Commission on Scottish Devolution
UNISON Scotland's response to the Commission
on Scottish Devolution's consultation on changes to the current
division between reserved and devolved powers
UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond
to the Commission on Scottish Devolution's initial consultation
on changes to the current division between reserved and devolved
powers. UNISON is Scotland's largest public sector trade union
representing over 160,000 members delivering public services.
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, after broad consultation with
our membership, we established a policy position in 2006 in favour
of 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.
Sir Kenneth Calman, chairman of the Commission on
Scottish Devolution, has issued a request for initial contributions
from interested parties to help steer the Commission's early work
- including suggestions for potential changes to the
Parliament's devolved responsibilities.
The Commission held its first meeting at the Scottish
Parliament on 28 April, at which four task groups were established
- on functions, principles, engagement and financial accountability.
Further task groups are likely to be established in the near future.
A number of distinguished academics have already agreed to provide
expert advice to the task groups, and it is likely that more will
Sir Kenneth has indicated that central to the Commission's
task will be engagement with as a wide a range of interests as
possible from both within and without Scotland. This includes
a commitment to making recommendations that are based on evidence
and that can be expected to command widespread support.
The Commission has not yet clarified the particular
issues or options on which it will wish to seek detailed evidence.
This initial consultation is limited to suggestions that people
might have about specific aspects of the current devolved arrangements
that might merit the Commission's attention - particularly, suggestions
for change to the current division (made by Schedule 5 to the
1998 Act) between reserved and devolved matters. The Commission
has emphasised that all they are seeking at this stage is a brief
indication of the areas on which the Commission should focus its
attention. There will be further opportunities in due course for
interested parties to set out more fully their views on the issues
UNISON Scotland's 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.
UNISON Scotland also supports the Claim of Right
adopted in March 1989 that acknowledges the sovereign right of
the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited
to their needs.
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.
Specific Suggestions for Change
We would suggest the following areas for consideration:
In this context fiscal autonomy means that Scottish
Government and Parliamentary spending would be funded by taxes
raised in Scotland or through public borrowing by a Scottish Treasury.
This differs from the present system under which the UK Government
raises taxes and allocates a block grant to the Scottish Government
under the Barnett Formula. UNISON Scotland would favour a move
to partial fiscal autonomy through the provision of borrowing
powers and tax raising powers outside those matters covered by
the current UK tax regime.
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 has its own Human Rights
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, that we
believe is necessary, 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 any council tax reforms.
Without devolution Scotland may be tied to English council tax
Occupational pensions are reserved but the regulation
of public sector pensions is devolved. There has been some confusion
between pensions policy and pensions legislation in relation to
public sector pensions but these difficulties have been addressed.
Public sector pensions should remain a devolved issue because
they are an integral part of pay and conditions that are also
devolved. However, pensions (particularly the state pension) are
closely linked to taxation and benefits and we are not convinced
that these powers should be devolved.
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. However, many functions of job centres
in promoting employment (e.g. job centre+) are closely linked
to economic development which is a devolved power.
Regulation of most professions is also reserved
on the same UK labour market basis. However, events have moved
on in recent years with the growth of new areas of professional
regulation, some of which are devolved.
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 and we can see no
reason for reserving firearms to Westminster.
Control of medicines and misuse of drugs are reserved
whilst other health and criminal provisions are devolved. This
appears to be inconsistent and we would favour these powers being
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
that could reflect Scotland's economic requirements (devolved)
and the case for reforming employment rights in this area. In
addition there is also a case for considering elements of asylum
powers as the exercise of these powers have not always reflected
Scottish public opinion in recent years. Asylum also has significant
implications for devolved responsibilities particularly social
work and education.
The debate over Scottish TV news (The Scottish Six)
has highlighted this reserved power. Scotland has a distinctive
culture that is reflected in these powers being devolved and therefore
we support 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. After last year's
elections and the Gould report we can add responsibility for Scottish
Parliament elections. UNISON Scotland does not have a fixed position
on these matters but we believe they should be considered by the
UNISON Scotland believes the Commission should give
consideration to the widest devolution of powers possible following
the principle of subsidiarity. We have identified no current devolved
powers that should be reserved to Westminster.
For further information please contact:
Scottish Organiser (Policy)
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141 342 2840 Fax 0141 342 2835
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