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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

June 2008


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 become involved.

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 raised.

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:

Fiscal autonomy

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.

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 has 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, 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 reform plans.


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.

Professional Regulation

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 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 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 Commission.


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:

Dave Watson,

Scottish Organiser (Policy)
UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141 342 2840 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail d.watson@unison.co.uk


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