of what that promise was, since it has been misquoted, misconstrued and used to mislead ever since. The promise was, first, to make the Parliament permanent; secondly, to have substantial devolution of powers over tax and welfare; and, thirdly, to protect the Barnett formula.
The first point was readily agreed in the Smith commission, although it is—admittedly—legislatively awkward to achieve. The second is indisputably delivered with the devolution of some £20 billion of taxation and more than £2 billion of welfare benefits, along with a new power to create our own benefits.
The third point—the protection of the Barnett formula—is delivered by the fiscal agreement, and thereby we continue to benefit from the pooling and sharing of resources across the United Kingdom. That is the bedrock of the social solidarity that binds us together in old age, in unemployment or in starting a family.
In passing, we should not forget that a number of other important responsibilities will devolve to us, such as powers over our democratic structure and elections and, topicaIly, complete control over unconventional gas exploitation—fracking. That has allowed Labour members to make it clear to the Scottish public that we would ban that process.
It is the powers over tax and welfare that will transform and have already begun to transform the Parliament. The debate is the latest thread in a third narrative that is deeper and longer. It was born of the arid years of the 1980s and early 1990s, when we faced a Government that was intent on attacking, not nurturing, our crucial public services, and which was determined to break, not work with, the institutions of social solidarity, such as trade unions. That Government saw division as something strong and bracing, not something weak and destructive.
I do indeed think that we have such a UK Government at the moment, and I will come to what I think about that immediately.
Out of the 1980s and 1990s came the idea that we could have a devolved democratic institution that would allow us to stand strong and make our own decisions about the kind of Scotland that we want. That saw this Parliament conceived, campaigned for and then created.
We now have a UK Government that is hellbent on wrong-headed austerity—on cutting futures rather than investing. The Scottish Parliament was made for a time such as this. The new powers that will flow from the legislative consent motion and the legislation that follows will ensure that we can choose a different way.
Let us look at yesterday’s statistics on inequality and poor health in teenagers. They need us to choose a different way. Let us think of our children in care, who still have more chance of finding their way to prison than to university, or our fellow citizens living with disability, whose support is being cut and cut again. It is the choice to do better for them that is coming our way.
A legislative consent motion on a wet Wednesday morning—we could not get more mundane than that. However, any of us who are not excited by the opportunity that this moment presents should ask whether they are in the right place. I say to Mr Stewart in particular that anyone who sees the powers over tax and welfare and only asks themselves, “Why don’t I have more?” rather than “What am I going to do with this incredible opportunity?” should ask whether they are in the right place.
The truth is this: after this parliamentary session, we will not leave the Parliament as we found it. However bumpy the ride, we have transformed the Parliament—Mr Swinney elaborated on how much that has dominated our time and attention in the past five years. However, if that was the achievement of the session that is ending, surely now the obligation is on us to use the Parliament to transform our nation and the lives of its people. The Parliament is indisputably big enough now to do that. The question is: are we big enough to make it happen?
There is no excuse for timidity now. There is no excuse to accept cuts that we say are unacceptable, no excuse to fail in making the investments that we say are critical and no reason to say that there is another way but then fail to take it. The hard negotiations to empower the Parliament are done. Now we must make the hard choices to use its powers to stop the cuts, to protect our people and to make their future what we know that it can be.
This is not my final speech—I understand that that will take place next week—but, in a sense, the bill encapsulates a journey for me that has involved a marked change in my views since 1999 and a significant development in the life of this institution. In a way, the bill brings me to a natural conclusion of a process in which I have been closely involved at the point when I also reach the conclusion of my time here. That is perhaps an appropriate symmetry. I imagine that this is also the last time that I shall face the Deputy First Minister in the chamber so, before I proceed to the meat of the debate, I ask the chamber to indulge me in some brief reflections.
We are discussing the culmination of a process that began when it was recognised that the Scotland Act 1998 was not the end of the story but the opening chapter to a longer story. I realised after some years that the limitations of the 1998 act were putting a brake on the Parliament’s natural desire to take on more responsibility and, at the same time, were putting a corset on political responsibility.
In 2007, I was one of the progenitors of the Calman commission which, as the Deputy First Minister said, took us to the Scotland Act 2012. In September 2014, the Smith commission was announced by the Prime Minister, and I was delighted to be asked to serve on that. That process culminated in the Scotland Bill, the legislative consent motion on which we are debating today. I have also played my part with pride in another place in supporting the bill and ensuring that its parliamentary and political significance is understood.
The genesis of the bill was in the Smith commission, and I acknowledge the Herculean task that was undertaken by a man of immense talent—Lord Smith. His wise and patient stewardship of the process ensured a positive outcome. I also pay tribute to the other commission members. In particular, I will comment on the role of the cabinet secretary, my friend John Swinney, who was also a member of the commission—a task that I recognised was not going to be easy for him.
John Swinney and I have been members of the Parliament since 1999. We have our different political objectives and a robust divergence of views on a range of issues, but he skilfully prosecutes his case with focus, intelligence, integrity and courtesy. It has been my privilege to see that at first hand, whether in his convenership of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, in budget negotiations between our two parties in the period of minority government, on the Smith commission, in the challenging discussions to reach agreement on the fiscal framework or in the chamber. He has earned respect as a public figure and it has been a pleasure to work with him as a political opponent. I shall particularly miss his hugely entertaining outbursts of faux indignation.
Much has happened between the Smith agreement and today. On the bill, the UK Government listened to Opposition parties and others, including the Scottish Government, and tabled a raft of amendments at report stage and throughout the proceedings in the House of Lords that devolved abortion law, clarified powers over welfare and put it beyond any doubt that there are no vetoes in the bill.
The bill implements the Smith commission agreement, in line with my party’s previous pledges. No one can dispute the muscle and clout that are now coming to the Scottish Parliament. On 24 February, Lord Smith said:
“When the Smith Agreement was passed to the Prime Minister and First Minister, both gave their word that they would deliver it into law—they have met that promise in full.”
This is a big day for the Scottish Parliament, not because I am about to leave it or because I have just said nice things about Mr Swinney, but because it is the day when the Scottish Parliament prepares to graduate. Today, the Parliament will give the green light to the Scotland Bill, which will create a powerhouse Parliament. Independent research by the Scottish Parliament information centre has shown that the Parliament will become one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world, with a higher degree of autonomy than that of many federal states, such as those in the US, Germany and Australia.
This is also the day when, as Iain Gray said, the public debate about our country’s future moves from questions of constitutional process and grievance politics and on to the real business of using power to improve people’s lives. With control over about £12 billion of income tax revenues and about £5 billion of assigned VAT, plus responsibility over welfare benefits worth approximately £2.7 billion according to recent figures, real politics is arriving and the cabinet secretary’s job just got harder.
Let me console the cabinet secretary—it could be worse. He has been spared being the chancellor of an independent Scotland facing in year 1 a £15 billion deficit, turbulent oil markets and using someone else’s currency. It is healthy that, for the first time in 17 years, we have discussed setting a Scottish rate of income tax in the Scottish Parliament and we have begun tentatively to debate the design of employment services and welfare. That poses a big challenge for the Scottish Government in designing a social security system that is fair but which incentivises work and in constructing a tax regime that does not place Scotland at a disadvantage in comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom.
What my party and I wanted to emerge from the process was a Scottish Parliament that is more politically and financially responsible and accountable. I also wanted to see reflected the overwhelming desire of the majority of people in Scotland for a stronger Scottish Parliament in the United Kingdom. On all that, the Scotland Bill delivers. How all that will play out is for our successor members of the Parliament—I pray that they may be blessed with wisdom. My party supports the motion in Mr Swinney’s name.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I want to take a moment to thank all the members of the Parliament’s staff who have served me my breakfast, put up with my rants about the information technology system and supported me in committees of the Parliament—right down to Paul Grice, whose advice and support I have valued very much over the piece.
I should also mention my personal assistant Alison McKenzie, my constituency office—the font of all knowledge—and everyone who has worked for me over the period, including Colin Borland, Jill McNeil, Craig Davidson and Richard Cook.
Presiding Officer, in one of my first speeches as a newly elected member of the Scottish Parliament, one of your predecessors indulged me by allowing me to announce the birth of Chloe, the second of my four grandchildren. In a few weeks, Chloe, like this Parliament, will turn 17. She is one of the first of the devolution generation who have grown up every day with a Scottish Parliament as part of their lives. That tiny baby has become a beautiful young adult, and in many ways the formative years of this Parliament have mirrored that familiar journey from infancy to maturity. We certainly had our teething problems and our sleepless nights when, very early on, we tackled the discrimination and inequality that existed in Scottish society and made up some ground on that, and when we had to deal with cost of this beautiful building. At that time, we sometimes felt as if we were under siege.
Through time, we have found our place in Scottish life and our confidence. However, as we did not have the ability to tackle seriously the imbalances to which Iain Gray referred, or to raise our own money, many of our debates lacked political maturity, and at their worst resembled a stroppy teenager complaining about not getting enough pocket money. Tensions became so heated that we even threatened to leave altogether. However, we have agreed instead on a new settlement. We should at least take satisfaction that at the end of today we will come together and agree that this is a significant day for us all, as the Deputy First Minister said.
We are now a 17-year-old Parliament that is about to come of age and is ready to take on more responsibilities and to earn more of its keep, excited and enthused by the opportunities that that will provide. Of course there will be challenges; it will change politics and how we do politics.
We have been given our key to the income tax door. However, as someone who has served Hollywood—[Interruption.] That was my senior moment—although we have seen Hollywood techniques sometimes. As someone who has served Holyrood as a party whip, a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, a committee convener and a proud chair of the parliamentary Labour Party group, and who argued strongly for such powers to come to Scotland even when the policy was not popular in my party, I think that I am qualified and entitled to question whether we have demonstrated sufficient responsibility to exercise them. My experience tells me that this Parliament has not kept pace with change. It must do so soon if its work is to be effective for the people whom it serves.
I was reminded this week that Robin Cook came to the Parliament when he was the Leader of the House of Commons. This Parliament was new, and there were things here to be learned for his journey of reform at Westminster. It saddens me to say that now we have to do a bit of learning from Westminster and how it runs its business.
It will, of course, be for the next Scottish Government to decide its policies, how the new powers can be used to implement those policies and how we should tackle the big issues that we have been discussing here: how we build a successful economy, how we transform the health service to make it even better than it is, and—the biggest challenge of all—how we tackle the inequalities that affect and exclude so many of our population.
It will be this Parliament’s responsibility to ensure that there is accountability, scrutiny and even opposition, when it is necessary. We must ensure that we are capable of meeting that challenge, or we will face the consequences. The role of Presiding Officer will be key in doing that, and I pay tribute to Tricia Marwick for the job that she has done as an advocate of change and reform for our Parliament. I note that she has said herself that she has not been able to win all the arguments.
How can we ensure that the Presiding Officer’s successor can take on that mantle and ensure that our procedures, structures and ways of working are fit for a modern powerful Parliament? I believe that we need to ditch the current convention; I believe that the way in which we elect the new Presiding Officer is integral to changing Holyrood. Why not have an open election in which all members—not just those who are favoured by the leadership or the party whips—are free to put themselves forward and allowed to stand on their own manifesto of reform, thus gaining a mandate that cannot be restrained by those who oppose change? Those ideas could be put forward in hustings, to engage with people beyond Parliament on their expectations of Parliament, and cross-party support should be necessary, if not compulsory.
Equally, the status and independence of our committee conveners need to be elevated and protected so that finally our ambitions for our committees are realised. We all wanted our Parliament to be different from—better than—Westminster, and in many ways we have succeeded, but we must be open enough to recognise that in some ways it has not worked and other systems are better. The power and functions of committees is one area where we need to get it right.
We must also ensure that our parliamentarians and our opposition parties have the resources and the means to do just that. A strong opposition is vital to our democracy, and we need to ensure that it is equipped do its work effectively.
Alas, that is a debate that will be taken forward by members in the next session of the Scottish Parliament, of whom I will not be one. This is my last speech as an MSP after 17 years. On my first day as the MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde—the first elected representative to have been born and bred in the area—I stood just a few feet away from Donald Dewar when he made his famous speech to open the Parliament. He said:
“In the quiet moments today, we might hear some echoes from the past: the shout of the welder in the din of the great Clyde shipyards.”
I was a caulker/burner, not a welder, but I hope that I have provided more than just an echo of Scotland’s industrial past. I have always tried to be an authentic voice for working people in my community and the families there, and for the many communities like it.
When I entered the gates of the shipyards on the lower Clyde at the tender age of 15—even younger than my granddaughter Chloe is now—I thought that I had a job for life. I could never have imagined that 50 years later I would be representing my colleagues, my family and my neighbours in the Scottish Parliament. What an honour that has been.
We have seen what bad Governments can do when thousands of men’s and women’s livelihoods are taken from them and their communities plunged into mass unemployment, with all the associated problems that they must still live with. I have also seen what good Governments can do in regenerating such communities by attracting jobs, building new homes and schools, and allowing people to live healthier lives. Good government comes when the Government is forced to test its ideas, build consensus and correct mistakes.
Chloe and her generation will look to the Scottish Parliament for good government that protects people when they are vulnerable and provides them with opportunity when they are ready to take it. I know that there are good people in the Parliament and that there can be good government. I will watch members from afar. I wish them well for their future and the future of the Scottish people. [Applause.]
On behalf of the Parliament, I thank Duncan McNeil for his contribution as a member, as a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, as a committee convener and as a great parliamentarian. You have served the Parliament well, and it has been a privilege to have been on the journey with you. We wish you well in all that you do in the future. [Applause.]
I found a Duncan McNeil speech last night when I was looking forward to this debate. I had some inkling that he would give some thoughts on his very distinguished time in Parliament. In November 2000, he congratulated a good friend of his on becoming the Deputy Minister for Sport and Culture. I suppose that he will remember the speech well: it was about Labour’s consideration of where sport and culture policy should be. He uttered a somewhat pointed phrase in relation to the new minister when he said:
“I wish him every success and look forward to hearing less about Puccini and more about Porrini.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2000; c 1340.]
Duncan McNeil will remember that Porrini was a rather indifferent left back at Ibrox in those days. Puccini is rather well known for other reasons. Duncan McNeil always brought such thoughts to Parliament.
Duncan McNeil also saved me on one occasion when he was chairman of the parliamentary Labour Party. I forget what the issue was—to be frank, I would probably choose to forget what it was—but there had been some carry-on in transport, as there inevitably was. I had to go along to the Labour group to explain some difficulty that had happened—Jackie Baillie is laughing, so it must have been something in her area—and Duncan McNeil said, “Don’t worry. They won’t all eat you before breakfast—probably just later.” I was grateful to him for getting me through that particular meeting.
I want to reflect on what got us here in the first place, as the Deputy First Minister did. I recall a croft discussion in the 1999 election campaign. Someone out in the west of Shetland who was in the middle of his lambing and therefore was not particularly keen to talk to any politician said to me over a gate, “Until you lot have some responsibility for both sides of a croft account”—obviously, he meant the nation’s balance sheet—“your place will not grow up.” That is so, as the Deputy First Minister, Iain Gray and Annabel Goldie have expressed it. Being able to take decisions about both sides of the balance sheet would ensure that we could decide whether to invest in schools or to cut education, whether to create a fair social security system for those who are less fortunate than us in our country or, indeed, to really debate the divisions over tax and spend that affect every citizen and every business, as should happen. That is profoundly important for the Parliament’s future relevance to people, and for its real importance.
Members have mentioned the Smith commission, which is the basis of the legislative consent motion. I concur with the thoughts that have been expressed about Lord Smith, my colleague Mike Moore and all those who served on that body, and the able support provided for it by civil servants in London and Edinburgh.
I pay tribute to John Swinney not only for his role in that. I agree with Annabel Goldie’s and Iain Gray’s assessments of what has happened in relation to the Scottish Fiscal Commission. I genuinely thank John Swinney for that work, which is profoundly important for now and the longer term.
The Deputy First Minister made an observation that the Smith commission’s recommendations did not go far enough for some and went too far for others. That is true. They do not go far enough for me, in some areas, because I profoundly believe in devolution of power not just to but within Scotland. The area that epitomises that for me is the Crown Estate. It has long been business for many of us—particularly those who represent the islands and have the marine environment to consider day to day—that the Crown Estate responsibilities should not just sit in Edinburgh, but that the management power, and not just the money and the net finance, should be devolved to the islands. I hope that in the next session of Parliament, whoever is the Government of the day, and whoever is Deputy First Minister and First Minister, are able to deliver fully what the Smith commission agreed on the Crown Estate—that is, that the powers and the finances would be devolved to the island areas, including those outwith the islands that I am fortunate enough to represent.
I also agree with Bruce Crawford’s observations on the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. I do not know what I will do with Thursday mornings from now on after the heaven knows how many running Thursday meetings we have had. However, I thought tomorrow was going to be a nice quiet day, and that I could have maybe read a few papers and caught up with background reading. But oh, no—I must go and speak on crofting law. From the sublime to crofting law.
I thank Bruce Crawford for his very patient and sensible convenership of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. That we produced a report that just about had all-party agreement was down to his skills and patience. The very few points that Alex Johnstone dissented from for entirely understandable political reasons were, I suggest, fairly minor in the overall scheme of things. Given the make-up of the Scottish Parliament, it is no mean achievement to come up—on the constitution—with a broadly acceptable package for all.
Can I make two final points, Presiding Officer, or even one, seeing as you are waving at me? There is one area that I want the Deputy First Minister to consider carefully. The review that has been institutionalised in the fiscal framework agreement is significant. What it may do in creating future problems needs to be reflected on very closely, so that we genuinely achieve all that we may out of the legislative consent motion when it is passed later today.
I congratulate Annabel Goldie and Duncan McNeil on their service to the Parliament—their contribution has been substantial indeed. However, I say to Duncan McNeil that I would beware of taking too many lessons from the Palace of Westminster. When I was in the House of Commons yesterday, I glanced up at the House of Lords annunciator and saw the words “Adjournment for the leisure period”. I will have to ask Annabel what they do with their time when that adjournment is on. [Laughter.] Once we have found out exactly what takes place, maybe it would be popular to introduce that into this Parliament—who knows?
I also join with Duncan McNeil in thanking my constituency staff, the parliamentary staff and the governmental staff, without whom no contribution in this place would have been possible in any of our careers.
In making a valedictory address, I am aware, Presiding Officer, that there is a major rival attraction down south today. However, on balance, I feel that the champion chase at Cheltenham race course will not be overshadowed by my remarks. [Laughter.]
I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the debate to reflect on the position that this Parliament and this country are now in. Clearly, the legislative consent motion before us does not pave the way for near federalism, devo to the max or home rule—all things that were raised in the last days of the referendum campaign. It does, however, represent a further transfer of power from London to Scotland. That much should be welcomed. It is also to be very much welcomed that, thanks to their iron resolve, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister ensured that that was done according to the Smith principles of no financial loss. It is not immediately apparent that that would have been the outcome under other leadership of this Parliament.
We should remember that it is 10 years since a Labour First Minister suggested that there should be no further transfer of power from London to Scotland and five years since a Conservative leader said that a line should be drawn in the sand. This Parliament and this country are on a journey, and under these circumstances, it is sometimes easier to see the full extent of the distance travelled when one is not at the very heart of the battle.
In my first speech to this chamber, I refuted the idea that we were a divided Parliament representing a divided country. I suggested that we were not divided but diverse. We have all experienced an extraordinary referendum campaign—one that was hard fought, certainly, but one that produced a level of democratic participation and engagement that most societies can only dream of. Yes, we are a country of different views, but we are not divided. In fact, there is a broad consensus on the need for this Parliament to assume greater responsibility for the governance of Scotland. We are definitely stronger—so much stronger—as a result of that.
We should reflect on some of those whom we have lost. Bashir Ahmad, John Farquhar Munro, Tom McCabe, David McLetchie and Margo MacDonald—five different individuals from five different parties with five different viewpoints, but still diverse rather than divided.
Seventeen years ago, when this Parliament was reconvened, Donald Dewar delivered the best speech of his life. In an elegant historical sweep, he described Scotland as being on
“a journey begun long ago ... which has no end”.
In truth, we would do well to debate more the history and culture of this country. It is a subject worthy of discussion and it is, after all, the real reason that this place exists. However, when Donald spoke, his Administration was an Executive, not a Government; the Parliament anguished every time it trespassed into reserved areas; and there were real doubts as to whether the fledgling Parliament would stand the test of time.
Those questions are now over. There is no doubt as to the permanence of this institution, and the only question is about the pace at which the Parliament, the Scottish people, and their Government will assume further responsibility.
Will that make us totally independent? Well, not in an absolute sense. All nations are interdependent, one upon the other. That fact of life does not change, regardless of Scotland’s status. However, the greater our independence, the greater our ability to impact on the political environment around us and the greater our power to determine the circumstances of our fellow citizens.
It will be this Parliament that decides to intervene to protect the dispossessed, as we have done over the bedroom tax; this Parliament that determines the life chances of the future, as we have done on nursery education; and this Parliament that places no financial barrier on human potential, as we have done with the abolition of tuition fees. I hope and believe that one day soon, it will be this place that removes weapons of mass destruction from Scotland; this place that decides to fully commit to a renewable future; and this place that acts not just to secure but to develop Scotland’s proper position in the mainstream of Europe.
I wish all members well in their choices. For those who are retiring, you have done the nation some service. For those moving on to new careers, think well of this Parliament. For those standing for election, I wish you all luck—albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. [Laughter.]
Let me leave members with these final thoughts. There is no greater honour in public life than to be a member of this Parliament. There is no greater task than to mould the public purpose of Scotland. There is no greater cause to serve than that of the people of this country. With that, it is goodbye from me—for now. [Applause.]
On behalf of the Parliament, I thank you for your contribution as an MSP and as the First Minister of Scotland. You have served the Parliament and Scotland with distinction and I thank you for that. The Parliament will certainly be a much duller place without you. I wish you well in all that you do in the future. [Applause.]
I believe that today represents another significant step on the journey of this Parliament, and I feel privileged to have played a part in that process as a member of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. Before that, I was a member of the Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee and, before that, I served on the Scotland Bill Committee, so I have been involved in a considerable part of that journey.
Scotland’s devolution package is changing, although perhaps not to the extent that many of us had hoped. During the independence referendum campaign, we heard Gordon Brown promise that a no vote would result in the devolution of further powers that would ensure that we would get as close to federalism as it is possible to get. We also heard the current Prime Minister say that the Scotland Bill would make Scotland one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world. In my view, neither of those promises has been met. That is also the view of the majority of members of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. The Scotland Bill could have and should have done more to strengthen the powers of this Parliament.
I very much welcome the transfer of any further powers to the Scottish Parliament, but let us put the Scotland Bill into its proper context. Under this settlement, Westminster will continue to control around 70 per cent of tax-raising powers and a hugely significant proportion of powers over welfare and social security. Therefore, although the Scottish Parliament will have power over additional areas, it will still be without the full powers that it needs to completely protect public services, tackle inequality and transform this country in the way that it deserves.
Nonetheless, further powers are coming to the Parliament, and I welcome the First Minister’s commitment that the SNP in government will use those powers to keep Scotland moving forward. In fact, we have already started doing just that. On Monday, the Scottish Government launched a consultation on its plans to reform APD, which is, of course, one of the powers that are being transferred to Holyrood under the Scotland Bill.
A report last week by the British Air Transport Association said that the UK APD rate for long-haul flights is the highest in the world, and while that may or may not be okay for London’s airports, it certainly holds back the potential of Scotland’s airports, including Glasgow airport. APD at its current rate restricts Scotland’s ability to attract and retain direct international routes. I strongly believe that the Scottish Government’s plans to make Scotland more competitive in this area will be of real benefit to our tourism industry and will boost economic growth and create new job opportunities.
There are several other new powers that are being devolved that are worthy of comment, not least those over welfare. Earlier this month, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, Alex Neil, outlined initial plans for the establishment of Scotland’s new social security agency and pledged to put dignity and respect at the heart of Scotland’s devolved welfare system. If we contrast that with the approach to welfare that is taken by the Tories at Westminster, we realise that the case is clear that those powers are better held in Scotland’s hands rather than those of Westminster.
Later today, we will hear George Osborne’s budget plans, but reports that he wants to cut personal independence payments for more than 640,000 disabled people are deeply concerning. PIP is awarded to give disabled people access to simple aids and appliances that allow them to live independently, and charities have warned that such cuts will have a devastating impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Those who can afford it least face losing up to £150 a week, and if the cuts come to pass, that will be a particularly nasty and regressive step by the chancellor. I was not surprised to read reports in the press that Ruth Davidson does not want George Osborne anywhere near Scotland during her party’s Holyrood campaign.
Indeed, figures published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies indicate that the number of children living in absolute poverty in the UK will increase by 2.6 million by 2020-21 as a result of the chancellor’s cuts to social security. In relation to the bedroom tax, we have seen that Scotland can and will do things differently, and the sooner that further welfare powers are under the control of the Scottish Parliament, the better.
I turn to the fiscal framework. As we have heard, at the start of negotiations the Treasury tried to force a further reduction of £7 billion in Scotland’s budget over the next 10 years. Many people have praised the Deputy First Minister and the First Minister for standing up to the Treasury and securing a fair deal for Scotland, and they have been right to do so. As a result of their hard work, there will be no detriment to Scotland’s budget, despite the Treasury’s attempts at a cash grab. The key success of those negotiations is that, in future, any attempt to impose a settlement on Scotland cannot happen without the agreement of the Scottish Government. This Government and this Parliament deserve that equality of esteem.
Negotiations on the fiscal framework deal took the best part of a year and, as the convener of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee has said, it is unfortunate that the often difficult and certainly protracted discussions interfered somewhat with the committee’s scrutiny of the proposals. That point, which is reflected in the committee’s final report, is worth considering in the context of future intergovernmental relations.
Since it was set up in November 2014, the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee has met almost 50 times and, in that time, we have engaged with numerous experts, witnesses, Government officials and ordinary members of the public. I want to thank all those who have helped to inform the committee’s work on the bill, and the clerking team, the Scottish Parliament information centre researchers and the press support staff also deserve our appreciation and thanks for their dedication and diligence.
The work of this Parliament has undoubtedly been integral to making improvements to the Scotland Bill. I am particularly pleased that the permanence of the Scottish Parliament has been recognised and that its abolition will not be possible without the will of the Scottish people as expressed in a democratic referendum.
I hope that, as we approach the end of this session of Parliament, we do so with a sense of determination to ensure that in the next session Parliament will use these new powers to make Scotland better and that all those who are fortunate enough to serve in it will aspire to deliver a fairer and more prosperous country.
This is not my final speech, for which I am very grateful, given the number of distinguished final speeches that we have heard this morning. First of all, I pay tribute to my colleague Duncan McNeil, who not only has been an outstanding convener of the Health and Sport Committee—as I have found out over the past six months—but has made a massive contribution to the Parliament in many other ways.
I also pay tribute to Alex Salmond, who has been a colleague of mine in two Parliaments. Along with his colleagues, he has changed Scottish politics in ways that no one on this side of the chamber could have anticipated in 1999. I am not sure whether or not Annabel Goldie made her last speech this morning, but I also pay tribute to her many political skills, including her friendly respect for opponents.
I have been so obsessed with the block grant adjustment that I am slightly in danger of neglecting the other important parts of the Scotland Bill. Nevertheless, it was central to the whole process. To anyone who does not understand all the fine details, I commend the technical annex, which describes it with admirable clarity.
I mainly want to congratulate the Scottish Government for sticking to its guns, particularly in relation to the indexed per capita deduction method for the block grant adjustment. When I saw that at the SNP conference the First Minister said of the Treasury, “We gubbed them,” I thought that that was not entirely positive for intergovernmental relations, but it is a pretty accurate assessment of the situation.
It might also be courteous to thank the UK Government for being prepared to be flexible, no doubt under duress. I understand that it started by advocating the levels deduction method, which would have been a total disaster for the Parliament; it was then prepared to move to—and I always have to check whether I get this right—tax capacity adjusted levels deduction, which was an improvement and is the fundamental method that is going to be used for the adjustment.
Of course, the UK Government also gave way on the matter for at least five years. I know that Stewart Maxwell and others are concerned about what is going to happen in five years’ time, but the agreement makes it clear that nothing will be prejudged and that both sides must come to an agreement. My view is that so much is going to change in politics over the next five years—by which time we will have all the figures for the two methods—that we should not get too exercised about the matter at the moment.
The main potential area of controversy over the next five years relates to direct spillover effects and behavioural spillover effects with a material impact, which have to be taken into account. As many of those who gave evidence to the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee have said, this is a bit of a grey area, but last week, John Swinney made it clear that the Scottish Fiscal Commission as well as the Office for Budget Responsibility will have a role to play in that respect. I hope that that will resolve the matter. We do not need to go over last week’s debate on the Scottish Fiscal Commission, but I am glad about the new role that it will have.
One other area of outstanding concern relates to the publication of documents. John Swinney has said that he would like to publish a range of documents, but given that the Treasury appears to be against that, it would be helpful if, in his summing up, Mr Swinney could explain exactly what documents he has in mind. At the moment, we have the technical annex, which is the most important document, but others are obviously relevant.
I also pay tribute to Bruce Crawford and the work of his committee, which I joined only belatedly, as many of the changes flowed from its recommendations. The permanence of the Scottish Parliament is now more secure in legislation and there has been progress on equalities, particularly with reference to quotas on boards, which we now have undisputed powers to require.
There are also the various social security changes that members have mentioned. For example, there is a new clause in the bill about new benefits in areas of devolved competence, and the fiscal framework agreement says that there is to be no clawback if there is a new benefit in a devolved area. The restriction on competence for carers allowance is removed; what was described as a veto on universal credit flexibilities is now only a matter of timing, which is an improvement; and the restrictions on discretionary housing payments are removed.
There was progress during the passage of the bill, although there is still some concern about what it contains on the Sewel convention, as it does not cover all the strands of that. There are areas—some small and some larger—where people would have liked to go further. A key one, which was flagged up by the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, is employment. In a previous debate, I said that I wanted the access to work programme to be devolved, but that has not happened.
There is also concern that the amount of money that we are getting for the programmes that we have responsibility for has reduced, because of UK Government policy changes, from £53 million to £7 million. There are disappointments there. As we all know, how much money we get for welfare is governed by how much the UK Government spends on it. As that is reduced, that is a matter of concern.
Having said that, I think that we have many reasons to celebrate both the changes that have been made and many of the proposals that were in the original bill. Today is not really the day to talk about the use of the tax powers. We have disagreements on that—my latest one, as I have said before, relates to air passenger duty—but that is for another day, although probably not for me.
This is probably my last debate with John Swinney, so it is appropriate for me, as he has also been my colleague in two Parliaments, to pay respect to what I regard as his manifest political abilities. As I said in relation to Annabel Goldie, one of those is certainly a friendly respect for opponents.
Having served as a member of both the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the Finance Committee, I cannot help but feel that a gaping hole is about to open in my life as the Scotland Bill and the fiscal framework discussions no longer play such a prominent role.
I pay tribute to Bruce Crawford for his convenership. One of the features of a Thursday morning committee is that the timescale can need to be truncated, which can affect the ability to take evidence. That requires the convener to run a tight ship, and I think that most people accept that Mr Crawford ran a very tight ship while being cognisant of the fact that he wanted to ensure that all members of the committee had an opportunity to have input to the evidence-taking sessions. He is to be congratulated whole-heartedly on his efforts in that regard.
I also thank the clerking team, which put in a phenomenal amount of work to ensure that the committee was kept well briefed and well informed—and fed and watered, which was always welcome.
In today’s debate, we have heard a number of thoughtful speeches. I refer in particular to the final speeches in this Parliament from Annabel Goldie, Alex Salmond and Duncan McNeil. I was interested when Duncan McNeil analogised the Scottish Parliament’s transition to that of somebody attaining the various stages of life. He said that there was a threat to leave but that now, as a 17-year-old, we have decided to stay and are instead going to earn more of our keep. I merely point out that I finally left home at the age of 24, so I am very much looking forward to how the next seven years of the Parliament’s journey will develop. [Laughter.]
Having served on both the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the Finance Committee, I think that it would be remiss of me not to say a little about both the fiscal framework and some of the financial elements.
It was clear very early on that there was a disagreement—I think that that his how we should term it—about what no detriment constituted in relation to how the fiscal framework was to operate. It is a testament to the negotiating skills of the Deputy First Minister that he was able to arrive at a position where the Treasury agreed with the definition that the Scottish Government applied, although a slightly more tortuous route may have been taken to get to the methodology, because the Treasury seemed unwilling to sign up to what the Scottish Government had initially put on the table.
When it comes to how things will operate in future, there are a number of areas that this Parliament will have to pay close attention to and scrutinise closely. The first is tax avoidance and tax evasion, because the collection of income tax and of the Scottish income tax will remain the preserve of HM Revenue and Customs. Although the Scottish Government, in establishing Revenue Scotland for the collection of land and buildings transaction act and landfill tax, has created in that legislation what is widely regarded as a strong anti-avoidance mechanism, we are aware that there is still a great deal of tax that goes unpaid at UK level. There will therefore be a need to scrutinise the measures that HMRC is taking for the collection of Scottish income tax, because they will have a material impact on the funds that are available to this Parliament for future use.
The second area relates to some of the limitations that exist. I am not seeking to play down the role that the Parliament will have in terms of setting tax rates and bands in future, but we should remember that there are elements of income tax that will still not be the preserve of this Parliament. One is the personal allowance and another is savings and dividend income. Should individuals be in a position to transfer income from their regular income into dividend income, that money would not be readily available to the Parliament and it would flow instead to the Treasury through dividend. If that proves over time to be material, consideration needs to be given to how we can address that.
My final point is that, with those powers coming, and with the experience that we have had of how land and buildings transaction tax has operated since it was established, with the forestalling at the initial stage, the Parliament needs to consider our budget-setting processes in future. We will now be in a position in which, as part of the budget process, we could be announcing changes to tax rates or tax bands. That could trigger behavioural change among those who would be paying. The further out that any change is signposted, the more likely it becomes that behavioural change will take effect, and that could have an impact both in the financial year of the announcement and in the financial year in which the changes are to take effect.
We need to look carefully at how budgets are constructed in this Parliament and how they are consulted upon, and we need to review some of our old thinking, which was fine when we were responsible only for dealing with a block grant and we did not have to worry about the potential behavioural changes that might come. In future years, if we expect a finance secretary to stand up and announce potential tax rates some six months in advance, we must bear in mind the behavioural effects that that could give rise to. We must consider what to do about that and how to set budgets in future.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to follow many great parliamentarians who have shaped this place over the past 17 years, and also to speak in this debate as someone who has followed this process not as a parliamentarian but as an ordinary punter and a local councillor.
I want to address three areas in the Scotland Bill that have often been overlooked and in which I hope that the Parliament will use new powers to address inequalities—funeral payments, fixed-odds betting terminals, and abortion.
I welcome the devolution of the benefits for funeral expenses and the duty of providing financial assistance to meet or reduce funeral expenses, which will move from Westminster to the Scottish Government. Funeral costs can impose a considerable financial burden on those left behind, and the duty reflects not only that funeral costs are subject to market forces but also that bereavement in itself may cause financial hardship.
I hope that the Scottish Government can improve on the current process of applying for a social fund funeral payment. That process is known to be uncertain and complicated due to confusion around eligibility, the way in which family relationships are assessed, and the way in which decisions are made about responsibility for funeral costs. Claimants are often left feeling frustrated, with an increased sense of shame from not being able to afford the funeral for their family member.
Research suggests that only 55 per cent of claimants who receive a funeral payment award experience a substantial shortfall between the contribution and the cost of the funeral. Scottish Government data suggests that the typical award is £1,300, whereas the average cost of a funeral is about £3,500. I hope that the next Scottish Government will rectify that situation and eradicate funeral poverty in Scotland.
I turn to part 4 of the Scotland Bill, which concerns other legislative competence. Clause 51 deals with gaming machines on licensed betting premises. I enjoy an occasional punt. I worked as a croupier for a few years, and I saw how gambling can negatively affect people’s lives. As an academic, I did research in that area and, since becoming a councillor in Dundee in 2012, I raised concerns about the proliferation of gambling opportunities—particularly fixed-odds betting terminals.
In March 2014, all the councillors in Dundee agreed on a policy on problem gambling, detailing a number of innovative steps to minimise harm from gambling. At that time, the research noted that there were 30 gambling venues, and that 19 of those—representing 63 per cent—were within 500m of areas designated as the most deprived. That is of particular concern because the British gambling prevalence survey shows a significant correlation between problem gambling and household income, with those in the lowest income categories being nearly three times as likely as the average person to be defined as a problem gambler. Those who are not in paid work and those in manual occupations were also significantly more likely to be problem gamblers.
I hope that, in the next session, the newly devolved power will be used to address the need for greater control over fixed-odds betting terminals.
I agree that the powers are narrow in their scope, but I think that they could do a great deal of good. I suggest that the Parliament considers devolving the power relating to gaming machines to local authorities, because local authorities are best placed to take the decisions.
Finally, I want to turn to clause 52 in part 4 of the bill, which deals with abortion. I was deeply disappointed at the decision of the Greens to push for the devolution of abortion during the Smith commission, and I was angry at David Mundell’s decision to devolve abortion because of the fact that he could
“not see a convincing constitutional reason for why abortion law should not be devolved”.
In the run-up to the referendum, the team and I spoke to 15,000 people in Dundee East, where I was working. Not one man or woman mentioned to us, or to anyone that I know across Scotland, that there was a need for abortion to be devolved. To me, abortion is a human rights issue, and I strongly believe that abortion rules ought to be the same across the UK—they ought to be extended to women in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I was not in favour of that power being devolved. I do not raise that issue lightly, as I speak as a Catholic woman and a mother.
Since 2014, evidence uncovered by Abortion Rights Scotland, Hannah Pearson, and other researchers at the University of Glasgow has illuminated the geographical variations across the UK and Scotland. Abortion for non-medical reasons is not provided in Scotland after 18 to 20 weeks, despite the legal limit being 24 weeks in Great Britain. That means that women seeking a late termination in Scotland are forced to travel to England. Therefore, although the procedure is funded by NHS Scotland, the cost of travel and accommodation is funded by the woman, and that is unacceptable.
That leads to a sense of stigmatisation. Given the findings, I hope that that situation is rectified and that women in Scotland seeking a late abortion can access one in Scotland. With the new powers, I hope that there will be further improvements in Scotland in this subject.
At times during the year and a half over which I have had the pleasure of sitting on the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, I have wondered whether this day would ever come and, if we were finally to debate the LCM, whether the committee would take a unanimous view and what that view might be.
As colleagues have rightly stated, the fact that we have reached a position to recommend with unanimity to the Parliament that it gives consent is in no small part due to the work of our clerks, witnesses and advisers, of the Scottish Parliament information centre, of the solicitors office and of our convener, Bruce Crawford.
I was really pleased to have the opportunity to witness Duncan McNeil rolling up his sleeves and to see him in action, and I, too, thank him for his contribution to the Parliament. I wish him all the very best for the future. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to Alex Salmond for his contribution.
I thank all my committee colleagues, too. We have all demonstrated a willingness to work constructively on issues that have great potential to polarise. We can be proud that the legislation has been strengthened in several notable areas, which have been highlighted as a result of scrutiny by our committee and all committees involved.
Questions will undoubtedly continue to be asked, and the debate will go on. Does the bill honour the agreement of the five parties in Scotland? Are the Smith commission recommendations being delivered in full? In the few minutes that I have left, however, I will focus on where we are now.
I am clear that the Scotland Bill and the agreed fiscal framework have the potential to enable Scotland to take progressive strides in a direction that brings more opportunities and positive outcomes for the people of Scotland. I acknowledge that many of us in the Parliament will continue to feel constrained and frustrated that we must endure cuts that we would not vote for, and many will continue to build the case for independence from the ground up. There will be those in the chamber who feel that the powers are sufficient.
In the meantime, we have a duty to positively discuss, debate and use the new powers to improve the lives of people in Scotland. It is up to us to see that they are used to their very best effect. Scotland’s Government and Parliament have an opportunity to sketch out a vision and to begin to deliver it.
The purpose of the debate is not to steer policy for 20 years; it is about the powers that we know we have under the fiscal framework that has been agreed for the next five years. Let us focus on those powers and on Scottish solutions to the challenges that we face. Let us become a bolder Parliament.
That will not be achieved by focusing simply on what the UK Government is doing. We have powers that will enable us to do much more than decide whether or not to add 1p to the UK’s income tax rate. At a local level, the management of and the revenues from many of the economic assets of the Crown Estate in Scotland will enable us to invest in and unlock the power in our communities. As Tavish Scott has said, we are agreed that devolution must not stop here in Holyrood. When decisions are made closer to home, local communities can decide how they want to use their rural land. That will give communities the ability to invest in local priorities.
Power over oil and gas licensing will enable us to further ensure that Scotland rejects even more unequivocally and even more powerfully applications to further endanger our local and global environment and health and to ban fracking for once and for all.
The most recent figures from “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland” highlight the need for a just transition to a low-carbon economy. We have the potential not only to match but to exceed the renewables output of many of our European neighbours. It is clear, unfortunately, that the Westminster Government has an ideological dislike of clean green energy—energy that lends itself to democratic community ownership—and is thwarting the development of renewables here, but we must do all we can with the new powers to invest in the low-carbon economy, which will bring real energy security and job security.
Due to the incredibly tight timescales involved in our scrutiny and in the debate, I am unable properly to discuss the potential of the devolution of energy efficiency and schemes to mitigate fuel poverty, but we will have the ability to change the design of the system to provide us with an opportunity to consider how it could be improved and adapted to suit Scotland’s particular circumstances—our housing and our weather.
We can do more with the powers. We can better care for all who care in Scotland. Let us ensure that the powers increase the carers allowance to a level that properly recognises their important work.
I wish to ensure that we do all that we can to include Scotland at its widest as this discussion continues. I know that sometimes discussions have to take place behind closed doors, but let us be as transparent as possible.
In response to what has been said, I wish to say that it is absolutely right and proper that abortion be devolved to this Parliament.
It has been a privilege to serve on the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and its predecessor committee in the Parliament. It has been an interesting and fabulous journey.
Before I touch on the report and the LCM, I will comment on three previous speakers in the debate. First, I commend the MSP for Aberdeenshire East, Alex Salmond, on the occasion of his final speech. It was Mr Salmond’s leadership that encouraged me to join the SNP, through his desire and campaigning for independence. It was his leadership of the minority Administration between 2007 and 2011 that helped the Parliament to grow in stature and also helped the confidence of the people of Scotland to grow. I wish you well in the future, Mr Salmond.
I also want to offer some comments on Duncan McNeil and Annabel Goldie. We have had regular dealings since 2007. We have not had too many fights—although Mr McNeil is rolling up his sleeves at the moment—and I warmly welcome that. The public want to see politicians working together when they possibly can. Clearly, we have had political differences, but in the main we have attempted to work together since 2007 and I wish them both very well in the future.
I was very happy to put my name to the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee’s report. The committee looked at whether the bill delivered both the letter and the spirit of the Smith commission recommendations. There are some key areas on which that has not happened and where the Scotland Bill still falls short of the spirit and substance of the Smith proposals.
I will touch on those areas, one of which is the regulation of fixed-odds betting terminals, which Lesley Brennan spoke about. I have previously raised the issue in the Parliament. When the committee looked at the draft clauses, there was concern that the main powers over the proliferation of betting terminals remained with Westminster. That is, unfortunately, where the bill still falls short of what the Smith commission recommended. The current clauses are very limiting: they confine the Scottish Parliament to dealing only with gaming machines in which it is possible to stake more than £10 in a single game, and only in betting premises licensed after the date on which the clause comes into force.
I thank the Local Government and Regeneration Committee for its input on the issue. The committee carried out extensive work on fixed-odds betting terminals and supported the principle that the Scotland Bill provisions should apply to existing betting premises. That would give the Scottish Parliament real and effective legislative powers to address the concerns that there are too many fixed-odds betting terminals in Scotland. Paragraph 523 of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee report highlights the evidence supplied by the Scottish Government and paragraph 681 highlights the Local Government and Regeneration Committee’s recommendation that the bill falls far short on fixed-odds betting terminals.
A second issue is the Crown estate. Tavish Scott spoke about that, and my colleague Rob Gibson highlighted the issue on a regular basis in the committee’s evidence sessions. Many issues were raised about future devolution and also about Fort Kinnaird. Paragraphs 670 to 672 of the report welcome the agreement reached regarding the management of the Crown estate assets and the revenue generated from them. They also highlight the further devolution of powers to the island communities. However, the committee highlights at paragraph 673 that the UK Government did not agree with the suggested approach to drafting the clauses, stating that, unfortunately,
“This approach was not agreed to”.
I am conscious that I have only five minutes, Presiding Officer—I am just about to conclude.
I have been delighted to be a member of the committee, and I pay tribute to the convener, Bruce Crawford, for the way in which he has handled all our deliberations and for the collegiate fashion in which he has worked with the deputy conveners, including Duncan McNeil. However, the members of the committee would be nothing without the fabulous assistance of the clerking team and everyone who gave evidence to the committee—
This debate comes at the end of a very important process. As Iain Gray said, such a debate, being held on a damp Wednesday morning, might potentially have been a damp squib, but that has not happened, for two reasons. First, it has offered a number of our distinguished members an opportunity to make what will be their final contributions to this Parliament. I pay tribute in particular to Annabel Goldie and to Duncan McNeil, who was given an extraordinary amount of time to speak and therefore shortened the debate for most other members—
Given Mr McNeil’s experience, I think that that is sensible.
Finally, I pay tribute to Alex Salmond. I suffered slightly from déjà vu as I listened to Mr Salmond make his final remarks—as did some other members, I am sure—because we have heard him do that before. What worried me most was that he finished his speech by saying goodbye “for now”, so it is possible that he may be planning, in his role as the Muhammad Ali of Scottish politics, to make that second comeback. Let us watch this space.
Nevertheless, I am genuinely excited—as Iain Gray said earlier that he is—by the opportunities that the process has presented. It has been a pleasure to be part of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee during the past 18 months and to see how the process has matured and come to fruition. It has been fascinating. It was kicked off, of course, by the referendum campaign and the outcome of the referendum. We had the vow and the Smith commission, and then, eventually, we had the Scotland Bill. While many criticised or pointed at the UK Government, suggesting that it would not stick to the timescales to which it had committed, that was never the case, and the UK Government has worked to deliver on that commitment.
I pay tribute in particular to David Mundell for the work that he has done in guiding the bill through Westminster. It is my view that the reason that David Mundell understood so well the processes that were in play and delivered the bill in the way that he did is that he benefited from spending six years as a member of this Parliament. The combination of experience in the two Parliaments was what enabled him to deliver an ear at the other end of the channel with which this Parliament could communicate. I hope that the Government shared that quality experience of working with David Mundell.
The important part of the whole process was the fiscal framework. The negotiations towards achieving an agreement on the fiscal framework were the most important element, for more reasons than one. A lot has been said about parity of esteem between the two Governments. Sometimes that can deteriorate into something more akin to parity of contempt, but it is parity nonetheless. The process has demonstrated a maturing of the devolved settlement and of the relationship between Scotland’s two Governments.
The achievement of the fiscal framework agreement has delivered a good deal for Scotland. It has put in place a deal that will reflect the figures that would have been generated by the Barnett formula and will, as a result, mean that, over the next five years, Scotland will be much better off than it would have been under any form of fiscal autonomy or—heaven help us—independence.
Scotland has got a good deal and the UK Government has delivered on its promise. That is what brings us to the point at which we are debating the legislative consent motion. Of course, the Conservatives will support the motion at decision time today, because we believe that the agreement is a good deal for Scotland.
However, in reflecting on the comments that have been made, particularly by some of the Government back bench members, it seems that there is still a failure to understand what the deal delivers. Scotland now has a mature Parliament and a Government that will, over the next session, have the power to make decisions that will influence how things are done in Scotland. We have heard a few speeches that have taken the typical back bencher’s spend-spend-spend approach to the Scottish Government. However, this change is about accountability. Tough decisions will have to be made on taxation. At the end of the Scottish Government’s next five-year period, it will have to go to the Scottish people and account for the decisions that it made on how money was raised, not just on how money was spent. That is where the deal delivers maturity and accountability, and that is why we in the Conservatives believe that it is an important move forward in the maturing of Scotland’s parliamentary democracy and self-governance.
The truth is that the more Scotland’s two Governments work together, the more the union dividend delivers for the Scottish people; and the more the Parliament addresses its responsibilities rather than using its power to generate grievances, the more people will realise that the decision in 2014 was the right one, that the UK Government has delivered on its promises and that Scotland will be the better for it. We support the motion in the name of John Swinney.
I start by paying tribute to Duncan McNeil. I have known Duncan for more years than I care to remember. In fact, we worked together for a period long before the Parliament was established. I can safely say without fear of any contradiction that he has always been challenging, and not just in this place. He sometimes says the things that no one else would say, but he is certainly worth listening to. I am, of course, happy to share some of the more interesting stories from my treasure trove in a less public forum. He is fiercely loyal to his constituents and very direct in his approach—you are never in any doubt about what Duncan is thinking. Many members across the chamber will miss his contribution and the twinkle in his eye that says that he is up to something.
Likewise, Annabel Goldie has been a superb parliamentarian and has worked across the Parliament in order to make progress. I wish her well in the House of Commons—sorry, I mean in the House of Lords. I demoted her there; actually, it is probably a promotion, but there we go. I also wish the former First Minister well in his new career in the House of Commons, or perhaps I should say his second career in the House of Commons. To echo his comments, we will miss some people more than others, but the Parliament will certainly be a less noisy place without him and, indeed, without all three of those members.
I turn to the wide-ranging debate that we have had. I thank the members of and clerks to the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee and the Finance Committee. I also thank those who served tirelessly on the Smith commission, particularly Lord Smith of Kelvin, who steered the entire process with considerable skill and patience. He achieved a consensus, however momentary, that has resulted in the biggest transfer of powers since the Parliament was established in 1999, and for that we should all be grateful. This will now be a powerhouse Parliament.
Iain Gray was right to remind us that the vow promised three things: the entrenchment of the Scottish Parliament, the devolution of substantial powers over taxation and welfare and the protection of the Barnett formula. All of those have been delivered today. We have the transfer of disability living allowance, the personal independence payment, attendance allowance, carers allowance, the Motability scheme, severe disability payments, the sure start grant and cold weather payments—the list goes on. That is a serious and substantial set of welfare powers. The ability to create our own benefits gives us the flexibility to respond to needs, and the devolution of the housing component of universal credit gives us the opportunity to scrap the bedroom tax once and for all in Scotland. I urge the Scottish Government to do so immediately.
We will also have substantial new powers over taxation. We will have the power to set the rates and thresholds of income tax. Air passenger duty and the aggregates levy will be devolved and there will be the assignment of VAT. There will also be an increased range and level of borrowing.
Of course, with the new powers come new responsibilities; not just spending what somebody else gives us, but responsibility for raising income as well—grown-up politics. That is about the choices that we make, the kind of country that we are and the kind of country that we aspire to be.
In that context of enhanced responsibilities, we need enhanced scrutiny. I am pleased that the Scottish Government and John Swinney have changed their minds and agreed to have a Scottish Fiscal Commission that will be responsible for producing the official budgetary and economic forecasts. That came about as a consequence of the UK Government’s insistence and, therefore, I very much welcome the fiscal framework that brought that about.
The fiscal framework is as important as the Scotland Bill itself. Making sure that there is a robust agreement that governs our financial arrangements is critical. We on the Labour benches supported the Scottish Government in pursuing the principle of no detriment and we urged Mr Swinney to stay at the table to get the best deal possible for Scotland. I think that the Parliament can be broadly content with the result, so let me join—for the second time in the space of weeks—in the chorus of praise for John Swinney and his negotiating skills, and pass over the temptation offered by Iain Gray to enumerate his flaws.
I will lay down a marker, however, because I think that the agreement over the budget allocation formula is for five years. It is right that it should be subject to independent review, but the fact that there is a difference between the views of the Deputy First Minister and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury as to what would happen should no agreement be reached after that period, suggests that there is the potential for difficulty in the future. I absolutely hope that that is not the case, but I suggest that the successor Finance Committee should pay attention to that area, because I think that that will be important as we move forward.
This is now about how we use the new powers. Scottish Labour has already set out its initial plans: a penny on income tax to ensure that we invest in education and public services; a new 50p tax level for those earning more than £150,000; more than doubling the maternity grant to over £1,000; and there will be more to follow.
There should be no limit to the ambition of this Parliament. We should use the powers to tackle child poverty, to create jobs, to grow the economy and to make our social security system fairer. We can no longer blame Westminster for absolutely everything. There is much that we can criticise the Tories for, but the real challenge for us, as a grown-up institution, is what we will do differently.
Do not squander this chance by doing nothing, because there really is no excuse any more. Huge areas of policy and action are now ours. Let the next session of Parliament be about how we will use the new powers to create a better Scotland.
One of the fascinating and important points of the debate has been the recognition across the political spectrum of the strength of the analysis that the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee has undertaken. That has been expressed across the chamber, and it tells us two things about the process.
First, it tells us that we have a strong committee system in the Parliament, which we should be proud of and respect. Secondly, it demonstrates the necessity of good, strong, effective and dispassionate leadership in our committees. Bruce Crawford has clearly demonstrated that, as has been recorded by members of all political persuasions today.
The one point of the debate that surprised me was Malcolm Chisholm’s comment that there was admirable clarity on the block grant adjustment in the technical annex to the fiscal framework. I noticed this morning that Mr Chisholm said on his Twitter feed that he fell asleep over the equations in the technical annex, but they were crystal clear at 4 o’clock this morning. That encouraged me by showing that the equations on pages 8 and 9 of the annex really are quite challenging, and I was glad to see that somebody else has to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to cope with life.
On a serious note, I thank Malcolm Chisholm for the insight that he demonstrated on the fiscal framework issues and on the crucial issue of the block grant adjustment several months ago. He has been a steadfast advocate of what the Government has argued for. It has given the Government tremendous capability and strength in its negotiating position to have his informed commentary in the debate. That enabled us to build unity across a wide cross-section of opinion in Scotland.
As this will most likely be the last moment that I have to exchange with Mr Chisholm, I thank him for his distinguished contribution to the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament, and for his courtesy and friendship. [Applause.]
It will not come as a surprise to members to hear that I will miss Annabel Goldie. I will miss her for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that she is the only individual I could conceive of who would ever say to Parliament that originally the devolved powers were a corset on a political journey. Members on the front bench have been challenging me, during the debate, to get some other underwear reference into the Official Report. I intend to refuse the temptation to do so, as I could not possibly compete with Annabel Goldie.
Annabel Goldie has been a friend and colleague of mine for many years. In the first parliamentary session, she and I served on the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, along with Duncan McNeil, and I had to try to maintain some order as the committee convener. In her years here, she has been leader of the Conservative Party, a committee member and a wise voice in this process. Baroness Goldie will know the thoughtful, helpful and constructive role that she has played in getting us to what I consider to be a good outcome on the fiscal framework negotiations, for which I am profoundly grateful. I wish her well in her future activities in the House of Lords. I reassure her that I have no intention of ever joining her there in any possible or conceivable circumstances, but I wish her well. [Applause.]
As always, Duncan McNeil made a deep, thoughtful and personal contribution. I remember the day when he announced to Parliament the birth of his granddaughter. Today he made a comparison between his granddaughter’s growth from a small baby to a young woman and the growth and development of the Parliament. That theme was echoed by Alex Salmond, who talked about the fledgling Parliament into which we were elected in 1999. On many occasions the Parliament felt very fragile, particularly in a media environment that had warmly welcomed and encouraged its creation and then spent a lot of time trying to damage and dismantle it. Some of us contributed to that agenda with some of the things that we did at that time.
It is interesting to observe, as Duncan McNeil and Alex Salmond did in their comments on the Parliament’s development over the years, the strong and emphatic position that the Scottish Parliament now occupies in our national life. Mr McNeil said that his granddaughter and her peers would look to the Parliament for leadership. That is a fair comment on what has happened to the Parliament: it has become more central to the lives of all our citizens.
The other common theme of the speeches by Mr Salmond and Mr McNeil was the link to Scotland’s industrial heritage and activity. When the Ferguson shipyard went into administration in the summer of 2014, I knew clearly, from the direction of my First Minister at that time, what I had to do, and I knew from Mr McNeil’s presence at the shipyard on the day when I went there that it had to be resurrected and restored. What a buoyant future it now has, as a consequence of the former First Minister’s emphatic leadership and the care and attention of the member of Parliament for Greenock and Inverclyde. I pay tribute to them for that. [Applause.]
Alex Salmond was both my predecessor and my successor, in a unique set of circumstances. I put on record my appreciation and admiration for the astonishing contribution that he has made to the national life of Scotland. It is not over yet: he will carry on in the House of Commons, representing the people of Gordon. In 2006, he had the boldness to say to his colleagues, “We’re going to go into this election and win it,” which forced some of us to sit up more sharply and address that challenge.
In all his activities, Alex Salmond has given decisive and emphatic leadership, and Scotland has become a more confident country as a consequence of his efforts. Every single one of us should be profoundly grateful to him for the enormous transformation that he has delivered in Scottish society. [Applause.]
What is less known about Alex Salmond’s record is that when those of us who have been close to him have faced political and personal challenges, no one has been more trenchant or supportive or a better ally in those difficulties. I thank him for all the work that he has done on our behalf.
Many members have been very kind about my contribution, and I thank them for that. I will contradict Iain Gray: I have no other flaws—none whatsoever. I will close on a point of agreement with Jackie Baillie—[Interruption.] My colleagues should listen carefully to what I am going to say. I agree whole-heartedly and unreservedly with her that there should be no limit on this Parliament’s ambitions. That is beautiful music to my ears.
We are on a journey as a country. We came into the Parliament in 1999, when we had a set of more limited powers, and at various stages along the road we have acquired more powers. Today we will acquire a broader and more substantial range of powers—not as many as I would like us to have, but powers that are welcome and which will be used with energy, intelligence and wisdom if the Government has the good fortune to be re-elected on 5 May. We will devote ourselves to that task.
I ask the Parliament to endorse the legislative consent motion in my name.