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by Louise Wilson
18 June 2024
Anas Sarwar: Devolution ‘squandered’ by SNP and Conservative governments

Anas Sarwar launched Scottish Labour's manifesto at Murrayfield in Edinburgh | Alamy

Anas Sarwar: Devolution ‘squandered’ by SNP and Conservative governments

Anas Sarwar has said the opportunities of devolution have been “squandered” due to the attitudes of both the SNP Scottish Government and Conservative UK Government.

The Scottish Labour leader, speaking at the launch of his party’s general election manifesto, said a Keir Starmer government would seek to “reset” devolution and reach out to Scottish counterparts when it was in the “national interest” to do so.

The manifesto, while largely focused on Westminster, also seeks to set out how the party intends to approach the next Holyrood election in 2026.

Sarwar ruled out raising the Scottish rate of income tax if his party were to enter Scottish Government in two years’ time.

And he came under pressure for the manifesto not committing to scrap the two-child cap on benefits, something he has previously campaign against.

The manifesto sets out six “first steps” for an incoming Labour government, should the party win the general election on 4 July.

These are delivering economic stability, cutting NHS waiting times, setting up Great British Energy, delivering the New Deal for Working People, creating jobs, and boosting Scotland’s influence on the global stage.

Sarwar said the election was a “key moment in our nation’s history” and accused his political opponents of having “promised the world, delivered nothing, and broken trust in our politics”.

Asked about comments made by Tony Blair in a recent interview with Holyrood, in which the former Labour prime minister said devolution had worked because “Scotland is still part of the UK”, Sarwar said devolution had “undoubtedly” been a success because it “brought power closer to home”.

But he added: “On the 25th anniversary of devolution, I think we have to be honest to say that we haven't maximised the opportunities of devolution.

“Too many opportunities of devolution have been squandered, in particular over the last 14 years where you've had two governments that have wanted to use devolution as a battering ram to pick fights with each other and ultimately fail Scotland.

“That's why under the UK Labour government we will reset devolution to get back to its founding principle, where two governments are willing to work together when it's in the national interest rather than using it as a way of dividing Scotland.”

One example of where the two governments could work positively together, he said, was migration. He said the migration system needed to be linked to different skills needs in different parts of the country, and he accused the Conservatives of having “lost control”.

The Scottish Labour leader was also questioned on the two-child cap. He said it remained an ambition to see the policy scrapped, but added his party had  to be “honest” that it would “not be able to do everything we want to do” immediately because of the economic backdrop.

He insisted fighting poverty was “in the Labour Party’s DNA” and went on to criticise the Scottish Government’sdecision to raise income tax for those earning more than £29,000. He said: “John Swinney needs to look voters in the eye and explain why they should pay more tax.”

Labour instead backs increasing and extending the windfall tax on oil and gas companies to pay for some of its key campaign pledges, as well as closing non-dom loopholes and ending private schools’ exemption for VAT.

On the party’s plans to headquarter GB Energy in Scotland, he refused to say where it would be located and said that would be announced “on the other side of the election”.

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