SNP hit back at Lib Dems over home rule

The SNP have once again slammed Lib Dem plans for extra powers for Holyrood as an alternative to independence.

In the wake of Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie’s conference address in Dunfermline, which highlighted the party’s home rule policy, on Saturday a SNP spokesperson said:  “The Lib Dems have been proposing Home Rule for one hundred years – how many more talking shops do they need?

“Far from being a way to achieve more powers for the Scottish Parliament, people are becoming increasingly aware that a No vote will roll back the achievements of devolution through continued Westminster austerity.

“Only a Yes vote can protect policies such as free personal care and free tuition, by giving Scotland the economic powers that can maximize the benefit of our vast natural and human resources and allow us to flourish.”

In his address Mr Rennie stressed that he saw home rule as a viable option saying: “Scotland has an alternative.

“If we want to keep our influential place in international bodies, but with strong domestic powers, people don’t have to look very far from this room.

“Home rule for Scotland in a federal United Kingdom keeps us as a powerful force for good in the world.”

Under the proposals a swathe of extra constitutional and financial powers would be devolved to Scotland from Westminster. Mr Rennie hailed the plan and said that it: “puts the Lib Dems, once again, ahead of the debate.”

The chairman of the committee responsible for the home rule proposals, Sir Menzies Campbell MP, claimed that they were a natural progression from the current devolution set-up. He said: “Since 1999 when devolution was in its infancy the Scottish Parliament has matured and grown in strength and authority.  The time has come for it to move to a fully-fledged partner as a Home Rule Parliament within a federal United Kingdom.

“With home rule and federalism the Scottish Parliament would have permanent powers, not powers on loan.  This would give us the mature constitutional authority required to work in partnership with the rest of the UK’s parliaments and assembles.”

The Lib Dems policy will not be able to be considered until after the 2014 independence referendum as there will be no second question regarding extra powers for the Scottish parliament.

Original here

Rennie backs Lib Dem vision of federalism

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie

Scottish Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie has spoken in support of the ‘Federalism: the best future for Scotland’, report from the Scottish Liberal Democrat’s Home Rule and Community Rule Commission.

The report claims that a form of enhanced devolution, with Scotland given full tax varying powers, within a federal United Kingdom is the best way forward for Scotland. At the launch of the report, which would see the historic Act of Union between Scotland and England being scrapped and replaced by a declaration of federal union, commission chairman Sir Menzies Campbell MP claimed that the current devolved set-up was “unsustainable”.

Mr Rennie stated that his party’s vision will serve Scotland better than the SNP’s independence policy. He said: “Our ambition is to improve the social, environmental and economic well-being of Scotland.

“That ambition can be best achieved when we have a parliament with the powers and responsibilities that enable it to be sensitive and flexible to local needs while able to share risks and rewards with the rest of the UK.

“Home Rule within a federal UK embeds that local power and the means to share with our partners.”

Mr Rennie goes on to acknowledge that the current constitutional setup is no longer relevant for Scotland. He said: “Since 1999 when devolution was in its infancy the Scottish Parliament has matured and grown in strength and authority. The time has come for it to move to a fully-fledged partner as a Home Rule Parliament within a federal United Kingdom.”

Despite the Lib Dems strong opposition to any question regarding enhanced devolution being included in the independence referendum, Mr Rennie claims that his party will be working towards increased federal powers for Holyrood stating: “We will use these plans to lead the debate, to build a consensus and secure a mandate for reform at the next general election. We urge people who like our plans to come on side and make the case for this change.”

Original article here

Interview with Mike Pringle

Sitting in a comfortable chair in his Edinburgh South constituency office,  Mike Pringle MSP with his grey hair and casual jumper looks rather like a favourite uncle. He exudes the kind of warm friendliness that the Liberal Democrats used to thrive on. That, of course, was in the days before protesters were burning effigies of Nick Clegg.

Pringle himself is acutely aware that events in Westminster could make May’s Holyrood elections tough for his party and said:-” There is no question we are getting a lot of kickback from what is happening down south and all the associated issues. While this is Scotland, and we will be concentrating on Scottish issues that affect people in Edinburgh South, I can’t deny that the national issues may have an impact.”

Certainly Pringle is at pains to highlight differences in policy between the Scottish Lib Dems and their Westminster counterparts and pointed out:-”One of the big issues is the imposition of tuition fees. The situation of course is completely different in Scotland. Indeed, recently, I received a letter from Liam Burns of the National Union of Students congratulating the Lib Dems in Scotland on our role in amending the recent Scottish budget to secure greater funding for students.”

Born in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, Pringle moved to Edinburgh as a thirteen year old in 1958. Save a few years working in London, he has lived in the capital ever since and hopes that the voters will concentrate on the local issues he has been championing since being elected to Holyrood in 2003.  One of the main areas Pringle plans to campaign on locally is education, where he says he has been fighting  hard on behalf of Edinburgh South. He said:-”I have campaigned hard for increased funding for Boroughmuir High School having already secured government funding for a complete rebuild of James Gillespie’s High School.”

Supporting local businesses is another major theme of Pringle’s campaign. One innovative scheme he plans to launch, if re-elected, is the ‘Edinburgh South pound’. Based on a successful scheme in Totnes, Devon the plan would offer discounts to local businesses involved, thus encouraging economic growth in the area. Pringle said:- “ Similar schemes have been run successfully elsewhere and helped local businesses.  I think it is something that, if we could launch it, would benefit Edinburgh South greatly. I have approached local businesses who are prepared to back the scheme.”

Pringle has always been a keen supporter of environmental matters and sees the environment as a key Lib-Dem issue. He is a supporter of a Green Bank and hopes that it could be based in Edinburgh:-”I recently met Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne,  to discuss the setting up of a Green Bank. I was representing the whole of Edinburgh in making a case for the proposed Green Bank to come to Scotland, but specifically Edinburgh. It would bring a huge amount of jobs to the city. Even though the decision on location has not yet been made, I am relatively hopeful that it will come to Edinburgh.”

Elected in 2003 with a wafer thin majority of 158, Pringle has proved a popular constituency MSP, increasing his majority to 1,929 in 2007. He sees his constituency work as vital:-”As a local constituency MSP, I have always looked on my primary responsibility as standing up for the people. My work is defending my constituents against Local Authority planning decisions and on council tax issues, but probably the biggest area is constituents problems with NHS Lothian which  I try to help them resolve.”

Asked to pick out a personal highlight from his time in Parliament, Pringle chooses an issue he is passionate about:-”Meeting the Dahlia Lama twice was a personal highlight. I have always been a very strong supporter of Tibet and the campaign to free Tibet from the yoke of China.”

Looking to the future, Pringle feels that a majority government whether one party with an overall majority, or a coalition, is better for Scotland than a minority administration. He says: “ As far as the parliament in general is concerned I hope we have a strong parliament. I have to say that I think over  the past four years it has lacked something, because there has been a minority administration. That is not the fault of the SNP, but because they did not have an overall majority, they could not introduce the radical policies a majority administration can.”

Of his own party’s role in the new Parliament Pringle said:- ” The Lib Dems’ aim is to be back in coalition and to be able to influence things as we did from 1999 to 2007. As our colleagues in Westminster have discovered, you can only influence policy from a position of power.”

Affable as he may be, Mike Pringle is a hardened campaigner who wrestled Edinburgh South from Labour, and increased his majority. Given the Lib-Dems’ current woes, this promises to be his toughest campaign yet. Pringle will be hoping that his local record and personal popularity will see him re-elected, and not spending too much time fishing, or in the stands of his beloved Tynecastle come May.

Original article here.

Tartan tax

Alex Salmond and the late Donald Dewar in 1997

By Andy Mackie

John Swinney and the SNP government are set to come under attack today for letting Holyroods’ tax raising powers lapse.

The furore surrounding this has been intense and the SNP’s political adversaries have siezed upon the subject. However, getting past political bluster the decision in principle of refusing to pay £7m to maintain the ability to us e the tax raising powers is a sound one. Not least because none of the 4 major parties in Scotland have shown any inclination to use the powers.

Indeed 2 weeks ago when I wrote an article about the Scottish Green Partys’ proposal to use parliaments tax varying powers the responses I received from the major parties ranged from un enthusiastic to downright hostile. indeed the Lib Dems finance spokesman said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.” Yet today the same Lib Dems who are part of the coalition government in Westminster are implementing swingeing cuts to jobs, public services and benefits are railing against a decision to not spend £7m to safeguard a power they have no intention of implementing.

This is not, however to let Swinney and the SNP off the hook. In his defence Swinney yesterday said that MSP’ could not be informed of every piece of information with parliament then MSP’s would need bigger briefcases. This is undoubtedly true but this was a rather large and fundamental piece of information. Furthermore it was on an issue that the SNP campaigned vigorously on back in 1997 and one which the public may well have been interested in.

It should also be noted that on November 10th, only two weeks ago, an SNP spokesperson had this to say on the tartan tax: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.” Surely the SNP press office knew that the tartan tax was not an option until at least 2013 at this point? Or was the reason they had no plans to implement it the fact that they, but not the Scottish public, knew it was not possible?

Greens back tartan tax

By Andy Mackie

The Scottish Green party is the first in Scotland to propose using  Holyrood’s tax raising powers.

A motion was passed at the party’s annual conference, held in Edinburgh at the weekend, to oppose cuts to services and to look at taxation as a tool to achieve this. Explaining this stance in the run up to next years Holyrood elections Patrick Harvie MSP said:  “We don’t want the electorate to be faced with five political parties proposing five different flavours of cuts. In doing this we have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, other ways of raising revenue have to be explored.”

Harvie acknowledged that the tax varying powers available are limited. He said: “You can only change the basic rate, I would love it if we could raise the higher rate making it a more progressive system.” Harvie added that the party would also be looking into ways of implementing local taxation. He said: “We will be looking at a broader range of local taxes that can be more progressive and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders do pay more.”

The other parties in Scotland, however, do not share the Greens enthusiasm for tax increases. Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson Jeremy Purvis MSP said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.”

The SNP pointed out that any tax increase would impact on all families their spokesperson said: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.”

The Scottish Labour party stopped short of ruling out the policy, a spokesperson said: “Labour will look carefully at all the evidence but there are practical difficulties with the Green’s proposals which would be hard to overcome.”

The Scottish Conservatives were unavailable for comment.