Whilst for me there can be no escaping disappointment with the Referendum result I was greatly encouraged by the unprecedented level of engagement with the democratic process.
An engagement that resulted in 97% of eligible voters registering and 85% voting on the future of our nation. Couple this with the aftermath which saw a huge swell in membership for the parties campaigning for a Yes vote – the SNP alone have at the last count approximately 55,000 additional members nationwide.
The people of Scotland led an energised and engaging debate. The future of our nation was discussed with passion, vibrancy and wit across the country, and the balance of power shifted from politicians and political institutions to the people of Scotland.
I accept that independence was not the choice of a majority of the Scottish people in the referendum. However, a no vote was by no means a vote for no change. Between the 45% of the Scottish people who voted yes and those who were persuaded to vote no on the basis of the “vow” to deliver significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament, there is a powerful majority for substantial further constitutional change in Scotland.
Lord Smith of Kelvin has been appointed to take forward recommendations for further devolution of powers to strengthen the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government will work with Lord Smith and the other parties involved to secure the best possible deal for Scotland.
The Scottish Government published a set of proposals, which I wholeheartedly support, to the Smith Commission on 10 October. These proposals focus on equipping the Scottish Parliament with the powers to create more jobs, tackle inequality and protect public services.
• Full fiscal responsibility for the Scottish Parliament: all tax revenues should be retained in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament should have policy responsibility for all taxes unless there is a specific reason for a continued reservation.
• The Scottish Parliament should have full autonomy for income tax, national insurance, corporation tax, capital gains tax, fuel duty, air passenger duty and inheritance tax.
• Responsibility for all domestic expenditure – including welfare – with payments made to the UK government for reserved services;
• A sustainable framework for public finances including the necessary borrowing powers, and an agreement with the UK Government on the overall approach to public finances, including a commitment to continue the Barnett formula during any transitional period and if the Scottish Parliament’s financial powers fall short of full fiscal responsibility.
• Responsibility for key economic levers: such as employment policy (including the minimum wage) employability programmes; transport policy not currently devolved (including rail), competition, energy and broadcasting policy; and the Crown Estate.
Engagement with the Smith commission should start from a position of arguing for change that lives up to the expectations of the Scottish people—change that will transform the ability of the Scottish Parliament to improve the economy and create jobs by giving us real levers to match economic policy to the specific circumstances of Scotland.
The Scottish Government will demand change that will give the Scottish Parliament the tools to make Scotland a fairer and more equal society and protect us from unfair policies that are imposed from Westminster.
The parties that opposed independence must enter the Smith commission process ready to move significantly beyond the limited powers that they offered early in the campaign. They must demonstrate that they can live up to the language of “home rule”, “near federalism” and “devo max” that they introduced late in in the campaign.
They must show that they are serious about giving the Scottish Parliament the tools to improve Scotland’s economy, support jobs and make Scotland a more equal society. The proposals that are currently on the table from Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats fall well short on all counts.