Maree Todd MSP

Maree Todd

Despite Orkney having the lowest support for devolution in the 1997 referendum – 57.3% against a national total of 73% – it has been of great benefit to the islands.

Back then, there was cross-party support for devolution; the Lib Dems, the SNP, Labour and the Greens all campaigned together, united in the belief that decisions should be made as close as possible to the people affected by them.

Those beyond party politics took a leading role, much like in the independence referendum. It was a clergyman, Canon Kenyon Wright who chaired the constitutional convention.

He knew that Westminster would try to block progress, but believed that the Scottish people were sovereign, and at their first meeting he famously remarked:

“What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’,? Well we say yes – and we are the people.”

Of course the Tories opposed it – but even many of those who campaigned for a no vote 20 years ago now believe that taking decisions in Scotland is a good thing.

A whole generation of Scots has now grown up with a Scottish Parliament – and because of devolution those young people have votes at 16 for Scottish elections, the Educational Maintenance Allowance, free university tuition and one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe.

And whether it’s effectively ending the Bedroom Tax, providing free personal care for the elderly or having the best performing A&Es in the UK, devolution has benefited people across Scottish society.

Having our own parliament allowed us to safeguard the founding principles of the NHS and take a different direction from England and Wales – moving away from marketization which has meant our NHS in Scotland is more joined up, less fragmented, and there is far less private sector involvement.

We have led the way with bold policies – like minimum pricing of alcohol which I sincerely hope will be enacted soon.

We have the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world – which supports a key industry in Orkney, despite the efforts of Westminster to undermine the renewable sector.

But we should always be restless in our ambition to make life better for the people who live here.  And the more powers our Parliament has, the more we can, collectively, do for Scotland.

The Programme for Government unveiled last week contained much for us to welcome – from lifting the public sector pay cap, to restricting the advertising of junk food, investing in active transport and the electrification of the newly dualled A9.

Over coming months, the Scottish Government will bring forward proposals for further devolution of powers over employment, social security, immigration and trade.

But the Tory Brexit plans threaten to undermine the very principle of devolution by reserving powers over areas such as agriculture, fishing and the environment as they return from Brussels.

That would be an unacceptable power grab – and we shouldn’t stand for it.

The is an opinion piece by Local MSP Maree Todd SNP a regular contributor to The Orkney News


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