Sunday 24th April 2016
David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland and Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale
Scottish politics has been accused of many things. However, being boring has never been one of them.
The last few years have been fascinating. Following the independence referendum and the delivery by the UK Government of a Scotland Bill, which makes Holyrood one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world, a new era is about to begin.
The politics of gripe, grudge and grievance, of conveniently being able to blame “Westminster” for failings closer to home, are over.
New powers over tax and welfare bring the ability to do things very differently, but they also bring new accountability and, I hope, a new maturity to the Scottish Parliament.
I believe the change will be so fundamental that I describe it as creating a “Holyrood 2.0”.
The difference between the legislature in which I served from 1999 to 2005, and the one which will be elected in this May’s Scottish elections, means it will be, in effect, a new Scottish Parliament.
As such, it will be responsible for key decisions affecting Scottish people at every stage of their lives.
Major new powers over tax, welfare and other matters will give added weight and effectiveness to those it already possesses.
However, they also bring a new responsibility – not just in terms of policymaking, but also on a more fundamental level. There is now an even greater imperative for political parties to be straight with the electorate about what they would do with those powers – and then, for those privileged enough to be elected as a government, to take responsibility for the policy choices they make.
For too long, Scottish Governments have been able to hide behind the limitations of their powers over tax and spend. Not for much longer. In a year or so, the buck will stop at Bute House, the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister.
That is why I believe it is vital that the political parties contesting May’s Holyrood elections are upfront with the voters. So far, there has been a welcome candour from the Scottish Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats about how they want to use control over income tax. Their competing visions give the electorate a clear choice.
But there has been a noticeable silence from the SNP, who have still to give us an indication of how they would use sweeping tax and spend powers to improve the lives of the people they would govern. Most impartial observers say that is simply not good enough.
During the referendum, the advocates of independence could not present a credible economic case. The latest figures show that Scotland’s fiscal position has declined in the months since the referendum. The economic case for independence was thin in 2014; now it is totally threadbare.
Voters were right in 2014 to demand what we have delivered: a Scottish Parliament which truly has the power to provide Scottish solutions to Scottish issues, within the security of the United Kingdom.
It will mean Ministers and MSPs will have to have the courage of their convictions; governments will live and die by the tax and spend decisions they make.
For the first time, in a long time, voters will go to the polls with the dominating issues being about how powers are used, rather than arguments about what they should be. That is a watershed in Scottish politics.
Holyrood has matured from a pocket money parliament to a powerhouse parliament; one where grudge and grievance can, at last, be replaced with good governance; and where “the buck stops here” takes over from the blame games of the past.