Scotland cannot stay on pause in 2014

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It’s now less than 9 months until Scotland makes the huge decision of whether to remain part of the United Kingdom.

I believe Scotland has the best of both worlds with a Scottish Parliament within the wider UK economy. I just wish the SNP would treat Parliament with more respect.

In 2013 Holyrood debated matters such as Scotland’s census, the fact that it was a year till the Ryder Cup and St Andrew’s day.

These are all good things, but these debates came at the expense of Parliamentary time being dedicated to real issues which matter to the people of Scotland, like how public money is spent, or housing.

Scotland is facing its worst housing crisis since the Second World War. It is the biggest issue every week at my surgeries. Yet last year, whilst preparing a Labour-led debate on housing, I was shocked to find that the Housing Minister, Margaret Burgess, had not led a debate on the matter in her 15 months in post. When challenged on this she stated that she didn’t believe that speaking to opposition parties was as important as meeting external agencies.

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The chamber in the Scottish Parliament sits on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.  I am sure with effective time management our Housing Minister could meet with stakeholders regularly, as well as show up to Parliament every now and again.

It was also left to Scottish Labour to scrutinise the botched sale of land bought for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. The project would have linked the airport to Scotland’s biggest city but was cancelled by the SNP in 2009. The land purchased for the project was then sold  at huge losses – in one case a plot was bought for £840,000, only to be sold back to the original owner for £50,000.

The SNP decided the fact that over £30 million had been wasted in killing off a project which would have brought business and economic benefits to Scotland  was not worthy as so much as a Ministerial Statement. We are still no further forward in knowing who authorised the sales.

But again and again the issues facing Scotland now are not given chamber time. In late 2013 the Scottish Government announced plans to acquire the failing Prestwick Airport.  When I questioned Transport Minister Keith Brown on the matter he bizarrely pivoted to the SNP’s plan to abolish Air Passenger Duty in an Independent Scotland.

This is a policy set out in the White Paper, a state funded manifesto for independence rather than an honest appraisal of the economic challenges separating Scotland from the rest of the UK would pose.

The headline policy of the White Paper was a proposed “revolution” in child-care. Childcare is already devolved. Action could, and should, be taken by the Scottish Parliament today. So too, could action on the bedroom tax.

Scottish Labour has proposed legislation to protect vulnerable tenants from the bedroom tax, by amending devolved Housing legislation.

However, rather than improving childcare and legislating for the bedroom tax now,  vulnerable scots and young families are told to vote for independence instead.

The message is clear from the SNP – they don’t care about using the powers of devolution, they don’t care about helping the people of Scotland now if it potentially hurts their chances of breaking up Britain. The results of two recent by-elections in Scotland however – Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath – show that Scots want their politicians  to focus on the issues that matter.

This cannot go on. Scotland cannot remain on pause until the late autumn.  Holyrood should be debating the real issues effecting people in Scotland, and its powers should be used to effect positive change. The SNP don’t want to do either, and in a year when the spotlight will be on Scottish political discourse like never before, that is a great shame. Scotland deserves better.

James Kelly is the MSP for Rutherglen and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities

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