Scotland

Politicians 'are obsessed with constitutional change'

Image caption The think tank says politicians at Holyrood have been "obsessed" with constitutional change

Politicians have "neglected" Scotland's problems due to an "obsession" with constitutional change, according to a right-wing think tank.

Policy Exchange has published a report called Devolution Distraction.

It argues Holyrood has presided over a "decline" in education and health since devolution in 1999.

The report states "deep-seated social and economic problems" were ignored while the economy "languished" behind the rest of the UK.

MSPs and MPs continue to debate the extension of powers to Holyrood.

Unionist parties set up the Calman commission, which recommended more tax powers.

Its proposals are under consideration by the UK coalition government at the moment, with a Westminster bill due in the Autumn.

The SNP wants full financial control for Scotland, leading ultimately to independence.

The Policy Exchange report argues that an obsession with the constitution leads to "bad government".

It says: "In response to a mix of different motives, the Scottish political establishment is deeply conservative in its attitude to reform.

"Only on constitutional matters is there any drive for change. Yet the problems Scotland faces are political in nature, not constitutional.

"If the huge increase in 'accountability' that took place with devolution in 1999 did not improve matters, there is no reason to suppose that further constitutional change will help. Scotland, in fact, already has the powers it needs to undertake radical reforms."

The report also accuses political parties of having their own reasons to avoid "meaningful reform".

It states pro-devolution parties, such as Labour, want to insulate Scotland from UK government reforms.

Conservatives, who initially opposed devolution, now want to avoid rocking the boat by suggesting a new approach.

Nationalists can strengthen the case for constitutional reform by avoiding economic or social reform, the report added.

The author called on politicians to hold a "generational truce" on constitutional matters, with more focus directed at schools, health, planning reform and existing tax powers.

In response to the report, Conservative finance spokesman Derek Brownlee said the parties of government, not the process of devolution, were to blame for failures.

He added: "However, it is the design of the current devolution settlement, and in particular the lack of financial accountability, which has made it possible for successive Scottish governments to delay reform.

"More financial powers than at present are not on their own the answer to Scotland's problems, but they are a necessary part of changing the political culture in Scotland."

Labour's constitutional affairs spokeswoman, Pauline McNeil MSP, said: "Alex Salmond has explicitly said that his number one priority is independence, not the interests of the Scottish people.

Ms McNeil added Labour is committed to delivering greater responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament, as set out in the Calman Commission.

A spokesperson for First Minister Alex Salmond said: "Scotland is demonstrably a far better nation, economy and society with a Parliament compared to the days of remote control from London.

He said all political parties agreed that the Scottish Parliament could achieve more on behalf of the people with more responsibilities.

"Scotland needs the powers of financial responsibility so that we can boost growth in the Scottish economy - generating higher tax receipts to invest in the public services we all value - as the only alternative to the entirely dismal prospects from Westminster.

"That is the real debate in Scotland - and that is why the centre of gravity in Scottish politics continues to shift towards independence."

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