Murphy vows further devolution

Published: Monday 2nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy will today claim that his party will go further than the package of devolution set out by the Smith Commission if it wins the general election.

Mr Murphy will be joined by Gordon Brown at an event in Edinburgh to outline Labour’s plans for delivering more powers to Holyrood.

The politicians will pledge to devolve a “wider power” to vary and top up welfare benefits, powers to create new benefits, “fully devolve housing benefit”, and devolve welfare to local communities.

The SNP described the promise as “absolutely farcical”, offering “nothing new”.

The cross-party Smith Commission – set up to deliver on the vow of more powers for Scotland made by the Westminster leaders during the independence referendum – published its report in November.

It said the Scottish Parliament should be given control over some benefits, excluding the new Universal Credit, alongside powers to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility.

Holyrood should also have new powers to make “discretionary payments” in any area of welfare, it said.

Mr Murphy says the promise to “go even further” than the vow is the second general election pledge from Scottish Labour, following a commitment to fund 1,000 extra NHS nurses in Scotland.

The proposals will be published in a “distinct Scottish manifesto” for the May election.

Mr Murphy is expected to say: “Every Scottish Labour MP elected stands on a promise to introduce a bill to implement the Smith Agreement within 100 days of the election.

“However delivering the vow is a starting point not an end point for Scottish Labour.”

He is expected to add: ” We will deliver on the vow and offer more than the vow: the security of the UK pension and benefits system plus the power for Scotland to top up UK benefits, and create new benefits of our own, because the Scottish parliament will have the fiscal strength to support this.”

Mr Brown, who spearheaded the timetable for more powers during the referendum campaign, is expected to add that Labour “will bring employment and welfare policy together with a positive vision for tackling the low skills, numeracy and literacy problems that hold back adults trapped in long term unemployment”.

“In particular we would seek to end youth unemployment in Scotland with a guarantee that every young person will be in a job, in an apprenticeship or in college,” he will say.

“We will fully devolve the housing benefit. A massive £1.8 billion in housing benefit is spent in Scotland every year. This is a huge sum that should be used not to indefinitely subsidise the private rented sector but to invest in new housing in Scotland.”

SNP depute leader Stewart Hosie said: “This is absolutely farcical from Labour.

“Having claimed authorship of the vow, declared it delivered and called for everyone to move on from the debate they are now admitting that what is on offer is woefully inadequate and scrambling around trying to make it sound more substantial.

“But they are ‘offering’ nothing now that they haven’t previously said was already being delivered through the Smith proposals.”

He added: “The SNP has consistently argued for devolution of the minimum wage, along with all working age benefits and employment programmes – and if Labour truly wanted progress, they would back our calls. But they refuse.

“And now the sheer panic setting in at the heart of Scottish Labour is palpable.”

Published: Monday 2nd February 2015 by The News Editor

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