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The Scotland Bill Is a Real Opportunity for Scotland - It Should Be Grasped With Both Hands

02/09/2015 15:00 BST | Updated 02/09/2016 10:59 BST

Yesterday, the SNP unveiled the Scottish Government's final Legislative Programme ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections next May. There are measures which Labour supports, but this is a programme for Government more notable for what is not in it than what is.

The Scottish Parliament has never been so powerful and that means Nicola Sturgeon is the most powerful First Minister Scotland has ever had. She has built a reputation across the UK that gives her a national platform which affords her a mandate to use those powers, which will be even greater once the Scotland Bill completes its passage through Parliament.

The Scottish Government have been quick to criticise the Scotland Bill as "limited". Fair enough: while I would disagree that the Bill is "limited" (this, after all, constitutes the biggest transfer of power to Scotland since Labour established the Scottish Parliament in 1999), I also want to see it go much further.

However, the difference between Labour's approach, and that of the SNP, is that I have identified where I believe the Bill to be deficient, and tabled amendments to improve the Bill. To date, Labour has tabled over eighty amendments, including more on social security than any other party. I see the Scotland Bill as a real opportunity for Scotland that should be grasped with both hands.

In stark contrast, the SNP Government's criticisms of the Scotland Bill essentially amount to a pick and mix selection of powers which they say they want, but not why they want them or what they would do with them if they had them. Rather than working, as I am, to make this Bill the best it can be, they are desperate to be disappointed in order to fuel their endless narrative of grievance.

They also consistently play down the extent of the powers that are coming to Scotland. They claim that the Bill will only see the Scottish Government raise 36% of devolved expenditure, wilfully ignoring the fact that 50% of Scottish VAT receipts are also being assigned to Scotland, which means that around half of devolved expenditure will be raised by the Scottish Government.

Alarmingly, the Scottish Government continue to reiterate their demand for Full Fiscal Autonomy, despite overwhelming evidence that this would leave Scotland worse off to the tune of around £7.6 billion; evidence, incidentally, reinforced by their own Oil and Gas Analytical Bulletin and their own annual accounts..

Labour's approach to the Bill has been more sensible and more decisive. We know we want Scotland to be able to create its own social security system, so we have tried to change the Bill to make that happen, and we've extracted concessions from the Government already to ensure that UK Ministers will not be able to interfere with decisions made by Scottish Ministers on social security.

I want to ensure that the Scottish Government has the power to mitigate the worst excesses of the UK Government's punitive sanctions regime, something that the Bill as it stands explicitly restricts. So I have tabled amendments to the Bill that will allow the Scottish Government to make top-up payments to individuals who have been sanctioned. I hope and expect the SNP to support these amendments when we debate the Bill at its Report Stage.

In the final analysis, even without amendments, the Scotland Bill transfers considerable new constitutional, territorial, fiscal, legislative and welfare powers to Scotland. But I want to ensure that the "vow" is delivered in full, in both spirit and substance. And I want it to go further by allowing the Scottish Parliament to design a new Scottish social security system.

Soon we are going to have to stop talking about the process of the Scotland Bill and get on to talking about what we would do with these new powers. Yesterday, the centrepiece of Nicola Sturgeon's Programme for Government were education measures she could have implemented at any time over the past eight years, with the powers the Parliament already has.

What is required now are the ideas, the courage, and the political will to deploy the new powers being transferred to the Scottish Parliament for positive and progressive ends. We cannot afford to prolong the artificial politics of grievance, which only undermines what should be seen as a major opportunity for the Scottish people.

This SNP Government has been in power for nearly eight years. In a historic political context that is an incredibly long time. They have achieved little and are now promising less. Let the new powers coming in the Scotland Bill be welcomed and utilised for the benefit of everyone. That's a prize worth grasping with both hands, and as the shadow secretary of state for Scotland I will be focussing on ensuring we get these powers and more delivered for the benefit of the Scottish people.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South and Shadow Scottish Secretary