Sunday 20 October 2019

Queen wants to keep Scotland in the UK

Britain's Queen Elizabeth leaves after the State Opening of Parliament
Britain's Queen Elizabeth leaves after the State Opening of Parliament

Andy Philip

THE Queen has underlined the UK Government's hopes of keeping Scotland in the UK.

Her comments at the State Opening of Parliament come with less than 500 days to go before the historic poll on the country's constitutional future.

Outlining the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition's programme today, she said: "My Government will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom."

In the traditional ceremony, the Queen outlined eight Bills which apply in full to Scotland but none which apply exclusively north of the border.

It was also notable for what it missed out.

There was no mention of UK Government plans for plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum unit pricing for alcohol in England.

Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary in the UK Government, said the coalition is delivering "positive change" for Scotland.

But opposition parties variously branded the speech "weak" and evidence of "bad government".

The Queen mentioned 15 Bills from a legislative programme covering 20, including those carried over from last year or in draft form. Of the total, 13 apply in part or in full to Scotland.

They include cross-border proposals for reducing red tape in a Deregulation Bill, an Immigration Bill, a Defence Reform Bill to improve equipment procurement, the creation of a single-tier pension and protection for intellectual property rights.

Another Bill aims to reduce the cost of employment for firms, which translates to 70,000 businesses in Scotland sharing in saving £100 million from additional National Insurance contributions relief, according to the Scotland Office.

Mr Moore said: "The UK continues to deliver positive change for Scotland under devolution, supporting families with childcare costs, bolstering the economy and business and protecting pensions.

"The Bills and measures we are setting out today are good for Scotland and strengthen the position of employees and employers alike. They will also make progress on issues such as the future of our high-speed rail network. The next session will see this government continue to focus on families, fairness and the future."

Labour MP Margaret Curran, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, said the Government is running out of ideas.

"People across Scotland are looking for action to get our country moving," she said.

"There was nothing in this speech to boost employment, no action to tackle rip-off energy companies and not a single move to ease the squeeze on families who are struggling to make ends meet."

Labour would have introduced a Jobs Bill to boost employment and an Energy Bill to tackle "rip-off" utility companies, she said.

Angus Robertson MP, the SNP's Westminster leader, said: "This speech underlines exactly why Scotland needs good government with independence, not bad government from Westminster.

"The speech shows that Westminster isn't working for Scotland. Instead of boosting economic growth it is focusing on a lurch to the right politically, and is out of touch with the people of Scotland.

"What's not in this speech is as revealing as what is in it. No mention of promised progressive measures such as following Scotland's lead on minimum pricing for alcohol, or plain packaging for the sale of cigarettes. Aid agencies will be angry that there is still no legal commitment on overseas aid, despite repeated promises."

The speech, with its focus on immigration, reflects Tory panic from the rise of Ukip in England, he said.

The omission of proposals on plain cigarette packaging was welcomed by the Scottish Grocers' Federation.

Its chief executive, John Drummond, said: "The coalition Government has taken a very common sense approach in dropping these measures from the Queen's Speech.

"The Scottish Government is in favour of introducing plain packaging but has stated that it would await the UK Government's decision before deciding on any legislative options for Scotland.

"We hope that the Scottish Government will now take an equally sensible approach and drop any plans for plain packaging."

But the British Medical Association said UK ministers should have taken Scotland's lead.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of council at the association, said: "A minimum unit price for alcohol would result in a decrease in thousands of alcohol-related deaths. It is tragic that the Government is not showing the courage of politicians in Scotland where a minimum unit price is due to be introduced.

"Ultimately taxpayers pay the price as the NHS picks up the bill for the damage to health and lives lost from tobacco and alcohol-related causes."

Andy Willox, Scottish policy convener at the Federation of Small Businesses, welcomed moves on National Insurance contributions as a "shot in the arm" for firms.

"However, the success of plans to change consumer protection law, and of any deregulation bill, will depend upon careful understanding of what the various proposals will mean in the real world," he said.

Questions were raised about how the immigration legislation would apply in Scotland.

Michael Clancy, director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland, said: "The Bill envisages a number of substantial changes to immigration law. It includes proposals to require private landlords to ensure their tenants are in the UK legally.

"This measure is likely to have a significant impact on private sector tenancies in Scotland. As housing is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, it will be interesting to see how this measure would be implemented in Scotland."

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), said: "The so-called reforms on immigration may turn out to be more bluster than action, nevertheless the continued scapegoating of migrants is a massive concern.

"While the precise details of this Bill are not yet available, initial commentary suggests that it is likely to introduce new rules which might sound tough but will be difficult to apply in practice and will raise significant questions about how they function in the context of devolution.

"The STUC is also concerned about introducing any approach which would place trade union members working in a range of sectors, including housing and healthcare, in a difficult position, requiring them to become proxy border officials, and ultimately changing the nature of the service they provide."

Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, said: "The UK coalition is dancing to a reactionary tune on immigration. They want to distract voters from their failure on the economy and their assault on the poor and the vulnerable.

"The priorities of Westminster seem a world away from the interests of most Scots. This speech signals the need to convince more Scots of the benefits of taking control of our own affairs."

PA Media

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