Scotland's Constitutional Future
This paper summarises your consideration of constitutional issues. This includes the discussions you have had on where power lies to take decisions for and about Scotland. You have covered wider issues as well, discussing how political debate is conducted and how citizens are provided with information. Further evidence on citizen participation and information sharing will be provided in one of the forthcoming Assembly sessions.
How have you explored constitutional issues?
At the outset of the Assembly the Conveners acknowledged the importance of constitutional issues to the future of Scotland and the need for informed and respectful discussion given the very different views in the country. The Assembly recruitment process was designed to ensure that a range of views was fully reflected in the Assembly membership.
The Assembly has not been asked to identify a preferred constitutional outcome for the country, for example, whether the country should be independent or what our future relationship should be with the EU. Therefore the pros and cons of those options have not been covered and the main evidence has provided general background on the current constitutional settlement and associated issues and developments.
The Assembly remit does ask you to consider constitutional aspects of the key challenges you discuss. Evidence on the distribution of powers has therefore been presented on the issues of sustainability and finances and taxation. In the time available so far it has not been possible for you to discuss these arrangements in depth.
Over the course of your deliberations you have shared a range of ambitions and concerns about constitutional matters. In weekend 2 some of these were written into the statements you prepared on a vision for the future of the country and these statements therefore provide an insight into the breadth and diversity of views that were important to you at that point in time. A separate summary paper on vision provides more information and links to the relevant Assembly materials.
You have approached all of these discussions in a positive and constructive way, which is not an easy thing to do. That shows trust in the strong relationships you have built and that, where there is a will to do so, it is possible to talk about complex and contentious issues in a way that respects different and strongly held views. This approach and connecting to find common ground to move forward together is at the heart of the Assembly and what it can achieve.
What evidence have you taken and what issues did you consider?
In weekend 1 evidence was presented on Scotland’s current constitutional arrangements and how these arrangements might change in the future, including as a result of leaving the EU. The presentation covered the powers of the Scottish institutions (devolved) and the responsibilities of UK (reserved) and EU institutions. It covered how decisions about constitutional change have been taken through referendums, commissions and legislation. Some of the broad constitutional options and issues were set out. You asked a wide range of questions in order to better understand the main constitutional concepts and definitions. You were keen to have more information about some of the more controversial issues, including the impact of leaving the EU and Scotland’s finances.
The materials from weekend 1, including a range of follow up factsheets can be seen here
Weekend 3 included a follow up session on constitutional issues following the General Election. This mainly focussed on the next steps on Brexit and the positions of the main parties on an independence referendum in Scotland. Your discussion covered the complexity of the legal and constitutional situation, especially in light of Brexit and you noted that you felt better informed as a result of the session. You also met with a politicians’ panel and discussed key issues for the future of the country and how political debate is conducted.
These sessions stimulated wider discussion about how well informed citizens are about political issues and the need for better information to be provided in order for them to make decisions. You identified the need to improve the quality of political debate, to have more honesty in discussions and to rebuild trust and ensure accountability in politics.
In weekends 3 and 4 evidence was presented on constitutional aspects of building a sustainable Scotland and on Scotland’s finances and taxation. You learned about government revenues and expenditure in Scotland and some of the issues that come up in discussions of public finances and constitutional change, including how finances are managed and accounted for and borrowing and deficits. You discussed some of the opportunities and choices that are said to arise in different constitutional scenarios. You learned about the theory and practice of taxation and the tax powers of the Scottish and UK Governments.
You began to explore areas for action to respond to the challenges that we face and to learn about where powers lie to take decisions in these areas. You have not yet developed conclusions and recommendations or considered what the constitutional implications of these might be, including, for example, to promote changes to responsibilities, to encourage institutions work together and how citizens are involved in decision-making.
You discussed ideas to support the delivery of a greener Scotland and learned that some important powers, such as climate change policy and many elements of wider environmental policy and regulation are devolved and other important powers, such as energy policy and regulation, are reserved. You were interested in how taxation can be used to encourage businesses to be greener and learned that there are devolved powers, for example, over Business Rates, that can be used to support this. You heard about the importance of international collaboration, including EU activity, to tackle climate change.
Promoting fairness and equality has been an important underlying theme in your consideration of the kind of country we are seeking to build and how we tackle the challenges we face. You began to explore policy action to support what you thought could lead to fairer work. You learned that many important powers in these areas, for example covering employment law and issues like zero hours contracts and the minimum wage require UK-wide action and that some action is already taken directly in Scotland, for example, investment in skills and using public procurement processes to encourage the payment of a living wage.
You learned about different kinds of taxation and began to explore different ideas about ‘fairer taxes’. You learned that tax powers on land, resources and property are devolved, and taxes on incomes, expenditure and profits, including National Insurance, VAT, corporation and inheritance tax are reserved. You learned that additional powers to adjust the rate of income tax and aspects of social security have recently been devolved.
You noted the complexity of the tax system and the difficulty for citizens in making informed decisions. You began to explore the idea of an independent review of the Scottish tax system to ensure a simplified and more transparent system and potential role for a Citizens Assembly in that process. You noted that any proposals that would involve changes to UK taxes would require the involvement of the UK Government.
The materials from weekend 3 and 4 can be seen here.
This paper summarises the evidence and discussion on constitutional issues that have featured in the Assembly to date. You have learned about the current settlement and some of the main issues in the constitutional debate. You have begun to explore constitutional aspects of the challenges you have discussed. The quality of political debate and need for better information to be provided to citizens to enable them to take decisions have emerged as important issues. You have noted the complexity of many of the issues that you have been discussing and the difficult choices that may have to be made.
Over the course of the next meetings of the Assembly you will be building on all of your work so far to decide your vision for the future of Scotland and your priorities for tacking the challenges facing the country.
Your conclusions will be a powerful voice on the future of the country and the Secretariat hope that this and the other summary papers are a useful reminder of the work you have done and will assist you as you work together to agree your final conclusions.