We launched the My Scottish Affairs inquiry to discover what issues the people of Scotland think we should investigate in this Parliament. These ideas will inspire our future work.
"I want the Committee to engage directly and regularly with the people of Scotland. The My Scottish Affairs inquiry is your opportunity to tell us what issues you think we should be investigating, why they matter and who they impact." – Pete Wishart MP, Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee
We received 113 Twitter submissions. Your most frequently talked about issues were:
1. Economic data. Specifically the GERs (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland), a set of data which outlines Scotland's public finances.
2. Scottish Broadcasting. Media reporting, coverage of Scottish sport and the licence fee.
3. Brexit. Devolution, the UK single market and impact of Brexit on rural areas.
4. The Work of the Scotland Office, including spending by the Scotland Office.
We heard from 12 different organisations:
Many individuals we spoke to suggested that the Committee should scrutinise issues related to the Scottish economy.
The Government launched a consultation on a new industrial strategy at the beginning of 2017, and have just published a new industrial strategy for the UK. It aims to address long-term challenges to the UK economy, improving living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth across the whole country. Universities Scotland highlighted the potential opportunities the industrial strategy offered to Scotland but told us that to maximise these benefits the UK Government and the Scottish Government needed to work together. They saw a role for the Scottish Affairs Committee in ensuring this happens.
In their written evidence, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) had similar priorities: "businesses across Scotland want to know how a UK Government Industrial Strategy can work in conjunction with the Scottish Government's existing Economic Strategy."
Brexit and trade
The Committee also heard from organisations about the impact of Brexit on trade. In their written evidence, the CBI said that they saw trade as a "huge opportunity for the Scottish economy" and emphasised that future policy must take into account the strengths and needs of all the nations in the UK. The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) were concerned about the reduction of access to wider global markets which means that the UK will no longer benefit from the EU’s Free Trade Agreements (FTA).
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) noted that a sixth of small businesses in Scotland currently export. While some trade with both EU and non-EU markets, a significant minority trade exclusively with the EU due to the ease, low-cost and high value of trade with other EU countries. They recommended that the UK Government prioritise securing trade deals with Europe and other English-speaking countries.
Trade was also a priority for the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), who wanted “frictionless and barrier-free trade with the EU” to protect the origins of UK and Scottish products and said that any trade agreement must “account for different sectors of agriculture.”
Government Expenditure and Revenue Report (GERs)
More than one in ten of our Twitter submissions focused on GERs, which provides information on how much public revenue is generated in Scotland and how much is spent by the public sector in Scotland. This data set is compiled by the Scotland Office in Westminster. Respondents wanted to see improvements in how the data for GERs was collected and presented.
Many people told us that employment conditions, pay and access to employment were important issues for Scotland.
Although unemployment is low in Scotland (4.0% compared to 4.3% in the UK), the STUC raised concerns that wages have not increased with jobs. They were “concerned about the rise of low-quality employment, the change to the economy, the rise of the gig economy and what that does to workers and the precarious nature of work.”
The Scottish Women’s Convention raised the issue of zero hours contracts in their written evidence: “these exploitative working conditions are anything but flexible, and instead create uncertainty and, in many cases, poverty”.
The FSB have told us that although 90% of their members do not use zero hours contracts, they can be a way of offering flexible working arrangements for older people, students, parents and those hoping to get back into work.
At the public meeting in Selkirk, attendees told us that sustainable jobs were a big issue in rural Scotland. Young people said that there is a lack of opportunities in the Borders after they get qualifications at college or university, and this leads to skills shortages because people tend to move away.
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have drawn attention to the pay gaps in Scotland, reporting that women are paid 15% less than men, ethnic minorities are paid 5.7% less than white people and disabled people are paid 13.6% less than non-disabled people.
The Scottish Women’s Convention argue that “the pay gap exists because of women’s inequality in the workplace”. They told us that women are more likely to be in low-skilled, low-grade jobs, “which only exacerbates the pay gap”.
YouthLink were worried about young people’s pay, arguing that the age limits on the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage were unfair as they led to “young people doing the same work but receiving less for their hourly rate”.
Disability Agenda Scotland spoke to us about the disability employment gap, which is an issue where the Scottish and UK Governments share responsibility. DAS suggested that they need to introduce “clear action and targets” and “greater investment in employment programmes” to improve employment amongst people with disabilities.
The Committee is exploring a number of these issues, particularly around zero hours contracts and the gig economy, as part of its current inquiry into Sustainable Employment in Scotland.
Immigration was a key priority for many people we spoke to – particularly how the current immigration framework works for Scotland and what impact Brexit might have.
The Scottish economy relies on inward migration. Historically, Scotland has been a country of net out-migration, but more recently this trend has been reversed by more people moving to Scotland from outside the UK. At our session in Edinburgh, Universities Scotland, the Federation of Small Businesses and the STUC all suggested that the Committee explore how the current immigration framework could be adapted in the future to suit Scotland’s needs.
Brexit has raised a lot of questions about immigration. There are 181,000 EU nationals living in Scotland. Currently, EU citizens can live and work in any EU nation; the UK Government has committed to safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.
Members of the public in Inverness talked to us about a “feeling of uncertainty” for current EU nationals living in Scotland about their rights and ability to remain. In Edinburgh, the STUC told us: “we think that it is important through the process of Brexit that clarity is given to EU workers about their future status”.
The Committee heard from representatives of the agriculture, fisheries and higher education sectors, as well as small businesses, who rely on EU workers. In the face of skills shortages, they want the Committee to investigate how future immigration policy could suit Scotland’s needs.
Universities Scotland said: “the free-flow of people and ideas across boundaries is just life blood for universities. […] We should look creatively at the opportunities for doing things a bit differently in Scotland.” They suggested that the Committee look at how the current status of staff, students and workers could be protected.
In their written evidence, the CBI said that "ensuring a post-Brexit UK immigration system is flexible enough to meet Scotland’s needs is key and considering how this can be achieved should be a priority for the Scottish Affairs Committee."
BEMIS (Black and Ethnic Minorities Infrastructure in Scotland) were keen to highlight that Scotland has a different demographic make-up to the rest of the UK, and this should be considered in Brexit negotiations.
The Committee has recently launched its Immigration and Scotland inquiry, which is looking at how well the UK immigration system meets Scotland’s needs.
We spoke to people who represent agriculture and fisheries in Scotland to see how their work would be affected by Brexit. Brexit was one of our top 3 most talked about topics on Twitter.
Although the Scottish Government administers agricultural and fisheries policy in Scotland, currently the overall policy framework is set by the European Union. This has raised questions about whether responsibility will lie with the UK or Scottish Parliament when the UK officially leaves the EU. Under the EU (Withdrawal) Bill currently being debated by Parliament, responsibility in these areas will initially go to the UK Parliament and then it will be decided what powers will be devolved on to the Scottish Parliament.
There are a number of common policy frameworks which operate across the UK as a result of an EU wide policy, including the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy. When the UK leaves the EU it will need to be decided what to replace these frameworks with and whether this will be done on a UK-wide basis.
The organisations we spoke to focused on two main policies:
- The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a subsidy and regulatory regime which provides income support to farmers. CAP also provides support to maintain the prices that farmers are paid for their produce.
- European fisheries are managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP is a set of rules for managing European fishing fleets and for conserving fish stocks.
The National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) and Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) were both keen to protect Scottish interests in the context of a wider UK framework.
The SFF told the Committee they wanted to ensure: “that the Scottish voice is heard properly for the fishing stocks where it dominates, but within a UK context because there is a real value in having a UK heft in international negotiations”.
The NFUS want to replace the CAP with an agricultural support policy that can be adapted to fit Scotland’s needs. There are also areas of EU regulation which they feel can be changed “to benefit the environment and productivity in better ways”.
The experience of rural communities in Scotland was a key focus for many people, particularly around broadband coverage and postal delivery. At the events in Inverness and Selkirk, members of the public were keen to highlight that different rural communities have different needs.
While broadband coverage in Scotland has improved in recent years, progress in delivering superfast broadband has lagged behind the rest of the UK. The latest figures from Think Broadband show that 92.3% of Scotland has access to superfast broadband compared to 94% UK-wide.
Scotland’s rural geography presents particular challenges to broadband delivery with 6 out of 32 council areas in Scotland not yet achieving 85% superfast broadband coverage. These council areas are in the most rural areas of Scotland, including the Highlands and Islands.
Small businesses are particularly affected; one small business owner from the Borders told the Committee: “I run a small business from home and rely heavily on the internet. My productivity is hampered significantly by breaks in the connection and by slow speeds.”
Broadband was also a priority for members of the public in Inverness. They told us that rural communities are held back by poor connection speeds, and that being unable to access public services online can make people feel isolated.
Law Society of Scotland has said: “We are also concerned about wider social questions around inclusion where so many aspects of daily life rely upon internet access… there are many areas of life where online access is a necessity and some services – e.g. online banking – can in fact be more crucial to those in more remote communities.”
A number of people also drew the Committee’s attention to postal delivery charges in rural areas. Citizen’s Advice Scotland have found that consumers who live in rural Scotland and shop online can find that they have to pay extra for delivery: "our recent research has found that consumers in the Highlands and Islands face average delivery charges 32% higher than consumers in other rural and island areas of Britain”
Members of the public in Inverness complained of “hidden” delivery charges for rural areas and social media users added that some private companies were “refusing to address the issue”.
A number of groups spoke to the Committee about benefits and social security powers during this inquiry.
The UK and Scottish Governments share responsibility for social security powers; the Scotland Act 2016 gave the Scottish Government new powers which are in the process of being devolved. Citizens’ Advice Scotland suggested that the Committee could look at “joint working arrangements between the UK and Scottish Governments to facilitate those powers being used” so that there are no “gaps left in the shared space that is social security”.
Disability Agenda Scotland suggested that the Committee could investigate Personal Independence Payments, a benefit that helps with the extra costs of long-term health conditions or disabilities. They were concerned that many disabled people are losing out on support.
Both the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations and Citizens Advice Scotland raised concerns about the way Universal Credit was being implemented in Scotland, whilst supporting its overall aim of creating a simpler benefits system by combining six different benefits into a single payment. Citizens Advice Scotland have reported that since the rollout of Universal Credit started they have seen:
- A 15% rise in rent arrears issues compared to a national decrease of 2%
- A 87% increase in Crisis Grant issues compared to a national increase of 9%
Inverness was a pilot area for Universal Credit implementation. At the open event, members of the public reported issues with the roll-out, with many saying people were in rent arrears as a result. They suggested the Committee could consider exploring Universal Credit in its future work.
Many people spoke to us about how the UK Government and Scottish Government work together on issues which cut across reserved and devolved policy areas. They saw a role for the Scottish Affairs Committee is exploring this.
This was an important issue for people who live in the Scottish Borders. We heard from people in Selkirk who said that they wanted to see the UK Government, Scottish Government and local councils working together on projects which support local communities.
Funding for Scotland
People suggested that the two governments could work together on how funding is allocated in Scotland. Currently, funding is based on the Barnett formula. When the UK Government increases or decreases funding for departments - such as health and education in England - the Barnett formula is used to decide how much devolved governments will receive, based on population size and which powers are devolved to them.
Participants in Selkirk told us that they felt they hadn’t benefited from investment in areas such as transport when funding was increased in England. This is because when there is higher spending in England, the Scottish Government decides how to spend the additional funding it receives. Some people in Selkirk wanted to explore a system where this additional funding had to be spent in the same areas as the areas that had received more funding in England.
We also heard from young people who suggested that the Committee could explore introducing votes for 16 to 17 year olds throughout the UK. In Scotland, people can vote in local elections and elections to the Scottish Parliament at 16 and elections to the UK and European Parliaments at 18. They believed that this encouraged greater youth engagement in politics.
In their written evidence, YouthLink Scotland said that after Scotland extended the vote in 2015, “89% of all 16 to 17 year olds resident in Scotland registered to vote and 75% voted”. They raised concerns that this same group could not vote in the EU referendum, arguing that voting at 16 should be right for all young people.