As ever, I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons or put an R in the chat function if they are joining us remotely.
This debate is an important opportunity for the Parliament to discuss the future replacement of European Union funding and to consider, with concern, the way in which the United Kingdom Government is using those funds to bypass devolution, disrespecting the Scottish Parliament and the people who elected it. There are principles of fairness and democracy at stake and we cannot lose sight of those.
Since the UK left the European Union, against Scotland’s will, we have witnessed the UK Government actively infringing upon the sovereignty of Scotland’s Parliament, and that of our sister devolved nations. The UK Government has granted itself powers via the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 and, as a result, it is a fact that devolved policy is being unfairly dictated by Westminster, bypassing the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. Indeed, the use of the internal market act by the UK Government and the roll-out of its levelling up agenda confirms what we feared would happen with our share of vital funding as it dragged us out of Europe. Westminster is reducing the Parliament’s autonomy and, by unashamedly politicising the replacement for EU funds, the UK Government is causing our places and people to lose access to the welcome benefits and fiscal stability that was previously afforded to them by our stewardship of EU funds. In turn, and overall, our Scottish communities will ultimately suffer as a result.
I go back to my point on principles, and I will say more on that in due course. Although additional funding for Scotland will be embraced by regional partners, the announcements hide the problematic nature of the fund and how it is being developed and delivered by the UK Government.
Mr Johnson makes that point in good faith but I want to see the Labour Party as the party that was, to its credit, behind the conception of the Scottish Parliament, standing a bit firmer and stronger in defence of its powers.
As a member of the European Union, Scotland was respected and trusted to make decisions about the priorities for our nation. Had we remained in the European Union, as was the clear preference of the Scottish people, we would have had full control over the funding that was allocated to us. Indeed, had the UK Government chosen to given the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations our rightful place at the table as the UK shared prosperity fund was being developed, we could have continued with the successful delivery of the replacement funding.
However, at numerous meetings with UK ministers, ministers from the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations repeatedly asked for more details on the shared prosperity fund and meaningful involvement in its development, but we were largely kept in the dark and kept out of the room. I experienced that on numerous occasions as Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, and I saw the same happen to colleagues.
Instead of choosing collaboration, the UK Government opted to work in isolation, risking the benefits that EU investment has brought to Scotland over many decades. The UK Government has taken it upon itself to make those decisions for us, not with us, sweeping aside devolved nations’ legitimate concerns about its approach and voting in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020.
The financial assistance provisions in the internal market act confer new powers on UK ministers to spend directly on a wide range of devolved matters, thereby bypassing parliamentary scrutiny here at Holyrood. That is not only devious and undemocratic; it risks duplication and waste in the delivery of policies and services, and it blurs accountability, with Whitehall-led programmes delivering in policy areas that are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. In short, the internal market act strips away the rightful power and authority of the Scottish Parliament. Everyone in this chamber, regardless of their political allegiance, should be very disturbed by that.
It is clear that the minister’s sentiment is not shared by Cecil Meiklejohn, who is the leader of Falkirk Council. She welcomed the funding from the UK Government’s levelling up fund. She said that it
“is very welcome and will support our economic recovery”, and that
“we are content to work with both tiers of government to ensure that we continue to benefit from such funds.”
She also said:
“Individually and collectively, these successful projects will have a significant effect on Falkirk’s communities as they rebuild”.
A key example of our concerns is provided by the UK Government’s recently announced multiply programme, which aims to improve adult numeracy across the UK. That programme will be top sliced from the UK prosperity fund and will focus on education and skills, which are policy areas that clearly fall within our devolved competency. The UK Government cannot tell us how that programme will work or how it will interact with the existing landscape in Scotland. Today, we are faced with the stark realisation that the internal market act has enabled the UK Government to undermine the delivery of policy in areas of devolved competency in the way that I have just illustrated.
What else do we know of the illusive UK shared prosperity fund? Not a lot, as it turns out. Back in 2018, Westminster claimed that the shared prosperity fund would be a full replacement for EU structural funds. It also told us that it would be at least comparable in value to the funds that were being lost.
From the outset, the Scottish ministers set out a number of red lines on replacement funding, one of which was that Scotland should not lose out financially, compared with the level of funding that it received from the EU at that point. Another red line related to the expectation that we would be afforded the status of equal partner in the process, rather than that of consultee.
On the first of the red lines, we have been promised further detail for more than three years, yet all that we have learned since 2018 is that the shared prosperity fund will be worth a little over £2.5 billion. As COSLA noted in its paper “Replacing EU Structural Funds”, the quantum that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has offered confirms that the UK shared prosperity fund
“will only meet the previous ministerial Commitment of £1.5bn per annum in 2024-25, only issuing £400m in 2022-23 and £700m in 2023-24.”
COSLA also stated:
“It is worth noting that to meet the UK Ministerial commitment of £1.5bn per year from 2022, the Autumn budget proposal amounts to a net loss of £1.9bn for 2022-2024.”
From COSLA’s calculations, there is no way that we can agree that the shared prosperity fund is a replacement for EU funding, and we absolutely reject the UK Government’s claim that it will keep its promise that Scotland will not lose out.
On the second of the red lines that I mentioned in relation to being an equal partner, several times, we have had to raise our deep disappointment at the lack of engagement. As the UK Government has slowly worked through the details of the funding in devolved areas, it has made no attempt to seek advice on how best to deliver the funding and on how it ought to be used and structured. Instead, officials have been told about decisions after the fact, as a statement of intent. This is not a partnership of equals.
While we were still under the impression that Scotland would decide for itself how to use the funds, we set out our plan for the shared prosperity fund in November 2020. That plan was developed in consultation with 171 organisations and in partnership with Professor David Bell of the University of Stirling and with Professor John Bachtler of the University of Strathclyde.
The plan envisaged approximately £180 million per annum being devolved to the Scottish Government to provide comparable funding to replace that from the European regional development fund, the European social fund, the LEADER programme and the European territorial co-operation programme. Under European structural funds, and under that plan, Scotland had long-term certitude on our future funding. However, under the UK Government’s approach, we still have not even been told whether the allocation to Scotland will be an appropriate sum or whether it will match our expectations. That means that we cannot plan the best use of the funding.
I am here, of course, to advocate for the Scottish Government and for the recipients of the funding. We need details in order to make the strategic decisions and plans that are necessary to deliver benefits. With only months left, the chances of that being realised are being reduced daily by the UK Government. Indeed, the Royal Society of Edinburgh shares our position. It highlights that the
“continued uncertainty means it is not possible for national and local governments along with other potential delivery partners to make firm plans on how the funding will be used.”
Today, I have demonstrated that the UK Government’s unilateral and paternalistic approach to levelling up through the SPF has reduced the potential benefit of such investment. The Scottish Government wants our communities and businesses to thrive, so we will take the opportunity to stress to the UK Government that we expect to be treated as a full and equal partner in the development of the UK shared prosperity fund. We have said that, and we will reiterate it. We retain the belief that Scotland’s share of the funding ought to be fully devolved so that we can target it in a manner that best suits the needs of Scotland’s people, communities and businesses.
The Parliament must ensure that the devolution settlement is not encroached upon further. The UK’s levelling up agenda has only complicated policy development in Scotland. Ultimately, it has infringed on the sovereignty of this Parliament, to the detriment of the Scottish people. It is vital that Scotland retains control over any new arrangements that are put in place. Otherwise, the UK Government’s approach threatens to represent a significant power grab over Scotland’s autonomy. If we are to be able to target investment and make decisions based on transparent evidence that shows what will bring greatest benefits to the people, businesses and communities involved, the UK Government must have a change of heart.
I move the motion in Richard Lochhead’s name,
That the Parliament agrees that the UK Government’s Spending Review plans for Levelling Up and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund not only fall well short of Scottish expectations and needs, but also infringe the sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament by circumventing the devolution settlement to deliver policy in areas that are clearly and firmly within the ambit of the Scottish Government, and calls on the UK Government to keep the promises made to Scotland, and to work in full partnership with the Scottish Government and local communities on the development of these programmes going forward to ensure they support job creation and a just transition, and meet the needs of Scotland’s citizens.
I start by sending my best wishes to Richard Lochhead for a speedy recovery.
I am sorry that the minister has had to come to the chamber with this week’s latest grievance from the Government. In the five years in which I have been an MSP, I do not think that I have ever seen such a confused Government motion as the one that has been lodged for today’s debate. The motion manages not only to contradict itself spectacularly but to talk down Scotland. The SNP-Green Government motion for debate, on the one hand, complains that the UK Government has the audacity to spend hundreds of millions of pounds in Scotland and, on the other hand, states that those very same millions of pounds are simply not enough.
What is really behind today’s latest manufactured constitutional grievance?
Yes, and this is a huge investment in our whole United Kingdom. It is something that we should all welcome. I am glad that the member welcomes it as well.
What is really behind this grievance today is perhaps the fact that, for 14 years in office, the SNP has not acted to level up Scotland and has not invested in our communities. I pay tribute to the many local organisations and groups and the local authorities across Scotland that have worked so hard on the local bids that have been put forward—for many positive projects—to the community renewal fund and the shared prosperity fund. We may have a motion today that is like something from Victor Meldrew in “One Foot in the Grave”, but their hard work and dedication to their communities should not be undermined by what ministers have put forward.
The truth is that the UK Government is working to level up funding across Scotland. That should be welcomed. It should be something that we all support.
It is therefore welcome that SNP council leaders across the country have warmly welcomed the funding. In that spirit, I congratulate them on the positive work that they have done to successfully help to take forward local bids for innovative projects that will help to breathe new life into towns, villages and rural and coastal communities across Scotland.
The UK Government is committed to levelling up in every corner of our United Kingdom, backing local projects that will make a real difference to all our communities. Together, the three funds that have been announced will help to unleash the potential of people and places right across our country. The £200 million of funding through the UK Government’s renewal fund will help local areas to prepare for the launch of the UK shared prosperity fund in 2022. That scheme will see UK-wide funding to match all former EU national and regional development funds, reaching £1.5 billion a year.
There is incredible talent right across our great country, and this national investment will help to unlock that potential with projects such as the £218,000 fund for employment and wellbeing programmes across housing associations in the Scottish Borders. That programme will help to deliver digital skills and financial literacy, as well as promoting positive mental health. Another example is the £400,000 to create a seaweed academy in Argyll and Bute. I am not sure what that will look like, but I am sure that my colleague Donald Cameron will talk about it later.
Here, in my Lothian region—and, in fact, in Ben Macpherson’s constituency—we have £16 million to help to restore the historic B-listed Granton gas holder. That project will help to kick-start the regeneration of Edinburgh’s waterfront. As Edinburgh MSPs, we should be right behind that, driving that investment for our area. It is an ambitious urban development project that will deliver sustainable economic growth and real jobs for Edinburgh.
There are so many great projects across Scotland that I cannot touch on them all in the time that I have in the debate. They will work to improve and invest in our communities and will drive success for their future prosperity and wellbeing. That is why we, on the Conservative benches, and the UK Government want to see this investment in our communities. For too long, communities across Scotland have felt left behind and forgotten about.
Today’s debate is very much a tale of two Governments. What has the SNP-Green Government ever done to level up communities across Scotland?
I do not have time. Sorry.
From what we see in the motion today, the answer is simply nothing. For 14 years, the SNP Government has taken powers off local authorities. The UK Government is working with local government to empower our communities. I say to SNP and Green MSPs that they should stop talking Scotland down. It is time that both of Scotland’s Governments worked together in the national interest to benefit every community in every part of our country. These investments in all our communities show that people and the UK Government can level up our country and drive economic growth here, in Edinburgh, and right across Scotland.
Will Mr Briggs acknowledge the unfortunate irony of the Conservatives talking about levelling up when they have presided over a decade of austerity policy, massive cuts to the welfare state and really challenging cuts to the devolved Governments across the UK over that period?
The only thing that the minister failed to say was that we have also presided over the highest budget that this Parliament and the Scottish Government have ever received. He forgot to mention that point for some reason. I wonder why.
As I have said, these are investments in our communities and our people. They show the UK Government’s commitment to levelling up, which we should all welcome. As we emerge from the pandemic and face the huge challenges ahead, let us work together to realise the potential of every community in Scotland.
I move amendment S6M-02158.2, to leave out from “agrees” to end and insert:
“welcomes the UK Government’s plans to level up every part of the UK; further welcomes the recent announcement of the funding for dozens of projects in every part of Scotland through the Community Renewal Fund and the Levelling Up Fund; agrees with local authorities across Scotland that have applauded the UK Government for directly funding projects in their areas; calls on the Scottish Government to stop talking down Scotland’s place in the UK and the value of such to the people of Scotland; agrees that the UK Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund should at least match the level of EU funding it is replacing; calls on the UK Government to meet that target in line with commitments made in its recent budget, and further calls on the Scottish and UK governments, as well as local authorities, to work together to ensure the efficient delivery of projects to every community across Scotland.”
Time is tight. I can give a little bit of time back for interventions, so I do not encourage members to think that they cannot take an intervention. However, that is not an invitation for members to shout their interventions from a sedentary position. That applies to members of all parties.
I move the amendment in my name.
There is a danger that the debate is set to focus on constitutional wrangling rather than the needs of our constituents. I appeal to SNP and Conservative members not to do that.
Of course, the funds should have been devolved, but the SNP cannot sit on the side of the angels on this matter. When it came into power, the first thing that it did was centralise EU funds that had previously been devolved to local government.
That said, we in the Scottish Labour Party want both of our Governments to work together with councils and communities to tackle the wealth divide. Poverty is increasing—that fact has hardly merited a mention so far in the debate. We want to create a country in which everyone can live life to their full potential, free from the blight of poverty. Therefore, the debate must be about levelling up the regions and tackling age-old wealth divides.
It is fitting that the debate is taking place on international equal pay day, which marks the day in the year when women, on average, effectively stop earning relative to men because of the gender pay gap. It is not just about equal pay for the same job; it is about the fact that jobs that are done predominantly by women are lower paid than those that are done predominantly by men.
The situation is made even worse because women bear the brunt of caring costs. Only last week, in a members’ business debate, we heard how women have been disproportionately affected by long Covid. The week before, we heard about delays in the rolling out of funding for childcare, which is affecting women up and down the country and their ability to work. Women carry out the bulk of caring responsibilities, leading them to be more likely to leave work during the pandemic. They are also more likely to be in part-time work, which is lower paid. The recent cut in universal credit has disproportionately impacted on women because they are more likely to depend on it.
In the Scottish Government’s gender pay gap action plan annual report for 2021, its analysis suggests that the pandemic
“could exacerbate existing labour market inequalities for protected groups including women”.
The report goes on to say:
“As we recover from the pandemic we must ensure that gender equality is mainstreamed into policy design and services so that we protect and advance women’s equality, particularly in relation to tackling poverty, promoting access to and progression within good jobs, and supporting business growth.”
We must tackle regional disparities. The cost of living is significantly higher in rural areas than it is in urban areas. Additional minimum living costs for households in remote rural Scotland can add 15 to 30 per cent to a household budget. Poverty is rife but hidden. Childcare is limited and often difficult to access due to a lack of public transport and a lack of provision. Children get free bus travel to school, to access education, but not for nursery education.
The Scottish Government has recommendations, research, advice and reports on how to improve equality. It must act.
In an attempt to narrow regional inequalities, inclusive growth has been a feature of Scottish Government economic strategies since 2007, yet, as we approach 2022, the SNP Government is no closer to achieving it. Regional inequality in Scotland is not currently being sufficiently addressed by investment from the UK Government’s levelling up fund or by the Scottish Government. That is why Scottish Labour is calling on the Scottish Government to implement new regional equality targets in the national performance framework, in order to tackle employment and skills gaps across regions. Maybe—just maybe—if the SNP had worked with local government on a strategy for levelling up bids, we could have made some progress.
Another drawback is the fact that both of our Governments depend on flawed indicators to identify poverty. Those work well in urban areas but are, frankly, useless in rural areas, where poverty is largely hidden because the very poor live in the same postcode areas as the very rich and are therefore cancelled out.
The levelling up funds are set to replace EU funding, but what they miss—which the EU understood—is the issue of peripherality. We are now in a situation whereby Highland Council and Western Isles Council, with huge pockets of hidden rural poverty, have been downgraded and will not receive funding comparable to what they received in the past from Europe. There must be a better way to ensure that levelling up happens everywhere. In order to have levelling up, there must also be levelling down.
What is not clear is how we must redistribute wealth to ensure that our society receives the levelling that it needs. It is heartbreaking to see people struggle in the grip of poverty while others accrue obscene wealth. The recent debate about second jobs for members of Parliament and members of the Scottish Parliament has brought that into sharp relief. Our society has become more polarised between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, and our public services are no longer coping. Now is the time for action.
We, in the Scottish Labour Party, are asking both of our Governments to set aside their constitutional wrangling, put the best interests of our constituents to the fore and work together to ensure that levelling up becomes a reality for all.
I move amendment S6M-02158.3, to leave out from “infringe” to end and insert:
“circumvents the devolved settlement; recognises that gender inequality remains stubbornly high; notes that there are increasing regional inequalities across Scotland, including in health, child poverty, income and economic opportunities, which neither the UK Government nor the Scottish Government is adequately tackling, and calls on the Scottish Government to reinstate the previously scrapped regional equality targets to direct government action and funding of local authorities to urgently address this injustice across the country.”
The two groups of nationalists in this Parliament do love a good stramash over power and control. They hunt for evidence and fabricate the circumstances to perpetuate division, bitterness and distrust. We have seen that today in spades. Neither the Conservatives nor the SNP are fond of partnership—of building bridges and working together. They want the power all for themselves.
The Scottish Government never had direct control over the EU funds of various shades.
Not just now.
Those decisions were made in Brussels, but is it sensible for the UK to make all the decisions about the allocation of the successor funds, now that we have left the EU? Of course it is not. No matter how much I loathe the current Scottish Government, there is little doubt that the institutions of Government and Parliament have built up an expertise and an understanding of the needs of local communities that would be of value to anyone seeking to allocate funds here. Duplicating the administrative processes and institutions for the new funds would be a waste of time and money. The Conservative Government and those on the Conservative benches here would do well to recognise that.
Equally, is the Scottish Government best placed to have a strategic overview of the relative needs of different parts of the United Kingdom? Of course it is not, and the Scottish Government should be mature enough to recognise that, too.
.] See—SNP members do not like partnership. They do not like federalism, because it is a sustainable option for the whole of the UK and they want to break up the UK. They should recognise that we need a mature approach.
There is a significant difference between consultation and partnership. Partnership means actively being involved in the decision-making process from the beginning. It is important that we understand that. No one should have a veto in this process. Equally, though, everyone should work together to try to get a consensus across the piece. Further, Westminster should not always have the final say when there is a disagreement. It needs to be proper partnership.
I recognise what Donald Cameron says, but it does not reflect the kind of United Kingdom that I want to see, which is a genuine partnership of its nations and regions. That is the best way to sustain the United Kingdom, as opposed to the cavalier approach that the Conservatives are adopting.
My proposal is to have a joint council for levelling up that would agree and oversee spending in relation to the levelling up agenda and the UK shared prosperity fund. That council would include representatives of the constituent authorities of the United Kingdom, so that it is a proper partnership. There would be no veto—UK ministers would not have the final say on areas of dispute. Each member of the council would have to work incredibly hard to build a fair majority in favour of their proposals. However—and this point is important—no one in communities across Scotland or the United Kingdom would forgive any partner in that partnership of federalism if they engaged in a nationalist-inspired power struggle that would deny them the funds that their communities desperately needed.
I am afraid that the debate today is inspired just by grievance on both sides—I repeat, on both sides. We need to move up and to be mature in order to recognise what we need for the future.
What we propose is a model of partnership that we could, perhaps, roll out to other areas of common interest across the United Kingdom. It would ingrain partnership. It would ingrain a way of working together. We could call it a form of qualified majority voting. It would mean that no one would have a veto. It would mean that there would be proper partnership.
That is what we need for the whole of the United Kingdom, but I am afraid that the Conservatives just do not get it. They are part of the problem of constitutional grievance, and they add to the problem with acts such as this. Just consulting—just asking—is not enough. It needs to be a proper partnership.
When lecturers give a lecture, they expect the students to listen. I am afraid that Miles Briggs does not listen too often to what I am trying to say.
Of course consulting is fine, but we need partnership to make sure that we can sustain this United Kingdom. I am afraid that the Conservatives have a lot to learn, but the nationalists should just give up on their grievance.
I move amendment S6M-02158.1, to leave out from “not only fall” to end and insert:
“fall well short of what is needed, and calls on the UK Government to establish a joint council for levelling up that will agree and oversee spending in relation to the levelling up agenda and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, for this council to include representatives of the constituent authorities of the UK, and for this council to work in partnership with local communities on the development of these programmes going forward to ensure they support job creation and a just transition, and meet the needs of citizens.”
I t is difficult to imagine that any rational person with a commitment to Scotland could possibly object to the Government motion. Predictably, we can therefore rely on the opposition of the Tories.
If the introduction by the UK Government of a shared prosperity fund and a so-called levelling up agenda signals anything, it is a recognition of the historic and systemic failure of successive UK Governments’ economic decision making. The funds are to be placed not under the control of the nations of the UK that are directly responsible to the people who elect them but under the control of the very institutions of the UK state that have created the failures in the first place. You could not make it up.
Bringing in funding to deliberately bypass this establishment reveals a political motive. Make no mistake: the aim is to undermine the role of the democratically elected Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and thereby the rights of the Scottish people. The motive is clear: to undermine Scotland’s democracy.
I think that the member missed the point about the say that our democratically elected Scottish Government had in that.
The levelling up fund will ostensibly be allocated on the basis of need. However, the definition of need that it uses was developed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for England without any consultation with the Scottish Government.
The first stage of prioritisation is based on an index that is made up of three components: productivity, unemployment and skills. However, those weightings take no account of national variations. It is incredible that the same weightings apply to the City of London, my constituency of Falkirk East and even our unique Scottish islands.
The second stage of needs assessment focuses on transport connectivity. One might imagine that transport connectivity would be particularly helpful for Scotland’s island and rural communities, but the assessment uses data only for England. As the Fraser of Allander Institute points out,
“Failure to integrate connectivity data from Scotland has contributed to Orkney, Shetland and the Highlands being placed in the category least likely to benefit from the fund alongside areas such as the City of London.”
How on earth can a so-called levelling up fund that ignores data from Scotland, is based on criteria determined by England’s housing ministry and ignores the economic and other policies enacted by the Scottish Parliament be seen as anything other that a direct attack on the democratic institutions and rights of the Scottish people.
I turn to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. Not only did Brexit mark a turning point by taking Scotland out of Europe against our wishes, it also enables direct UK Government action in economic development, infrastructure, cultural activities and sport. Do not just take my word for it, though. The Fraser of Allander Institute notes:
“This approach has been made possible by the Internal Market Act which provides a new means for the UK government to allocate spending in the devolved territories to areas which had previously been thought to be the purview of the devolved governments.”
Without agreement or permission, the UK Government’s power grab enables explicit powers to bypass the Barnett formula and directly spend in areas in which previously EU funding was allocated to projects by our Scottish Government. That is more than a failure of democracy and more than a demonstrable failure that there is no partnership of equals—it is a clear demonstration that power devolved is power retained and that power can and has been removed.
I hate to interrupt the member’s whinge—that is what it is—but the fact is that Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn welcomed those investment decisions for Falkirk, which is the constituency that Michelle Thomson represents, including those for the Westfield roundabout and community funding. Cecil Meiklejohn says:
“we are content to work with both tiers of government to ensure that we continue to benefit from such funds.”
That is the pragmatism of local democracy as opposed to the ideological blindness that we hear from the Government front bench.
I put on record that of course I welcome a few roundabouts, but I regret the fact that the payment for a few roundabouts is more of our Scottish money coming from Westminster. If the summit of the Conservatives’ ambition is for more of our money to come from Westminster, a couple of roundabouts and, let us not forget, a Scottish family on “Gogglebox”, that is not good enough. I am considerably more ambitious for Scotland. Let us start with the £728 million EU of funding being replicated.
Those actions will not be changed by the Scottish Parliament, because they cannot be. We do not have that power. I issue a call here, because we have a voice; Scotland has a voice. I call on civic Scotland, all those who fought for the Scottish Parliament and all those who, like me, believe that the power to spend the money that is raised in Scotland for the benefit of our Scottish people according to our democratically expressed wishes can be achieved only if we become a normal country like any other—independent.
I start by talking about a project in my Central Scotland region that has already been mentioned. The Westfield roundabout in Falkirk will receive £20 million from the UK Government levelling up fund. It is a futuristic-looking scheme that will create four loops that appear to hang in the air.
The new roundabout and pedestrian and cycle bridge will ensure that people are safe when crossing at that key junction and enable better connection for active travel. The roundabout is a key link between Falkirk and Grangemouth and is close to the new Forth Valley College, Helix park and the planned gateway project, and it is expected to bring more shops and housing.
When Rishi Sunak announced the funding, Falkirk Council’s SNP leader, Cecil Meiklejohn, who has already been mentioned by her number 1 fan, Stephen Kerr, called it “welcome news”. If an SNP council leader can see the benefits of that funding for her own area, why can an SNP minister such as Ben Macpherson not do the same?
I am going to give a long list of projects later on in my speech. There are not just a few projects.
Cecil Meiklejohn went on to say:
“It builds up the programme of works we are preparing in our Investment Zone and will complement a series of measures which will help drive forward our area’s economy following the pandemic.
The new roundabout and ... bridge will ensure people are safe when crossing ... while enabling better connection for active travel”— that is a great thing—
“between key sites such as the Helix Park, Falkirk Community Stadium and Forth Valley College’s new campus.”
I am still quoting the SNP council leader. She said:
“The roads will be widened to accommodate increasing traffic and each of the four ‘rings’ of the iconic bridge”— it is iconic—
“will provide an elevated platform to view the local area and a safe way of getting around without disrupting traffic.”
It sounds great, and it is a great project.
My view is that the levelling up fund and another fund that I will come on to are great things and are examples of one of our Governments working with local councils to improve their areas. Frankly, the minister should be applauding that.
The Westfield roundabout project is just one of eight initiatives in Scotland to receive levelling up fund cash. The other projects are the development of Inverness castle; a new marketplace in Aberdeen city centre; a direct route between Glasgow and three towns in North Ayrshire; transforming Pollok stables and sawmill in Glasgow to become a net zero heritage centre; redeveloping Granton waterfront, which Ben Macpherson should be applauding; remodelling the Artizan shopping centre in Dumbarton; and connecting the advanced manufacturing innovation district to Paisley, which Mr Arthur should be happy about. Other SNP council leaders have welcomed the extra funding. What a shame that their parliamentary counterparts revert to type.
Lanarkshire is getting more than £3 million from the community renewal fund for a range of employment and enterprise projects. That funding will be used to engage local people and businesses and increase skills and employability at the community level. There were six successful bids, which have been awarded just over £3 million.
There is huge investment from Rishi Sunak and the UK Government in our local communities in Lanarkshire. The funding will help to improve skills and employability in our local communities and will make a real difference to the lives of local people. It is a welcome boost from the chancellor that demonstrates the benefits and support that North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire gain from being part of a strong United Kingdom.
Both funds show that the UK Government is working hand-in-hand with local communities in Scotland. It is little wonder, then, that councils are so grateful, given the way that they have been treated by the SNP over the years.
Ben Macpherson should be ashamed of the motion that he has brought to the chamber today. It is petty—it is not like him. It is grievance ridden and unbecoming of him. Parliament should reject it and vote for the amendment in Miles Briggs’s name.
My constituency of Na h-Eileanan an Iar received significant investment from EU funding sources over the years, much of it—to respond to a point that a member made earlier—while this place was in what we might call its long adjournment. That support helped to facilitate major infrastructure projects, transport links and new community facilities on the islands, as well as contributing to the establishment of the University of the Highlands and Islands and delivering wider community benefits through numerous training and social inclusion programmes.
Life for islanders would have been far more challenging without that support. Without the causeways linking Berneray and North Uist, Eriskay and South Uist and Vatersay and Barra, for example, I imagine that I would now be dedicating even more of my time than I currently do to the issue of ferries. In Harris, the significance of funding from the EU for invaluable infrastructure such as the Scalpay bridge and the road to Rèinigeadal cannot be overstated.
The loss of financial support from the EU will be sorely felt throughout my constituency unless the UK Government fully commits to allocating at least the same levels of investment that are needed to replace the loss of EU structural funds, as well as the funding from schemes such as the LEADER programmes and the common agricultural policy payments for crofters. It is disappointing, yet unsurprising, that the UK Government’s engagement with the devolved nations regarding the development of EU funding replacement schemes has been much weaker than the close working relationship that the Scottish Government had with the European Commission in the development of the structural fund programmes.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 allows Westminster, rather than this place, to allocate funds that were previously dispensed by the EU. It is increasingly clear that the UK is not, in that respect, a partnership of equals, despite many attempts to convince us otherwise. When spending decisions for Scotland are made not on the basis of the Scottish Government’s knowledge and experience, but according to a UK Government agenda, that simply adds to the complexity of the funding landscape and creates a confused, incoherent policy framework as well as financial inefficiencies.
I will address a key question that has come up several times today: the question of gratitude, as I suppose one might call it. Of course everybody wants to level up, however ill-defined that phrase might be, and everybody wants to share prosperity. Those principles are not controversial. However, we should remember that when the UK Government spends money in Scotland, it is—as we discussed earlier—spending Scottish taxpayers’ money.
If everyone shares that agenda, will the member agree that it is regrettable that the Scottish Government did away with cohesion targets, which were aimed at reducing regional inequality, and that they should be reintroduced as a matter of urgency?
As I said, the Scottish Government managed to work very well with the European Commission on some of the issues around promoting social cohesion to which the member alluded, and I am sure that we will do so again in the future.
In the past, we had an understanding that money would be directed and spent in devolved areas by a Government that had gone to the trouble of being elected in Scotland at some point more recent than the Suez crisis. It is clear, therefore, that the way in which the funds will now be allocated represents a UK Government infringement on areas that are firmly and fully devolved.
If the Tories do not see it as their job to stand up for the powers of this Parliament and this place, and to defend Scotland’s interests, there are many of us who—unapologetically—do. Money that Scotland would previously have received, for instance, under the seven-year EU structural fund programmes will now be distributed annually by the UK Government according to its own priorities, which could leave Scotland worse off—
I do not have time, I am afraid. I must make some progress.
The UK Government must engage properly with the Scottish Government to ensure that the development of any UK-wide funding programmes, such as the UK shared prosperity and levelling up funds, actually meet the needs of Scotland’s local communities. If the UK Government continues to attempt to impose its own agenda and undermine the devolution settlement, that will raise unavoidable questions about whether, in its heart of hearts—if that is an entirely relevant phrase—it truly believes in the Scottish Parliament’s existence.
Scotland continues to have to deal with the negative consequences of a Brexit that we did not vote for and a last-minute hard Brexit deal that satisfies nobody and leaves us far worse off than we were before. We are a European nation and it is my hope—and the hope of many other people—that it is not too long before we are able once again to enjoy the benefits of EU membership, this time as an independent country.
Meanwhile, the UK Government’s spending review plans for levelling up and the UK shared prosperity fund are, in their operation, an infringement on the powers of the Scottish Parliament and do not come close to matching, in real terms, the significant EU funding revenue from which Scotland benefited for more than 40 years. I echo the calls for the UK Government to honour the promises that it made to Scotland, to work with the Scottish Government to ensure the continued development of such funding and to keep the interests of Scotland’s citizens, and Scotland’s democracy, at its heart.
The Parliament was formed from a desire to not only bring decision-making powers closer to the people of Scotland, but to use them for a purpose: to address the economic and social trauma caused by deindustrialisation in decades gone by. People created the Parliament to advance social and economic justice in the hope that better decision making would create a better Scotland for future generations.
Every day that we are here, we must measure the progress that we make as a nation against the ambitions of the people who founded the Parliament all those years ago. As someone who represents West Scotland and many of the communities that endured the collective trauma of deindustrialisation and inequality, I say frankly that those ambitions have not been realised. Scotland is a far from equal country.
Originally, I looked forward to the debate. It should have been about confronting regional inequalities that have been neglected for too long. However, with a few exceptions, there has been far too much pointless constitutional bickering between the SNP and the Tories. That does not put the Parliament in a good light. As Willie Rennie said, it seems that our politics has of late been dominated by real or perceived inequalities between nations, rather than those that exist within them. Those inequalities have been exacerbated by Covid and have not had enough discussion and debate today.
Covid has not affected us all in the same way. It has not affected all areas in the same way. Four out of the five local authorities with the highest Covid death rates are in my West Scotland region. With 33 Covid-related deaths per 10,000 of the population, Renfrewshire has the worst death rate from that awful virus in the entire country. It is followed by West Dunbartonshire, Inverclyde and North Ayrshire. All those areas live with the legacy of deindustrialisation. North Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire have the highest levels of unemployment in Scotland.
Some areas have been significantly harder hit than others. Those areas need extra support to recover and rebuild. We need extra support not only for the front line, such as the national health service and local services, but to rebuild and recover our economy. If levelling up means anything, it means levelling up the areas in Scotland that have above-average economic and social need.
In Renfrewshire, for example, the local economy is suffering because of the pandemic. One of the longest-standing economic challenges that we face there is the regeneration of Paisley town centre. Not a single penny of the levelling up fund will be spent regenerating the centre of Paisley, which is the largest town in Scotland. The money that is coming to Renfrewshire is not the sector-specific support that we need for our key industries, such as aerospace and aviation, to compensate for the thousands of jobs that have been lost in recent years. For the reasons that I have outlined, I call for the west of Scotland to get its fair share of investment as we build back from the crisis.
The Tories’ policy of levelling up appears to be a public relations exercise. They cannot level up an economy when they are levelling down welfare and workers rights. However, at least the Tories have a policy. Where is the SNP’s commitment to, or policy on, levelling up in Scotland? It is non-existent. The SNP has secured a debate on the Tories’ levelling up agenda, but it should be leading a debate on its own levelling up agenda. It has not done that, because it does not have one. The Scottish Government used to have a cohesion target—rightly in my opinion—which aimed to reduce the employment gap between Scotland’s regions. That was its levelling up target before the Tories’ new-found interest in levelling up. However, that was scrapped in 2017, perhaps because it showed that the employment gap was widening.
In October last year, I asked the Auditor General for Scotland to examine regional inequality and the impact of Covid on the hardest-hit regions. I hope that Audit Scotland and the Public Audit Committee are considering those issues. It is clear that we need not only to set targets—we absolutely need to do that—but to independently monitor the gap. It is not just the difference between the level of unemployment in Aberdeenshire or Edinburgh and that in my region that causes such concern; the scandal is that the SNP Government has done nothing to remedy the stark inequalities within my region.
Let us consider the August 2021 claimant count, as detailed by the Office for National Statistics. In East Renfrewshire, it is 2.8 per cent of the population; in East Dunbartonshire it is 3.2 per cent. Compare those figures with 6.8 per cent in North Ayrshire, 6.7 per cent in West Dunbartonshire and 5.6 per cent in Inverclyde. More than 18 per cent—almost one fifth—of the country’s most deprived data zones are in West Scotland. The single most deprived zone in the whole country is Greenock town centre. Two zones in Ferguslie Park in Paisley are in the top 10. I remind the Parliament that those are the areas that have been hit the hardest by the Covid crisis. Those gaps between our regions reinforce the inequalities in health, life expectancy, education and poverty. It will take more than platitudes or bombast to address profound regional inequalities. We need action, investment and, more important, political will.
In late 2018, the Fraser of Allander Institute published its “North Ayrshire Economic Review”. There is a sentence in it that applies to the whole of my West Scotland region, and indeed to the whole of Scotland. The review said that
“if significant in-roads are to be made in tackling regional challenges this will require major investment and national strategic support.”
Levelling up across Scotland and across the UK will take more than soundbites and slogans; it will take more than one-off pots of cash. It takes leadership, sustained investment and a strategy to genuinely remake and reform our economy, so that it better serves left-behind communities.
The absence of leadership, the absence of sustained investment and the absence of strategy leave the parties of Government exposed today. The challenge for Government is to rebalance the economy and to make it work for everyone. Bluntly, if the recovery is not working for the west of Scotland, it is not working at all.
For the past five years, MSPs on our benches have warned and feared that the halting of funding streams from the EU, such as horizon 2020 and EU structural funds, would leave unfilled holes all over Scotland after Brexit. We were never convinced by mendacious slogans on buses, by bluster from the likes of Farage and Johnson, or by promises of “sunlit uplands” and “seas of opportunity”. We were sceptical that the much-heralded, but undefined, shared prosperity fund would be an adequate replacement for anything that the EU streams gave us.
But, hey, no one likes someone who peers into the future and warns of its worst portents, like the Cassandra of mythology. We were “the doomsters, the gloomsters”, to quote the Prime Minister using that blustering, bombastic turn of phrase that he has. Sadly, however, we were right.
What we did not quite predict was that the level of support to be given in regions of Scotland would be wholly decided in London, not Edinburgh. Here, in this Parliament, we have absolutely no say on where the funds go. The Scottish Government is cut out, the Scottish Parliament is cut out, and my Tory colleagues over on their benches are cut out, too.
When it came to Boris Johnson deciding who would get what, he sold out not just Aberdeenshire but his north-east Tory colleagues. They will not show it today; in fact, only one—
It is interesting that the member mentions that. I thought that he was going to mention the new revamped Aberdeen market, which I think has the people of Turriff, for example, as excited as they might be about the roundabouts in Falkirk that were mentioned earlier today. I think we will move on from that.
Despite the huge tax revenues that my area has sent to the UK Treasury over many decades, Aberdeenshire has been put into the lowest possible funding tier—level 3—by the UK Government’s new funding scheme, so we will get a tiny fraction of the EU funding that we used to get and which the Government promised that it would replace in full. Let us not forget the UK Tory Government’s other slap in the face for the north-east: the kicking into the long grass, possibly never to be retrieved, of the Acorn carbon capture and storage project and, with it, the Scottish cluster. Combined with the refusal to back tidal energy projects or do anything about the ridiculous and punitive tariffs for Scottish electricity, that is proof, were it needed, that the UK Tories do not give two hoots about Scotland’s economic future or just transition. In fact, the Tories are a direct impediment to the north-east’s potential to lead the way to net zero and transform the area into a low carbon energy centre. The only Government that is trying to help us reach that potential appears to be the Scottish Government, and the £500 million transition fund that Kate Forbes announced is proof of that.
We keep being reminded that there are two Governments in Scotland, not least by Mr Carson, who has been bellowing it out throughout the debate.
No, because he is not from the north-east. I am taking only one intervention, and that was from a north-easter. Forgive me for being parochial, but that is what I am.
The first people who should be saying to Boris Johnson that the other Government needs to step up are the north-east Tory MPs Andrew Bowie, David Duguid and, of course, Douglas Ross. The UK chancellor ignored the views of the Scottish Government, which worked in good faith and presented plans for a separate Scottish shared prosperity fund. That planned replacement for EU funds would have been managed and decided on locally between the Scottish Government, local authorities and communities, and scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament. Instead, the UK Government extended the English shared prosperity fund to cover the whole of the UK and deprived Scotland of an expected £400 million in Barnett consequentials over the four-year duration of the fund.
That approach potentially leaves Scotland worse off, raises many value-for-money concerns and undermines devolution. However, the thing that most upsets me is possibly the thing that I have just heard Neil Bibby being upset about, which is the unfairness of the geographical distribution of those funds. They are not arbitrary; they are political. My colleague Richard Thomson MP has consistently shone a light on that in the UK Parliament, as north-east Tories squirm with shame and embarrassment on the opposite benches.
No, I have already taken an intervention.
“that index seems to be working in a rather curious way. It has not escaped anyone’s attention that some Tory target areas in England seem to have done extraordinarily well out of this fund, yet areas such as mine in the north-east of Scotland ... are languishing in levels 2 and 3 of the fund, despite being forecast to be hit hardest by Brexit.”—[
, 19 April 2021; Vol 692, c 643.]
Two things occur to me about the politics of that. First, promises that the Tories made about Scotland being an equal partner—that whole “lead, not leave” shtick that we heard so much during indyref—are coming back to haunt them. Secondly, I cannot wait to remind my constituents of that in town hall hustings ahead of the next independence referendum. Last time, we warned like Cassandra; this time, we point to the evidence of the present and the recent past. The people of my area will be in no doubt that Scotland must leave the UK in order to be the leader of our future—not shunted to the back of the queue for funding our recovery—and an independent country that makes its own decisions, based on the needs of our citizens, not the pork barrel politics of the UK Tory party.
According to political economists, uneven development—the uneven or unequal development of the economy—is an inevitable function of capitalism. It is seen in various dimensions—for example, different sectors of the economy are developing to varying degrees and at different rates. That unevenness can be and has been established on the basis of any number of different metrics, such as employment rates, income levels and rates of economic growth. It is also seen in various scales, from intra-urban differences, through regional differences, to uneven international development. It forms the basis of many inequalities and social injustices that we see every day. It is vital that we do what we can to avoid those dangers of uneven development—inequality and social injustice. In that vein, I agree with much of what Rhoda Grant said.
A key problem in the UK has been the two-speed development that we have experienced for decades. The financialised economy of the south-east of England has been preferred by successive UK Governments. The UK has never recovered from the mass deindustrialisation in every other part of the country. As always, the Tory assumption is that the south-east of England has got it right and the rest of the country has got it wrong. However, the failure to provide the infrastructure for economic development in the rest of the country is a substantial part of the reason why we have a two-speed economy.
We were promised that the funds that the EU had channelled into that infrastructure would be replaced after Brexit, yet what we see in the UK Government proposals is an exact replication of everything that we were told was wrong with the EU, including decisions made by distant bureaucrats, following political agendas that do not necessarily reflect those of the people. Furthermore, the value of the funds do not match what they replace.
While the UK Government may consider that, in the words of the Prime Minister,
“Scottish devolution has been a disaster”, the problem for the Prime Minister is that people want decisions made much closer to them. We know that the real challenges facing us—the climate and ecological crises as well as the pandemic—
No, I am not going to take interventions.
We need to create good-quality jobs in a just transition that delivers decarbonisation and social justice, rather than propping up an increasingly unpopular union by splashing cash to curry favour.
That is a point for us in this Parliament, too. We need to base our infrastructure developments in more participatory processes. We have had a climate assembly and we will hear about its outcomes soon. We need an infrastructure assembly to decide, collectively, what infrastructure we need and want, which could then be delivered with local, regional and Scottish input, without further complicating or cluttering the economic development landscape.
We have worked very hard in Scotland to ensure that fair work standards are at the heart of our infrastructure. We need well-paid jobs, partnership with trade unions, and procurement that delivers community wealth building and drives down carbon emissions. There seems to be no intention to build those standards into the UK funds. That is another reason why the UK Government should follow the logic of devolution.
We need a democratic green industrial revolution—we need to transform our energy system to decarbonise it, while creating good jobs. We need to provide high-quality homes that are carbon neutral. We need to be at the forefront of digital connectivity to increase social inclusion and create new opportunities for good-quality, low-carbon work. We need to engage more people in the creation of those projects to identify how best they can deliver for the people of Scotland.
We need ambition in our infrastructure funding, which is why I am so looking forward to discussions about how the £0.5 billion just transition fund—which we secured as part of the Scottish Government-Greens co-operation agreement—will support communities in the north-east, and on the roll-out of the £5 billion investment in our railways.
What we do not need is the replacement of the EU structural funds with a slush fund for politically motivated projects to make the case for London rule that is imposed on the people of Scotland; nor do we need something that adds to the already cluttered landscape of development funding in Scotland.
Now is the time for us to move away from the old elite decision-making processes. We should be creating national missions supported by the infrastructure spending. We should be bringing Scotland’s people behind those missions. As we all know, after the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—we need to build a country that both mitigates and adapts to the climate crisis. We need funding to ensure that that happens. That must be our priority.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and to highlight the blatant attack on the Scottish Parliament’s powers by the Westminster Government that is under way. As the motion states, the UK’s shared prosperity fund is nothing other than an assault on the Scottish devolution settlement and the Scotland Act, which is fundamental to our Parliament.
As the Westminster Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove—described by his own colleagues as scheming, unscrupulous and dangerous—is now in charge of spending around £4.6 billion a year on the UK’s shared prosperity fund.
That fund includes the UK community renewal fund, the community ownership fund and the bizarrely named levelling up fund. That funding comes from Scotland’s former contribution to the EU structural funds, which, prior to Brexit, came back through the Scottish Government. That power was devolved, but the UK Government in Westminster has grabbed back that process.
Mr Gove has made clear his commitment to undermine this Parliament. He stated that his department would establish direct relationships with
“councils, voluntary and community sector organisations and local education providers such as universities.”
I am glad that Emma Harper cannot read my mind.
Will she cast her mind back to June of this year, when she called for the UK Government to invest in the A75? She would surely welcome that investment, given that the connectivity review that consulted broadly across the country identified the A75 and A77 as priority routes. Emma Harper asked for the UK Government to make that funding available.
I am coming to the A75 at the end of my speech, so Mr Carson will hear what I have to say about it.
Mr Gove went on to say:
“The UK Ministry will then formalise agreements with each of the Scottish local authorities, including the arrangements for information sharing, monitoring and ... evaluation”.
“reports to be sent by them to the UK Secretary of State”, who is now Michael Gove. That regulatory role will become a function of the increasing army of civil servants who are based across the road in Queen Elizabeth house—the UK Government’s hub in Edinburgh—which is now home to 3,000 UK civil servants, who cost the Scottish taxpayer £250 million.
The UK Government plans to form direct relationships with Scottish local authorities, public and voluntary sector agencies and communities. Those areas of policy are all devolved to this Parliament, so if that is not an attack on devolution, I do not know what is.
I am sorry—I am no taking any mair.
I turn to the next assault on devolution—the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, much of which is concerned with ensuring that goods and services that are produced in one part of the UK can be sold without restriction in all other parts. The act creates the means for a race to the bottom when it comes to consumer and environmental protections. It prevents the Scottish Parliament from effectively legislating in a range of areas, including laws that cover the food that people put on their tables, which in Scotland is currently produced to high EU animal welfare and food safety standards. Those standards will be undermined by Scotland having to accept the lower standards that a UK Government sets in its desperate pursuit of harmful trade deals.
Members are aware that, since my election, I have campaigned on that very issue. I have learnt a lot from Leicester farmer Joseph Stanley, and have warned of the risks that the trade deals pose to Scottish agriculture. Products that are brought in will include chemicals the use of which is currently not allowed in Scotland—hormones and antibiotics such as carbadox, cloxacillin and ractopamine, which is intended to make pigs leaner. All those chemicals are currently used in meat production in Australia, America and Brazil—countries with which the UK is entering into trade deals.
The internal market act does not just threaten future areas of policy. The Scottish Government has already pointed out that, had the act been in place in 2018, the Scottish Parliament would not have been able to pass its world-leading legislation on minimum unit pricing for alcohol. It is in fact doubtful that even Scottish licensing rules, which prohibit alcohol promotion through discounts, would be allowed under the act.
UK Government ministers claim that no specific powers have been removed from Holyrood, but that claim misses the point. Section 50 of the act gives Westminster the power to make financial provision in a range of devolved areas, such as health, education and transport. The priorities for capital spending in those areas are set in Scotland and funding is allocated from a block grant from Westminster. The new powers allow Westminster to set the priorities, which takes power away from this Parliament and the Scottish Government.
Through those new powers, the UK Government has stated that it will invest in the A75—the main road from Gretna to Stranraer in my region of South Scotland. Concerned constituents have raised with me that the UK Government is only interested in investing in the A75 so that it can create a direct express route to transport nuclear radioactive waste from the proposed new nuclear power stations to dump in Beaufort’s Dyke in the North Channel of the Irish Sea.
I have written to the UK Government and asked for its commitment that Beaufort’s Dyke will not be reopened as a dump site for nuclear and radioactive waste as it was used previously. I ask the minister to join me in that call.
I call on the UK Government to stop its attack on the Scottish Parliament and encourage the Scottish Government to continue to do everything it can to protect this place.
I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am still a councillor at Aberdeen City Council.
The levelling up initiative from the UK Government is devolution in its purest sense. It is empowering our communities, delivering local projects and funding our local authorities to build back better after Covid-19. Levelling up will see countless projects up and down the UK receive the funding that they need to level up. The city of Aberdeen will receive £20 million to create a new marketplace and revitalise the city centre. Along with all the other projects, it will boost skills, employment and enterprise; encourage tourism; support our performing arts; invest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning; and help us to progress towards a net zero future. That can only be a good thing for the people of Aberdeen, the north-east and the whole of Scotland.
The project in Aberdeen is fully in line with the city council’s local outcome improvement plan, which meets the needs of our communities, including in relation to job creation, and makes the SNP motion completely laughable. Instead of welcoming the funding, like many SNP-run councils, and celebrating the increased devolution of resource, the devolved SNP-Green Government seems to be interested only in manufacturing endless grievance—it is a disgrace.
Hundreds of good causes will receive funding under a new system that is faster, more efficient and less bureaucratic. The matter is simple—good causes will receive good funding in good time. Members from the SNP claim that that process disrespects devolution and is an act of centralisation. The fact of the matter is that it enhances devolution from the UK government and puts it right at the heart of our communities. The SNP would do well to remember that we have two Governments in Scotland: the UK Government and the devolved Government in Edinburgh.
Frankly, it is laughable to hear the SNP accuse the UK Government of too much centralisation. The UK Government has a strong record on decentralising power and funding. It created 25 directly-elected mayors and 30 police and crime commissioners, giving more power to local communities.
In sharp contrast, what have we seen here in Scotland? Local police forces have been abolished and centralised into the generic Police Scotland. Local police control rooms have been abolished and centralised away from the local communities that they serve. Even Aberdeen, Scotland’s third largest city, was not spared those harsh cuts, with the closure of our police control room in 2017.
Absolutely—it did a remarkable job of policing of COP26 but it benefited from the support of UK police forces in Glasgow and right across Scotland.
We have also seen a huge increase in ring-fenced funding to councils, so the SNP Government, not the locally elected decision makers, decides where local money is spent.
Planning matters have been overturned by central Government, which is a complete slap in the face for the local councillors who are there to serve their local communities.
What needs to be addressed is the amount of planning applications that are drawn back to the Scottish Government, overturning local democracy.
The SNP wants to centralise power at every opportunity.
Furthermore, the UK Government has protected the funding of the Scottish Government through the generous Barnett formula. The Scottish Government does not afford such protection to its local authorities, with local authorities getting an ever-dwindling share of the Scottish Government budget, as COSLA highlighted just this week. The UK Government’s record on decentralising power and protecting local funding is far stronger than that of the SNP.
I am pleased that Aberdeen will receive £300,000 to fund street performances and culture festivals through the community renewal fund. That will be a huge boost to our city centre, which will place artists at the heart of our recovery from the pandemic and create employment and training opportunities in Aberdeen’s creative industries. I highlight the hard work of the chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts, Jane Spiers, in ensuring that that funding will come to Aberdeen.
Aberdeen city centre is swiftly becoming a cultural heartland through the forward-thinking council, with Conservatives in the administration. We welcome and thank the UK Government for its commitment to the north-east and its investment in our culture, our heritage, our industries and our businesses. There is no talk of removing investment, no discussion about closing vital industries and no question of overlooking the north-east in favour of our central belt colleagues. Perhaps the minister would like to explain why, this week, Glasgow City Council received more than £440,000 in funding for libraries, yet Aberdeen City Council received only £16,000.
The Scottish Government is no friend of the arts in the north-east. Indeed, the new Aberdeen art gallery was funded by the local council, with £1.5 million coming from the UK Government, but not a single penny coming from the Scottish Government.
It is clear that the levelling up agenda will bring funding and prosperity to the north-east, and vital resources to projects that are doing fantastic work up and down our country. That must be encouraged and supported. Many SNP council leaders have welcomed the fund and are applying for resource. Surely that tells us everything about the level of resource that is coming to local councils from the UK Government.
Let us compare that to how the SNP-Green coalition is treating the north-east. Just this week, the First Minister turned her back on 100,000 oil and gas jobs. In addition, the SNP has turned its back on its commitment to dual the A96, and the free ports that the north-east desperately needs have been thrown into doubt by the SNP’s grievance politics.
It would be great if, as a Parliament, we could simply welcome the UK Government’s funding into Scotland, thank the UK Government for its investment and move forward with delivering the projects without the grievance politics from the Scottish Government.
The SNP has made a tactical blunder this afternoon. I think that it expected to unleash fire and fury on the Conservatives for a betrayal of Scottish democracy, but as we have seen, Conservative members have enjoyed themselves. They have done so by listing various projects in different parts of the country, and poking fun at and teasing SNP members. They have done that extensively. I have to say that they have learned from the best—the SNP Government has done exactly that for the 14 years for which it has been in power, during which time it has misused finance and power in order to advance its party.
Meanwhile, ordinary people in communities are left out. We do not get the equality; the fairness; the rebalancing of the economy in the UK and in Scotland, which Neil Bibby talked about; or the gender equality that we desperately need in this country, which Rhoda Grant talked about. All those issues, along with the challenges in rural communities, which I know a lot about, and those in urban communities, pale into insignificance because we have a destructive, competitive relationship between the two Governments that are represented here this afternoon. I do not think that that is good for our country.
I have enjoyed watching the Conservatives enjoying themselves, because that does not happen too often, but while they might have experienced a short-term benefit today, longer-term problems will accrue over time.
Meanwhile, we have had po-faced speeches from SNP members about constitutional arrangements. That is normally the preserve of the Liberal Democrats, and I am quite upset that that has been captured from us by the SNP. Again, the SNP has only itself to blame. The hostile relationship that it has developed with the UK Government over the past 14 years has meant that it comes as little surprise that the Conservatives sometimes behave in the way that they do, no matter how reprehensible it is that they do that. The SNP and the Conservatives are as bad as each other, and it is about time that this country had a more mature approach to the relationship between our two Governments. That way, we might not end up having debates such as the one that we have had this afternoon.
I appreciate the points that Willie Rennie has made, but does he not recognise that there is a fundamental issue given that the Conservatives have been rejected—not narrowly but comprehensively—at election after election after election in Scotland since 1955? Does he not understand the fundamental tension that that creates? It is not the Scottish Government that has been hostile to the Conservatives; it is the Scottish people at the ballot box.
I recognise the point that the minister has made, but the fundamental problem is that we decided to stay in the United Kingdom and—no matter how much I hate it—the United Kingdom elected a Boris Johnson Government. I hate that that is the case, but that is the world in which we live. If we are going to get on in advancing the cause of the people in Scotland whom we represent in the Parliament, we need to take a more mature approach. Always rubbing the noses of the Conservatives in the dirt, as the minister has just done, will not help. It will not move us forward, and we will end up with more debates like today’s one.
I had to laugh when Ben Macpherson said that he was disappointed with the UK Government’s “paternalistic approach”. If he speaks to those who have been council leaders across Scotland over the past 14 years, they will tell him about a paternalistic approach from a central and powerful Government. That is exactly what has happened; the Scottish Government has hoovered up powers.
The minister had the gall to cite Police Scotland. One of the Government’s biggest disasters has been the central call-centre system and the stripping out of civilian staff—which has had a detrimental effect on communities across Scotland—because the Government wanted to take control of the police. That has happened right across—
Not just now. I am getting into my flow—don’t stop me.
Such an approach has been replicated across Scotland. The Government thinks that it knows everything and that it has the power to make every decision in Scotland. It is about time that we devolved power to every community in Scotland. Let us have a much more mature approach. We need federalism—I have been banging on about that for years. With that, we will build a proper structure for shared power and decisions, end the destructive competition between our two Governments, make better decisions, cut out the duplication and benefit the people in our communities.
Although the debate has been a bit of fun, I am afraid that the Conservatives will have to learn a little more about how to ensure that we have a United Kingdom that shares power and makes the right decisions for the benefit of the people whom Rhoda Grant, Neil Bibby and Daniel Johnson talked about. We need to ensure that we have proper equality and fairness in this country. This way is not how to achieve that.
I should congratulate Willie Rennie on his clairvoyance—he was able to listen to my speech before I actually gave it. Nevertheless, he is quite correct to agree with me, because I agree with a great deal of what he has just said.
The reality is that the debate has suited the SNP and the Conservatives. Both of those parties are very comfortable arguing about flags, boundaries and borders. The real dividing line in the debate—the one that actually matters—is between parties that believe in outcomes, making things work and how we build things better and those that want to have a constitutional tussle and see who can wave the bigger flag.
I say very gently to those members that they should think very carefully about their words. I have grown to have a great deal of respect for Douglas Lumsden since he came to Parliament, but the fact that he said, without irony, that the levelling up fund was devolution personified, or the greatest example of devolution, was quite incredible. He knows as well as I do, because he has seen the evidence from local authorities, that they are unclear about precisely how the money will be divvied out and about what purpose it is meant to serve. They have had to fire in applications without that context. He knows the deficiencies in what is being delivered, so he cannot possibly think that £173 million will deliver the change or the levelling up that Conservative members’ rhetoric seems to suggest.
I was just thinking back to not too long ago, when the person who is now the leader of Aberdeen City Council, since my departure, visited number 10 to argue for levelling up funds coming to Aberdeen. How can the member take a stance that it is not right when we have the Labour leader of Aberdeen City Council going to number 10 and asking for the funds?
I am not saying that it is not right; I am just saying that the money is not enough. That is the point.
By contrast, we have heard members on the SNP benches obsess about process without once asking what is being delivered. I agree that process matters, but ultimately what people care about is whether their towns, cities and localities are getting investment.
The great tragedy of this debate is that we heard a speech from Ben Macpherson—again, someone I have a great deal of time and respect for—and, in the entirety of the 12 minutes that he had, he did not mention poverty or inequality once. He spoke purely about the destabilisation of the devolution settlement. If our devolution settlement is so weak and precarious that £173 million upsets it, we really are in a very sorry state indeed.
I am glad that Gillian Martin has raised that point, as I was just about to come to it. That is what we should have spent the past two hours talking about—the regional unfairness.
In some ways, the debate was summed up by a combination of Willie Rennie and Alasdair Allan. Alasdair Allan highlighted the very real difference that the EU structural funds made. What we should have been talking about is how we can ensure that such funding continues so that we see delivery of the investment in roads and infrastructure that our remote and rural communities need. To be frank, the amount that has been offered will not do that.
Similarly, we should have been focusing on how we can deliver in partnership. Willie Rennie might want to call it federalism; I call it redistribution and the pooling and sharing of resources. That is what unions are based on, and, if the Conservatives are serious about defending the union and making sure that we do not see the break-up of the country, they should be seeking to strengthen devolution, not undermine it or thumb their nose at it. They know that they have bypassed it, and they should be careful before they continue in that manner. Simply annoying SNP ministers is not a great outcome. They should be seeking to make a real difference in our communities, because we have real inequalities.
SNP ministers often cite the example of the south-east of England and the way that it draws disproportionate resource, but we have our own south-east problem here, in Scotland. In Edinburgh, gross domestic product per head is £38,000. Just 60 miles away, in Dundee, it is £20,000, and with that comes economic inactivity at 27 per cent. Over a third of children in Dundee grow up in poverty. In Scotland, we have inequality such that the wealthiest areas deliver 2.5 times the level of gross value added of the least wealthy areas.
That is what we should be talking about—how we level up our regions and tackle those inequalities, which result in poverty, loss of opportunities, shortened life spans and gross social injustice. That is the debate that we should have had this afternoon, and that is what we should be discussing. We should be hearing about Scotland’s levelling up programme rather than disagreeing about constitutional grievances.
Presiding Officer, as you may know, the famous road to the isles runs from Fort William to Mallaig. The A830, as it is, takes in some of the most stunning locations in the west Highlands—Glenfinnan, Inverailort, Arisaig and Morar—and it finally opens out to the sea and views over the Sound of Sleat to Skye.
Until about 10 years ago, when it was eventually upgraded, the final section of the road—from Inverailort to Mallaig—was still a single-track road. In fact, it was the UK’s last single-track trunk road. Who paid for the upgrade? The Scottish Government and the EU did. There is still a sign on the road with the EU flag on it that details the structural funds that co-financed the upgrade. At the time, did any politician—least of all an SNP politician—complain about the EU helping to fund a road project that was within the remit of a devolved Administration? Did anyone protest at that infringement of devolution? Of course they did not. It was welcomed by everyone and rightly so, because it drastically improved a dangerous stretch of road. It continues to provide significant benefits today.
However, in the past few weeks, when the UK Government has announced major investments in dozens of projects across Scotland from the shared prosperity fund and the other funds that we have spoken about, the Scottish Government has been up in arms. That is the SNP for you: not a whimper when the funding comes from Brussels, to be invested in devolved policy initiatives, but furious when such funding comes from Westminster. The SNP and the Greens loathe the idea that the UK Government can have a positive impact in Scotland, and they despair at the idea that people in Scotland might recognise that.
I will, in a moment.
Let us deal with some other myths. Speaker after speaker, from many parts of the chamber, has spoken about circumventing, bypassing and infringing devolution. The devolution settlement is enshrined in the Scotland Act 1999 and the later Scotland Acts. We respect the settlement as establishing the Scottish Parliament and its powers. However, not one MSP has pointed out which provision of the legislation says that the UK Government cannot fund devolved policy areas. That is because such a provision does not exist. The devolution settlement does not prevent the UK Government from funding devolved areas of policy—it never has—because there is a distinction between the UK Government legislating and its investing in devolved areas.
I will, in a second.
Furthermore, as the Supreme Court has just told us, the Scotland Act 1999 allows the UK Government to retain the power to legislate for Scotland. If that is true, how much more true is it that, as a matter of law and practice, it is implicit in the devolution settlement that the UK Government can directly fund and invest in devolved areas?
I have said that there is nothing in law preventing the UK Government from funding such areas. There should be no limit to anything that the UK Government, the Scottish Government or local government does. That is the whole point of levelling up.
What is more, if we look at the international context, we see that that is entirely normal in Europe and beyond. In any federal or quasi-federal system, or in any system that is akin to devolution in the UK, the central Government retains the power to build bridges, upgrade roads and fund connectivity without there being any question of infringing on the power of the state or the devolved legislature. Look at Canada, Germany and Australia.
Let me turn to the Scottish Government’s motion. When I first read it, I could not believe my eyes. It is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions, as Miles Briggs said. It starts by saying that the funding is insufficient. Of course, funds from the UK Government are never sufficient in the eyes of the SNP. Then, the motion goes on to denounce the funding as an infringement of devolution. In the same breath as saying that it is not enough money, the SNP takes issue with the principle of the funds being distributed at all. Basically, it is a motion that says, “How dare you give us this money?” Tell that to the people of Falkirk in relation to the Westfield roundabout, which Graham Simpson spoke about. Tell that to the people of Aberdeen in relation to the cultural investment that Douglas Lumsden mentioned.
I am sorry—I cannot.
Tell that to the SNP local authority leaders, including those of Renfrewshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow—I note that the two ministers on the SNP front bench are MSPs for parts of those areas—who had the good grace and political judgment to welcome investments. We can understand why. Those council leaders have had to smile and nod for years while their bosses in Edinburgh have passed on swingeing cuts to local government. Between 2007 and 2019, the Scottish Government’s budget increased at more than double the rate of the grant that was given to local councils. I wish that, just for once, the SNP-Green coalition would welcome investment such as this and work with the UK Government to deliver more funding for our communities. Why not welcome the levelling up fund?
Daniel Johnson took issue with the sum involved. He said that £172 million is not enough. For starters, this is the first round of funding and there is an assurance that the figure will rise to £1.5 billion a year by 2024 and that it will, at the very least, match EU funds. Why not welcome the £19.9 million that is going towards the redevelopment of Inverness castle? Why not welcome the near £1.1 million investment from the first round of the community fund, including the £220,000 that is designated for the Old Forge in Knoydart?
I take issue with Willie Rennie because he said that this is all about power and politics. It is not. That funding in the Highlands and Islands, in one of the most remote areas of Scotland—a tiny part—is an example of the funding that is reaching communities in every part of Scotland, even the most remote. I will happily take an intervention from Willie Rennie if I have time.
I might well take the member up on his offer—he might regret it.
If it is not about power and control, why does the member not support a partnership approach with all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom?
I begin by expressing my gratitude to all members for their contributions this afternoon.
The first question that we have to pose is: what do we mean by levelling up? The reality is that, for all of us who have engaged as members in our respective constituencies and regions, particularly in areas that have suffered multiple generations of deprivation, the issues—those wicked problems—cannot be resolved overnight or by one funding round. Resolving them requires sustained investment and a co-ordinated approach. It requires resource grants, capital grants, asset transfers, broader community empowerment, participatory budgeting, the planning system, local economic development—a whole suite of areas. That requires partnership working.
The motion is born out of genuine frustration that the UK Government will not engage in that spirit of co-operation and partnership. I hope that, if one thing emerges from the debate, it is that there can be genuine partnership and co-operation. I recognise that what the people on the ground want is delivery. The risk that emerges from the UK Government’s approach is that it is complicating the landscape.
We have sought to engage constructively across a range of areas, but there has to be meaningful and genuine willingness. It cannot be tokenistic and, unfortunately, that is too often the reality of the UK Government’s approach.
We have heard from members today about some of the potential negative implications of the UK Government’s handling of replacement EU funding. However, we should also consider the alternative. We should think about the positive ways that the Scottish Government, and indeed the Scottish Parliament, have approached investment and how we would have used, in line with our principles of delivering a wellbeing economy for Scotland, the funding that is being spent by the UK Government.
There are fundamental ways in which this Government works in full and genuine partnership to ensure that every penny of public money can help the recovery from Covid and enable a wellbeing economy that is focused on the journey to net zero—
I think that we have an excellent suite of targets in the national performance framework, which gives us a way to measure our success. I will come on to some of those matters, because a wellbeing economy is fundamental.
I know that some might question the relative importance of where funds originate. However, the origin and ultimate destination of funding and the impact of funding are inextricably linked, through criteria, policy alignment and local, regional and national expertise—which Willie Rennie touched on—as well as through assessment and decision-making processes. People want to see money used in an intentional way to benefit their communities. People want to see good, trusting relationships between communities, local authorities and this Government.
The Scottish Government is committed to working with local authorities and partners in the public—
Sorry—I really have to make progress. I am short of time; otherwise, I would.
We have been working with local authorities and partners in the public, private, third and community sectors. That can be seen in the work that we are doing to implement the community wealth building model of economic development across Scotland, which Maggie Chapman touched on.
Community wealth building is about creating practical, bottom-up partnerships that seek to ensure that as much as possible of an area’s wealth, and as many as possible of its assets, can be retained in that area, in the form of tangible benefits such as fair work opportunities, public contracts for small and medium-sized businesses or greater community ownership of property or facilities.
We have a governance review. We are putting powers into the hands of not just local authorities. Since passage of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, we have led the UK in putting power into the hands of communities, and we will enhance that approach through the community wealth building model, which is being led, from the bottom up, by local authorities across Scotland.
Equally, we are taking an intentional approach to regeneration.
We have been delivering the regeneration capital grant fund in partnership with local government since 2014, supporting more than 200 projects in disadvantaged communities, including fragile rural communities, across Scotland. Over that time—this is such an important point—we have developed relationships with other key match funders and with wider networks and communities to share information and opinions on proposals, so that, jointly, we can make better decisions about which projects to fund and when.
That approach also benefits applicants. The RCGF panel recommends proposals for funding, and many projects are referencing levelling up funding and community renewal funding as match-funding sources. However, as the UK Government does not have a transparent process and is not involving the Scottish Government, it is likely that good projects could fail because of uncertainty about match funding. Because of the way that the Scottish Government works in genuine partnership, that uncertainty would never have happened had we been administering the funds. Instead, we could have worked together with all parties to maximise the impact of our combined resources and support communities to deliver transformative change.
That way of working can also be seen in our approach to national planning framework 4. Planning powers are fully devolved, and in Scotland we are using those powers well to chart a new course that will encourage and incentivise investment in the kind of country that we want to be, and in the sustainable, liveable, productive and distinctive places that we like to call home.
We are doing that in the long-term interests of our communities, our businesses and our people. We are also doing it to fully play our part as we transition to net zero and tackle the twin climate and nature crises.
The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, which we passed in the last parliamentary session, is strengthening the way that we plan for Scotland’s future development, and it has placed the national planning framework—which ultimately has to be approved by this Parliament—front and centre in leading how we shape the future of our places.
Regional-scale planning, which outlines strategic development priorities, has shaped the draft spatial strategy, based on a positive and productive collaboration between central and local government in this country. It is an open and transparent process, and future investment in our infrastructure and places should support the priorities that we collectively decide will be in our national spatial strategy.
That is the right way to go, so that choices about Scotland’s future development and how we deliver development and infrastructure priorities across our regions and communities are made here in Scotland. We need a joined-up holistic approach. That is what is required if we are to deliver transformational change.
Neil Bibby mentioned the west of Scotland and Ferguslie Park, and he will know the outstanding work that is going on through participatory budgeting there. That is real empowerment for communities that allows communities to determine their priorities by trusting them to make the right decisions. That informs the approach that we want to take, but it has to be an embedded, sustainable, joined-up and holistic approach. That is what we need if we are to transform our communities, build community wealth and make lasting change.
I reiterate the calls that we have made today for the UK Government to engage constructively. If it is not willing to give the Scottish Parliament responsibility for those funds, at the very least it needs to start engaging constructively with members of the Scottish Parliament and the democratically elected Scottish Government.