The Smith Commission, set up to produce recommendations for further devolution reflecting the result of the referendum, has published its interim conclusions.
I very much welcome the announcement of significant new powers for Scotland. With the Scottish Parliament now set to raise the majority of the money it spends and gain significant welfare powers, this package finally delivers home rule for Scotland and will give Holyrood the financial muscle that it needs.
This package of new powers not only delivers on the promise made to the people of Scotland by the three unionist party leaders but goes further. For decades my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have championed home rule for Scotland and in 2011 we set out a bold package of financial and constitutional reform and a plan on how to deliver it.
People told us then that the other parties would never agree to our plans. But after the cross-party Smith Commission talks, I am pleased to say we have proved them wrong. With all five parties in the same room, agreeing on the same proposals for the first time in Scottish history, we can be confident that this is a home rule settlement for the long term.
And as well as ensuring more tax and welfare powers for Scotland, we have also been able to avert the risk to Scottish pensions by keeping them within the strong UK system, protect oil and gas jobs by safeguarding the industry’s UK-wide tax and regulatory regimes and save Scottish taxpayers from a £400 income tax hike proposed in the SNP’s independence white paper by maintaining the UK tax allowance.
Of course, the SNP will always say that these measures are not enough, but they did sign up to this agreement just like everyone else. In fact, behind closed doors, they were the first to agree to our plans to protect pensions by keeping them at a UK level. The SNP said that the Vow was ‘meaningless,’ but only nine weeks later they are signing up to this bold set of new powers.
Despite this, the SNP are still arguing for independence at the earliest opportunity. After today’s announcement, the people of Scotland and Gordon have a very clear choice - a vote for the SNP which means a vote for independence, or a vote for the Lib Dems for a stable, long-term home rule Scotland within a more federal Britain.
The Liberal Democrats’ position is pro Scotland and pro UK. The SNP are pro their vision of Scotland which is anti UK. Nationalists will never acknowledge any benefit attributable to the United Kingdom which is why those who value our continued membership of the UK cannot rationally consider voting SNP under any circumstances.
I hope the threat of another referendum and the disastrous handling of public services and investment by the SNP Government as far as the North-east is concerned may make our region of Scotland the first to reverse the nationalist tide and throw the SNP out.
Scotland is performing better than at any time I can remember. But our economic performance depends almost entirely on our place in the UK single market and our access to the strength of the UK public financial standing which is still strong in spite of our setbacks. The message has to be - “We voted no and we meant it”.
Health Service in crisis
The crisis in our health service looks set to get worse before it gets better. We are missing vital waiting times targets.
There is real concern about clinical safety. Recruiting and retaining staff is a serious challenge.
We now know that the increased funding for the NHS from which England has benefitted has been passed on to the Scottish government but they have chosen not to pass this on.
We also know that the North-east had been chronically underfunded and this, more than anything, has contributed to the crisis we now face.
The question for Nicola Sturgeon and her new cabinet is this: Are you now going to use the power and resources you have to deliver for the people of Scotland or are you going to continue to obsess about independence and watch Scotland fall further behind the rest of the UK?
Also, are you capable of acknowledging that for all its flaws and problems the UK is still a great country.
The SNP want the balance of power to destroy Britain. You cannot be British and vote SNP.