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POLICY GUIDE - Devolution - The Next Stage


Devolution - The Next Stage

December 2005


This paper sets out UNISON Scotland's current policy position on the next stage of devolution in light of the stated intention of most political parties to review their policy in the run up to the 2007 elections. It is an initial position recognising that the debate will develop members' views.


The Scotland Act 1998 established the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Executive. Essentially it can act in any area that is not reserved to Westminster (see Annex 1). The UK Parliament also continues to legislate on devolved issues with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament through the Sewel Convention. The Scottish Parliament Procedures Committee has recently recommended some procedural changes to Sewel motions to improve parliamentary scrutiny.

There have already been significant new areas of devolution since the Scotland Act most notably aspects of rail and energy policy. These are in effect voluntarily devolved by UK Ministers and have not involved any amendment to the Scotland Act. Any substantive further devolution would require an amendment to the Scotland Act.

As 2007 will be the third term of the Scottish Parliament the political parties are considering new devolved powers from Westminster. The Scottish Labour Party has asked the Scottish Policy Forum to hold a special session on this issue and is likely to report to a future Scottish Party Conference. Other parties are also considering this issue. The SNP, SSP and Greens will continue to promote independence whilst taking every opportunity to extend the functions of the Scottish Parliament.

General Approach

UNISON Scotland remains committed to the principle of devolution. We campaigned for and support a Scottish Parliament where policies for health, education, transport, environment and key aspects of economic development are formulated where they should be - in Scotland, by representatives elected in Scotland. We do not support federalism or independence. We believe Scotland is better off and stronger in Britain, worse off and weaker apart.

The general principle at the time of devolution was that reserved matters should be limited to those matters necessary to maintain the integrity of the UK. Whilst this remains a factor it should not be only test. The key principle should be subsidiarity, the idea that matters should be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority. This principle also applies to the Scottish Parliament in its dealings with local government because decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen.

Powers should only be reserved to Westminster when:

  • Necessary because actions of the Scottish Parliament alone will not achieve the objectives of the action or;
  • The action brings added value over and above what could be achieved by the Scottish Parliament alone.

New Powers

As we approach the third elections to the Scottish Parliament UNISON Scotland believes the time is right for a detailed review of the balance of powers between Holyrood and Westminster. Whilst we believe that the broad thrust of powers is right, experience has demonstrated that the settlement would benefit from further devolution of powers in some areas. Devolution is rightly a process not an event.

The case for each possible power is complex with a range of arguments for and against. In some areas partial devolution may be appropriate, in others full devolution of powers that are currently shared. For this reason we favour the establishment of Commission to review the current balance of powers. As with the Scottish Constitutional Convention the aim should be to achieve the greatest possible consensus.

UNISON Scotland's initial position on key areas is as follows:




Fiscal Autonomy

Most Scottish Executive revenue at present comes through a block grant from Westminster allocated in accordance with the Barnett Formula. That formula is itself ‘squeezing' revenue in Scotland and may need replacing in future. Fiscal autonomy could take several different forms but all involve revenues raised in Scotland going direct to the Parliament/Executive together with additional taxation powers over and above the existing power to vary the basic rate of income tax +/- 3p. It is argued that responsibility for raising income (not just spending it) is essential for genuine democratic accountability. This is an important consideration, however, for UNISON we would need to be convinced that fiscal autonomy would deliver similar or greater revenues to finance public services and provide certainty over levels of spending.

Probably not at present but keep policy under review.

Equal Opportunities

The substantive legislative provisions of the Equal Pay Act, SDA, RRA and DDA are reserved. The Scottish Parliament's powers are largely restricted to promoting equality. We believe that Scotland's demographics are different to England and that we have different equality concerns (e.g. sectarianism). There is a precedent in that N.Ireland has had different equality legislation from the rest of the UK and Scotland will shortly have its own Human Rights Commission.



This is a shared area of responsibility at present. Generation and nuclear regulation are reserved. Planning, aspects of energy efficiency and renewable energy are devolved. This can lead to some confusion over roles. Scotland's energy industry is structured differently to the rest of the UK and we have concerns over discriminatory arrangements by UK regulators. There is a UK market for energy and European Directives which would require common approaches. However, a Scottish Energy Strategy may be easier to achieve if energy was devolved.


Council Tax Benefit

Whilst the Council Tax is devolved this benefit is reserved along with social security benefits. It is administered separately and is a key component of our council tax reforms. Without devolution we may be tied to English council tax reform plans



Occupational pensions are reserved but the regulation of public sector pensions is devolved. Our ability to negotiate over our devolved pension schemes has certainly been hampered by the reserved powers. However, pensions (particularly the state pension) are closely linked to taxation and benefits.

No. But consider strengthening powers over public service pensions.


As the UK is a common market most commercial and employment law was reserved. UNISON members generally treat the UK as a single labour market.

Many functions of job centres in promoting employment (e.g. job centre+) are closely linked to economic development which is a devolved power.




Partial devolution

Professional Regulation

Regulation of most professions is also reserved on the same UK labour market basis.



Recent criminal cases have resulted in calls for stronger regulation of firearms in Scotland than appears to have support in England. Criminal law is devolved.



Control of medicines and misuse of drugs are reserved whilst other health and criminal provisions are devolved.



The ‘Fresh Talent' initiative has been constrained by UK immigration policy that arguably is driven by the needs of SE England. Whilst UK borders remain we could consider separate immigration controls perhaps with Scottish residence requirements.



The debate over Scottish TV news (The Scottish Six) has highlighted this reserved power and we have previously supported devolving this power.



Gaming, consumer protection, health & safety, financial services, fishing, data protection, film classification, extradition, insolvency, telecommunications, postal services, air and road transport are all reserved and have been raised as potential issues for devolution in recent years

No position as yet.


Annex 1

Devolved and Reserved Powers

Devolution is the delegation of power from a central government to local bodies. Scotland was granted devolution by the passing of the Scotland Act in 1998 which means that Scotland has a parliament with ‘devolved' powers within the United Kingdom. Any powers that remain with the UK Parliament at Westminster are reserved. Reserved matters were set out in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act. Essentially the powers of the Scottish Parliament are set out by what it does not have legislative competence in rather than in what it can do.

  • Devolved powers: Matters such as education, health and prisons, which used to be dealt with by the Parliament at Westminster , are now decided in Scotland .
  • Reserved powers: Decisions (mostly about matters with a UK or international impact) are reserved and dealt with at Westminster

The main devolved areas are:

  • Health and social work
  • Education and training
  • Local government and housing
  • Justice and police
  • Agriculture, forestry and fisheries
  • The environment
  • Tourism, sport and heritage
  • Economic development and internal transport

The UK Parliament continues to legislate in reserved areas in accordance with the Sewel Convention. Under this arrangement the UK Government has adopted a principle whereby ‘the UK will not normally legislate in relation to devolved matters in Scotland without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.' The Scottish Parliament can agree the incorporation of legislative provisions affecting Scotland in devolved areas by what is called a ‘Sewel Motion'. This enables the Scottish Parliament to agree that Westminster should legislate for Scotland on devolved matters where, for example, it is considered sensible and appropriate to put in place a single UK wide regime or where the Parliament supports the proposed legislation but no Parliamentary time is available at Holyrood because of separate Scottish priorities.

The statutory framework for devolution set out in the Scotland Act 1998 is underpinned by the Memorandum of Understanding and four Overarching Concordats (on International Relations, the EU, Financial Assistance to Industry and Statistics between the UK Government and the three devolved administrations). There are also more detailed bilateral Concordats between the Scottish Executive and individual Government Departments. The Concordats are non-legally binding agreements whose purpose is to facilitate good relations between the administrations. They are underpinned by Devolution Guidance Notes (DGNs) published by the Department for Constitutional Affairs after consultation with the devolved administrations, and by the Statement and guidance on Devolution in Practice, which was re-issued by the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the devolved administrations in October 2002.


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