When the Parliament resumed in September, the days were long and the weather occasionally sunny – which was more than could be said of the summer. Six speedy weeks later, we’re going home in the dark and it’s recess again. Time is not just flying, it’s zooming by, and there is a growing sense of urgency around the Parliament as dissolution draws closer and the yet-to-be concluded inquiries, budgets and bills mount up. Looking over the term’s work, I couldn’t but be struck by the running theme of Scotland’s future.
In the anniversary week of the independence referendum, the Parliament debated “Scotland’s Future, Democracy and Devolution”. The discussion on the Smith commission and the Scotland Bill was characterized by robust exchanges. John Swinney said that the SNP had
made no secret of our view that the Smith commission’s final recommendations did not go far enough; neither do we believe that the Smith commission’s proposals met the undertakings of the UK parties that set it up in the first place.
Claire Baker argued for even further devolution:
The Smith commission and, from that, the Scotland Bill are to be vehicles to deliver that change, although I caution that they are not the only vehicles. The change will be achieved if we—politicians from across all the parties—change the way we think about politics and how it is delivered. As our amendment states, devolution is not about concentrating powers in the Scottish Parliament; it must be about empowering our communities and local authorities.
Annabel Goldie rebutted John Swinney’s argument:
In response to the initial attack from Mr Swinney and his SNP colleagues that the bill reflects some faint-hearted, peelie-wally attempt to deliver a minimal extension of powers, let me remind members that the Scottish Parliament information centre has produced a fascinating analysis of the Smith agreement proposals. The Scottish Parliament will have more tax and spending powers than the majority of states in federal countries such as Australia, Germany and the United States, and in a league of sub-national legislatures across the world, Scotland will be near the top.
(The Deputy Presiding Officer, Elaine Smith, followed that with:
We were happy to oblige.)
And Tavish Scott called for a new start:
It is increasingly clear that there are only two future courses for Scotland—independence or federalism—and that federalism is the only viable future for the UK. Scotland is well placed to provide the drive and the route map towards a new future: a federal UK with a stable and lasting written constitution that honours the democratic decision of the people of Scotland last year.
Those positions have been played out in the committees as the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee has scrutinised the Scotland Bill, the Welfare Reform Committee has looked at the future delivery of social security in Scotland and the Economy Committee has run an inquiry on work, wages and wellbeing.
All that, and the bills: the Health and Sport Committee and the Justice Committee both have heavy legislative loads ( 5 and 6 bills respectively) and are working on a range of changes to Scotland’s laws, from introducing a duty of candour for health care providers via the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Bill, to reforming provision for Community Justice through the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill. By contrast the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee has only one bill in progress, but it is the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill:
Words of Note
As our keyboards blur (or microphones overheat – some of us dictate, rather than type) we continue to keep a wee list of words that cheer our days.
For the second time, glocal has made the Official Report. Ben Thomson told the Finance Committee that
We are getting a more—I hate this word, but I am going to say it—glocal world. People want more local responsibility, but at the same time our business and personal interests operate at a much more global level.
The previous occasion was in 2010, when a Church of Scotland minister, the Rev Ian Galloway, told the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee that
I am 100 per cent Scot, and there is nothing in me that is not Scottish, but it is a Scotocentric view to say that religion is in decline. The community to which I belong is a glocal community—it shows up locally, but all over the globe, too.
Dame Elish Angiolini, giving evidence on the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill, talked about the difficulties encountered by offenders who are released unsupported into the same environment that they inhabited prior to their offence:
… people are looking at the issue from the beginning of offending behaviour to the time when people come out of custody and are exposed to the same people and peers and the same struggles that they had before, which can often lead them back to self-medication through drugs and theftuous behaviour to accommodate that.
Professor David Clark from the University of Glasgow gave us a new word for hindsight when he told the Health and Sport Committee that
Here in Scotland and in the rest of the UK, we still see palliative care as closely associated with end-of-life care, and the broad reference point for end-of-life care is people in the last 12 months of their lives. As I have often said, it is often easier to say who those people are with the retrospectoscope than with any prospective approach, and we are challenged to know when people are in the last year of life and how best we can respond to them in that context.