As Recess ends and MSPs return to Holyrood this week, I am reflecting on what was a momentous end to the year for Scottish politics.
In the middle of December last year, the Scottish Government announced its 2023/24 Budget. I was pleased to hear of the £20 million previously earmarked for the planned independence referendum was reallocated to extend the Scottish Government’s Fuel Insecurity Fund. Whilst it is frustrating that the people of Scotland will not get a referendum on Scottish Independence in 2023, as they voted for, I was glad to see those funds reallocated to a place they are sorely needed.
Despite Orkney’s significant renewable energy production and impressive developments in the renewable energy sector, folk across the islands continue to face some of the highest levels of fuel poverty in the country. The damage that is being done by UK energy policy is stark across the whole of Scotland, but particularly within our remote and island communities. The Scottish Government is recognising these significant challenges and doing all it can to mitigate the impacts of reckless Tory welfare decisions – but continues to work with one hand tied behind its back. Scotland can and will do better with the full powers of independence, allowing us to build a fairer energy policy that delivers for all – not just the wealthiest.
I was also pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Scottish Government’s new Winter Heating Payment during a Social Justice and Social Security Committee meeting. The new payment, which is paid automatically to those eligible, becomes the Scottish Government’s 13th social security benefit. It replaces the DWP’s Cold Weather Payment, which relied on temperature drops, a policy that failed to reflect the harsh realities for many in need.
Under the old system, areas across my region, including Kirkwall, barely met the criteria for payments, averaging around one payment per year, despite facing some of the harshest weather conditions in the country. The new payment, like Scotland’s 12 other benefits, has been developed on principles of fairness and reliability. I was pleased to learn that around 1,150 households across Orkney will receive the new payment, offering a degree of relief to the many that are enduring a particularly tough winter.
Scotland’s growing range of fair and compassionate benefits is a testament to the country we strive to be. Whilst the UK Government has repeatedly displayed its priority of delivering for the wealthiest in our society, Scotland remains focused on protecting and supporting our most vulnerable.
Households across the UK are now set to be £2,100 worse off by the end of this financial year according to a new report by the Resolution Foundation. This figure feels unsurprising after the economic turmoil of the past year, but we need not simply accept this reality. Scotland does not need to continue paying the price for Westminster Government failures. With the full powers of independence, Scotland will build a fairer future and leave behind this austerity-led governance that we never voted for.
The Resolution Foundation’s ‘The Living Standards Outlook 2023’ report can be found here: https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/the-living-standards-outlook-2023/
This is a regular column by SNP MSP Emma Roddick. All Highlands and Islands list MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.