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We are finally getting down to business at Westminster. Two major bills are now in Committee stage and we have been putting down multiple amendments for each.
The SNP were the only party to vote against having a referendum on the EU. We said in our manifesto that we didn’t see any need for one and, as Alex Salmond pointed out in the debate usually (with PR, independence, etc) you only have a referendum when asking people to agree to a change. More than 80% of Scotland voted for parties opposed to having a referendum and polls consistently show that Sots as quite content with being part of Europe. In spite of our opposition the bill passed its second reading with the support of the Labour "opposition" and so we now move on to look at the detail.
We will be proposing an amendment to provide for a double majority before the UK can leave the EU – that is that there must be a majority vote in favour in each constituent country with the UK. This is to prevent a situation where Scotland could be taken out of the EU despite a large majority of the people here voting to stay in. The idea of a double majority is commonplace throughout the world where major constitutional changes are being proposed. In the US, for instance, the 14 least populous states can - and have - prevented the passage of a federal constitutional amendment.
We are also pressing for the widest possible franchise to allow everyone who lives here to vote. In particular, we are arguing that 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed the vote as they were in the indyref and as they will be in the Scottish general election next year. Labour support this and a few Tories have expressed support so there’s a chance we might win this. We are also pressing for EU nationals, many of whom have relocated here and built their families and lives here to be allowed to vote. This is a big concern locally with a lot of people contacting me appalled that they are being denied a vote.
The Scotland Bill passed its second reading (we put down a series of markers but did not vote against) and is also now being debated in detail in Committee (for these purposes the Committee constitutes the whole House of Commons). We have so far submitted several dozen amendments and there are more to come. All are designed to strengthen the Bill and make sure it implements the Smith Commission recommendations. These fall into the categories of entrenching the Scottish Parliament (as best you can with an unwritten constitution), removing the Secretary of State's veto in various areas, and improving the range of welfare powers.
We have also een bringing forward amendments to press for additional powers that go beyond Smith. Our argument is that the general election provided a clear and distinct mandate from the Scottish people that the Smith conclusions were not enough and they wanted to proceed towards a more home-rule style settlement, in the short term. Key amongst these is getting a full range of powers for the Scottish Parliament to control and develop Scotland’s economy. Full fiscal autonomy is the phrase often bandied about and we have sought precisely that. The word "full" is key. If we only get some powers, whilst others – which could contradict them – remain reserved, the situation could get worse. I was badly misquoted by the Prime Minister and others on this and set out my views in a recent article in the National.
We therefore argued and voted for the Scottish Government to have full fiscal autonomy– bizarrely Labour abstained - after six months of saying the policy would mean meltdown for Scotland they did not vote against the idea!</div
Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.