Scotland 'let down' by constitutional set-up

19 Nov 2009 02:35 PM

A National Conversation paper on people and communities, focusing on areas including health, housing and law and order was published today.

Constitution Minister Michael Russell said that the paper underlined the urgent need for Scotland's Parliament to be given more responsibilities for the people it serves.

Mr Russell said:

"This paper exposes the way that Scotland and its communities are being let down by the current constitutional set-up in a whole range of areas.

"It lays bare the full extent of the way in which the present arrangements are holding this country back, stopping it from achieving its full potential and hampering our ability to make this a healthier, wealthier, safer and stronger nation.

"The lamentable failure of the UK Government to properly address the need for Scotland to be given more responsibility for its own affairs underlines the case for the people to be given their say in a free and fair referendum.

"The Scottish Government acted quickly to show how those parts of the Calman Commission recommendations which could be implemented quickly were taken forward on that basis.

"But the UK Government has dragged its heels on that issue - and it now appears that even a simple reference to Scotland in the Queen's Speech was a hurried, last-minute afterthought.

"Instead of rising to the challenge, the Scotland Office has now resorted to fear and smear tactics. Those charges cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, and today's paper shows the reality of how Scotland and its communities are being held back."

Mr Russell added:

"Health, housing, law and order, transport and issues relating to children are all areas where Scotland has seen major progress since devolution. The ban on smoking in public places, free personal care, the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence, an internationally acclaimed approach to homelessness, and record numbers of police are just a few of the examples covered by this paper.

"Despite such achievements and the wide extent of devolution in these areas, the Scottish Parliament is constrained by the current devolution arrangements in how it can tailor policy to suit Scottish needs and circumstances. For instance, the Scottish Parliament does not have responsibility for setting national speed limits, drink-driving limits or firearms, all of which are crucial to the safety and health of communities. Nor does it control the social security system or the taxation levers which are crucial to the management of the housing market.

"This Government believes that independence is the best way forward for Scotland and today's paper makes that case. We do recognise however that there is a range of views on Scotland's future. That is why we will publish a White Paper on St Andrew's Day and introduce a Referendum Bill to Parliament in 2010 - giving a fair and democratic choice to the people of Scotland on their constitutional future."

People and Communities is the seventh in a series of papers being published by the Scottish Government as contributions to the National Conversation. It sets out options for the people of Scotland if they choose to seek further responsibilities for their Parliament and Government.