The more decisions about Scotland that are being taken in Scotland – and the fewer taken by the Tories in Westminster – the better.
As the new financial year begins this week, many new powers are coming into effect – so this feels like a timely opportunity to outline how we are putting some of these powers to very good use.
Let’s look at Income Tax. We’re using the new powers to make it fairer – protecting people on low incomes while rejecting the tax cut for higher earners that the Tories are implementing down south.
This will also raise over £100 million in additional revenue for our public services. We’ve decided to allocate this directly to headteachers in our schools, to spend how they see fit.
Then there is support for people seeking employment. Employment Minister Jamie Hepburn will announce today that we’re going to chart a very different course with new powers over how we support people looking for work.
Of the many things that I’ve criticised the Tory government for, their treatment of sick and disabled people is one of the biggest.
From today, two transitional services – Work First Scotland and Work Able Scotland – will deliver this support. The fully devolved service, Fair Start Scotland, will begin operating next year.
But straight away, service users will notice a difference.
No longer will people with health conditions and disabilities seeking help to find a job face the threat of sanctions from the DWP if they are using our services.
They will be voluntary – and as with the new social security system we’re building, they will have fairness, dignity and respect as their guiding principles.
As many as 4,800 people with health conditions and disabilities are expected to receive help this year.
These are powers which many people campaigned to have devolved to the Scottish Parliament – and as you can see, we are immediately using them to make a difference.
Housing support for young people
There are also changes coming into effect elsewhere in the UK which, thanks to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, we can protect people from in Scotland.
From this week, 18-21 year olds south of the border on Universal Credit will lose their entitlement to housing benefit – a measure which will push up homelessness among that age group and is causing huge concern among charities.
We will use our Scottish Welfare Fund to ensure that young people in Scotland can still access vital financial support for their housing costs.
We’re already spending over £100 million a year mitigating some of the worst of the Tory welfare policies such as the Bedroom Tax.
But I don’t just want the Scottish Parliament to act as a sticking plaster for damaging policies introduced elsewhere. I know that we can take much better decisions in Scotland about things which, as you can see, have a real impact on people’s lives.
Many more decisions are now being made in Scotland – and that is a good thing.
However, too many powers still lie with Westminster – with a risk of Brexit being used as cover to centralise even more.
So over the next few years, as the debate about where powers lie continues, don’t let anyone tell you that an even more powerful Scottish parliament is not worth fighting for.