Natalie Mauchline looks at some of the issues being tackled at Holyrood this week.
An Independent Scotland with a New Currency
With progress on Brexit appearing remote, independence has re-emerged as a topic of debate. Over the weekend, Derek Mackay told The National that the ‘Yes’ campaign had learned from its mistakes and threw his support behind plans for a Scottish currency. Keith Brown and Derek Mackay plan to ask for support at the SNP conference in April, with the aim of allowing an independent Scotland to begin with the UK pound and then move to a replacement by the end of its first term. Derek Mackay added that this plan was based on findings from the Growth Commission and would “be the most credible economic platform that the party has ever had”. Last week, it emerged that the UK Government was standing firm and preparing to say no if the SNP asked for a second referendum. Richard Leonard added it was his belief that a Labour Government in Westminster “would not agree to a second independence referendum”.
On Tuesday afternoon, MSPs will debate the withdrawal negotiations happening in Brussels. So far, four of the five political parties at Holyrood have backed an extension to Article 50 as well as a second referendum. The Conservatives have so far maintained their support for the Prime Minister’s deal as the only way for the UK to avoid a no-deal. On Friday, David Mundell deemed the SNP “saboteurs of the Union” and accused Nicola Sturgeon of hoping for a no-deal Brexit as this would be “the best backdrop to campaign for independence.” Jackson Carlaw has described Theresa May’s deal as “the right plan for Britain and Europe.” It is likely the debate on Tuesday will continue to be the Conservatives against the rest. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour are gearing up for their Spring Conference in Dundee this weekend, which will likely try to unift the party with Brexit due in 25 days.
Local Government Funding
MSPs will debate the Local Government Finance Order, which has allocated the funding to each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, on Thursday. Despite the Budget passing several weeks ago, opposition parties have continued to criticise the SNP for the amount of funding given to each council. The Scottish Government has so far maintained that the amount of money received by each council is set to increase. The workplace parking levy has continued to dominate any discussion on the budget, with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour united in opposition to the “car park tax”. In response, the Greens accused the three parties of “duplicity” and added that their opposition to this tax power “was borne out of self-interest”.
The Future of the Construction Industry
The Economy, Energy & Fair Work Committee will continue to take evidence on its inquiry into the future of Scotland’s construction industry. So far, the Committee has heard about the male-dominated nature of the industry, the threats from Brexit and the reduced appeal of the sector for young people searching for a career. This week also marks Scottish Apprentice Week, marked with the launch of a fast-track modern apprenticeship in the housebuilding sector. The Committee had previously heard of the damage inflicted by the apprenticeship levy, which the Scottish Government has promised to mitigate. On Wednesday, the Committee will hear from a number of colleges, including Edinburgh College, New College Lanarkshire and the City of Glasgow College.
Equal Protection of Children
The Equalities & Human Rights Committee will hear further evidence on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill. Witnesses will include the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Global Initiative to end All Corporal Punishment for Children. Last week, one of the witnesses, Dr Stuart Waiton, said “children do not have rights” and argued that the Bill would criminalise parents. Previous witnesses have referred to research which has shown physical violence against a child can have damaging consequences for their mental health and behaviour.