Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day have held particular poignancy this year as 2014 marks 100 years from the start of the First World War, 70 years since the D-Day landings, as well as being the year that the conflict in Afghanistan has ended .
I spent Remembrance Sunday in Tarland this year, where I laid a wreath, accompanied by Ross Forbes, who currently serves as a Marine with the 45 Zulu Company, Robert Earnest, who I believe is the oldest surviving veteran from Tarland, and Jock Hutcheson, the founder of Horseback UK. It was a privilege to spend time with both past and present generations of servicemen. It is important that we continue to recognise the sacrifice made by servicemen and women throughout the generations in the name of our country.
The long list of voices calling for Scotland to gain responsibility for welfare policies has increased recently as organisation after organisation submitted recommendations to the Smith Commission. With numerous organisations lining up in support of Scotland gaining responsibility for welfare policy, the case for change is overwhelming. In all, 65 organisations have submitted calls to the Smith Commission in favour of devolving welfare powers to Scotland. They include the Poverty Alliance who have argued that “all welfare powers that are best delivered in Scotland should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament”. The SCVO made a similar call, stating that they “seek the full devolution of welfare – excluding pensions. We consider that the interrelated nature of welfare with employability and other public services such as care means that should only be devolved in its entirety.” Meanwhile Scotland’s social landlord sector called for Scotland to have full powers over welfare along with the “full fiscal and tax powers needed to fund the system.”
Westminster decisions on welfare have been devastating to communities across Scotland, with policies like the Bedroom Tax showing just how out of touch Westminster politicians are with the needs of people in Scotland.
Westminster has failed when it comes to meeting the priorities of people in Scotland. There is a clear recognition that Scotland needs substantial powers over welfare and taxation if we are to address the major problems that affect too many people in Scotland, and it is long past time that Scotland had the opportunity to set our own course.
The financial press has revealed that Westminster’s austerity cuts are set to be double what has previously been stated and have underlined the need for Scotland to gain key financial powers. The financial press makes it clear that while David Cameron and George Osborne have previously revealed plans for £25 billion in austerity cuts during the next Westminster parliament, the actual figure required to meet George Osborne’s 2019 borrowing targets would be £48 billion. The austerity agenda that has been pursued at Westminster has already had a devastating effect on communities across Scotland, and the prospect of a further £48 billion of cuts to come will fill people with dread.
The vastly increased figure is because the Westminster Government has omitted 2015/16 and 2018/ 19 from their estimated figure and ignored the impact of increasing pension costs. The Westminster Government is guilty of either incompetence or being deliberately dishonest with people by trying to hide the scale of the cuts that their plans entail.
After years of Westminster cuts that have stifled growth and undermined public services, it is clear that it is time Scotland had the financial powers we need to grow our economy and end the damaging Tory/Labour obsession with austerity. This weekend will see the Scottish National Party host our Autumn Conference in Perth. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP will be elected unopposed as the First Minister following Alex Salmond’s decision to step down.
We will also be electing our new Deputy First Minister from three fantastic candidates.