Where next for #Scotref? 5 things the Tory manifesto says about Scotland #GE2017

Nathanael Williams

CommonSpace looks at what you need to know about the UK Tory manifesto on Scotland

THE TORIES released their manifesto yesterday (Thursday 18 May) in the City of London as a blueprint for a united UK heading towards the exit doors of the European Union.

However, the manifesto was somewhat light on details about how a “closer” union would be achieved – with only five paragraphs being dedicated to Scotland in the midst of the constitutional crisis provoked by Brexit.

We take a look at the claims and points laid out in the 84 page document and what it means for the Scottish economy, Parliament and people.

1). Public Consent for #ScotRef

The UK Tory Manifesto says that a second referendum on Scottish Independence can only be held with the curiously phrased “public consent” of the Scottish people. No explanation of what this might meanis given except a reiteration of the point that the UK Government believes that the EU referendum was a UK wide affair and Scotland leaving the UK would lead to greater “division and instability”.

The term “public consent” is eerily close to the 1999 Good Friday agreement, which stated that a referendum on a united Ireland could only be held when a “majority of the people of Northern Ireland” desire and vote for it.

Lack of clarity about this quote in the manifesto has lead analysts to question what “public consent” means given that the pro-independence SNP, which holds a mandate from its 2016 Holyrood election victory also won an overwhelming majority (56) of Scotland’s parliamentary seats in Westminster. 

The manifesto insists that a referendum could be held only after Brexit, and that the UK will leave as a union.

2). Who has the power to effect the economy?

According to the document, the Scottish Government has the tools to create economic growth already, However, the SNP would argue that the Scottish government lacks the ability to alter the rates of National Insurance and VAT, which are the two big sources of revenue along with income tax.

Corporation Tax, which is a levy on the profits of companies, is also not controlled by the Scottish Government.

The mention of the Scottish Parliament only once in the paper, and the insistence of its great powers will come as scant relief to those concerned about the permanent safety of the devolution settlement and the Scottish Parliament itself, which could see a change in its devolved remit after the repatriation of powers during Brexit.

3). The most powerful parliament in the world

Citing the 2012 and 2016 Scotland Acts secured by negotiations between UK Tory Governments and the Scottish Government, the manifesto makes the claim that the Scottish Parliament is the “most powerful of its kind in the world.”

Researchers such as Dr Craig Dalzell point to the Faroe Islands as an example of a sovereign territory of a “similar type” with more powers than Scotland’s Holyrood. The Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Bermuda, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, St Helena, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos, the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, Sint Maartin and Greenland all have more devolved powers over immigration and tax.  

4). Fisheries and Farms

The Tory Government has confirmed that it will put in place a short-term “pound for pound” replacement of the subsidy owed to farmers across the EU, most of whom voted to remain in the EU but now face being dragged out. There is no confirmation of a replacement of the agriculture support from the EU to Scottish farmers past 2020 and no commitment to devolvution of the issue to Holyrood.

The Scottish Fisherman’s Federation (SFF) has come out firmly in favour of Brexit. Scottish fishermen want, like their counterparts in the north east and southern coast of England, to be out of the common fisheries policy and see Brexit as the first chance in 40 years to leave. The manifesto promise to exit the EU and “reclaim fishing zones” for the UK will resonate well with this group.

Yet the SNP claim that the poor conditions and pressures placed on Scottish fisheries are as a result of poor negotiations by successive UK Government’s that gave minimal priority to Scottish industries or interests.

According to Akash Paun, an expert on trade policy from the Institute for Government think-tank: “If the UK government were to try and replace EU regulatory frameworks with UK-wide frameworks, they would need the agreement of the devolved governments.”

“Anything else would be a breach of the existing conventions.”

5). Pensions

The UK Government has consistently argued that an independent Scotland and the Scottish Government would not be able to safeguard the integrity of Scottish pensions. However, today it confirmed in the manifesto that it would not secure the triple lock pension as it is considered too expensive to keep up. This is despite pledging in 2010 to keep the triple lock until at least 2020.

Recent estimates hold that it would cost £45bn over the next 15 years.

The SNP and Scottish Labour condemned the move as a betrayal of pensioners and proof that the Tories “can’t be trusted” with pensions.

Introduced in 2011 by the coalition government, the triple lock guarantees that the basic state pension will rise by a minimum of either 2.5 per cent, the rate of inflation or average earnings growth – whichever is largest. The policy will mean an end to this guarantee of stability for some pensioners.

Read more – Robertson: Tories manifesto thwarts will of Scottish Parliament with “cruel austerity”

Pictures: CommonSpace, Melissa Baker, Guilia Gropet, Michael Lessing

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