Although the Scotland Office has announced a series of amendments to the Scotland Bill, the details haven’t yet been released. The cumulative process of making amendments has, however, already included some important concessions. The initial proposals of the Smith report were watered down in the White Paper, and marginally relaxed in the draft Scotland Bill, which included one of the significant innovations: the power to top up existing benefits. The amendments tabled by 22nd October, tabled by opposition MPs, included three potentially very important changes:
- an extension of the power of local authorities, which will be able to do anything an individual can – that must include powers to borrow, to invest and to give;
- the imposition of a principle of subsidiarity, which will limit the powers of the Scottish parliament relative to local authorities; and
- the ability to define new benefits.
In the latest round, dated 2nd November, it seems that there has been an amendment to the restrictive rules for carers and some allowance for greater flexibility in Universal Credit. It’s not everything Smith promised – the restrictions on disability benefits and employability support remain – but it’s closer than it was. The power to introduce new benefits could, in principle, include benefits for early retirement, for defined disabilities such as blindness, for support in further and higher education or even for social inclusion.