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Call for 'more teeth' in Scotland Bill
First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday attended the British-Irish Council in London and set out the case for the Scottish Parliament to receive greater economic powers.
The first meeting of the BIC since the recent elections of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Mr Salmond was joined by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth John Swinney and Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop.
The meeting was also attended by Ministers from the Government of Ireland, UK Government, Welsh Assembly Government, Northern Ireland Executive, States of Jersey, States of Guernsey, and Government of the Isle of Man.
The Scottish Government will present the UK Government with papers outlining proposed changes to the Scotland Bill on borrowing powers, the Crown Estate, excise duty, corporation tax, broadcasting and an enhanced role in Europe.
The Scotland Bill is set for its Third Reading in the House of Commons tomorrow. It will then be considered by the House of Lords and the Scottish Parliament, which has to consent to the Bill before it can proceed to Royal Assent.
Also tomorrow, the new Scotland Bill Committee at Holyrood will hold its first meeting, to select the Convener and Deputy Convener and consider its work programme.
Speaking after today's talks, the FM said:
"While recent proposed changes to the Scotland Bill were a welcome step in the right direction, the fact remains that the Bill does not go far enough in terms of meeting the aspirations of Scotland's people. Our priority, for which we carry the overwhelming mandate of the Scottish people, is to ensure that we strengthen the Scottish Parliament's ability to build sustainable economic growth and create new jobs from our nation's great resources. The Bill must have real economic teeth or it will fall well short of people's aspirations.
"Scotland has a global reputation as a place of innovation and imagination, with a world-class higher and further education system and a highly-talented workforce. It is only right that a nation with such strong economic, educational and cultural links should have an agenda for progress. It is therefore vital that the Scotland Bill is worthy of the name. The voice of Scotland's Parliament must continue to be heard on the legislation to ensure that the Bill incorporates those changes which reflect the wishes of the Scottish people.
"As promised we are about to set out the detailed and evidence-based arguments for the additional powers required, building on cross-party support that exists in the Parliament, and more widely in Scotland. There is clear agreement that more can and must be done to boost economic activity, and that Scotland must have the levers to shape its future success.
"This was the first BIC since the recent election of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and today's talks also reflect that we are in the process of further developing our new relationship with Westminster. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have made a commitment to a respect agenda for relations with devolved governments. It is now time for the agenda of respect to deliver an agenda for progress on economic growth. I look forward to working with them on financial, constitutional and policy reform and building on the early progress.
"Like other members of the Council, the Scottish economy continues to emerge from the sharp global downturn. Since the end of the recession, growth has returned to most sectors of the economy. Over the last year, we have witnessed a welcome pick-up in employment with 43,000 more people employed in Scotland than this time last year and unemployment has fallen by 10,000. However, the recovery is clearly at a pivotal stage. That is why a jobs agenda is at the very heart of our programme for government, with a particular focus on providing opportunities for young people.
"And I would urge the UK Government to address the critical necessity for an alternative, 'Plan B', - or demonstrate flexibility in their current strategy - to protect the economy's recovery. Key areas where the UK Government should take action include public sector investment; access to finance; and enhancing consumer confidence through prioritising growth and employment security. Confidence remains the key to economic recovery, and the sooner this can become embedded within our consumers and businesses then the more quickly the economy will recover. This is in part why we are also committed to pressing for economic levers to be added to the Scotland Bill, to help promote economic recovery in Scotland - including access to enhanced borrowing powers, corporation tax, excise duties and the Crown Estate.
"On energy, we had positive discussions about greater co-operation on renewables and improving connection and transmission between BIC members and other European nations, including developing the North Sea grid. Effective collaboration on energy markets and infrastructure are essential to delivering the EU's future energy security and wider low carbon ambitions. At the same time, of course, we are pressing the UK Government to give the Scottish Parliament greater responsibilities over energy regulation and resources, including a greater say over the roles and functions of the energy regulator, Ofgem, and the devolution of responsibility for the Crown Estate.
"Constitutional change is not an end in itself but a means to a better nation. For the sacrifice to be made, there is a reward in the form of a society geared to our values - that is the Social Wage and the society we will build and protect. It is only right that this nation with its great resources should continue to make the most of our natural and comparative advantages."
The Scotland Bill is currently being progressed at Westminster: The White Paper Your Scotland Your Voice sets out the options for constitutional reform in Scotland: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/11/26155932/0