Scottish independence: Devo Plus chief Jeremy Purvis believes that social
problems such as alcohol, crime and homelessness are related to constitutional issues
Scottish independence: Lack of economic powers linked to social problems
by Emily Badiozzaman
Devo Plus, a campaign group calling for more tax powers for Holyrood, have argued that fuel poverty, drug addiction and homelessness have either deteriorated or shown no improvement since the advent of the Scottish parliament. Basing their argument on their own studies, the group has identified the key reason behind these social problems as Holyrood lacking the vital economic powers required to tackle them.
The group has said that of the 16 policy areas, eight are not being focussed on enough. This includes alcohol abuse and crime.
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Alcohol in Scotland continues to be increasingly problematic. A report by the charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, has found that alcohol related incidents cost Scotland £2bn annually impacting on health, crime, social care and productive capacity.
Basing their findings on Scottish government data from 2007, they found that cost estimates for Glasgow alone was £364.7mn; in Edinburgh the costs were £221.28mn and Aberdeen City Council costs totalled £120.92mn.
Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, "It is clear that alcohol is costing us all too much. We need to shift the focus of licensing away from individual on-sales premises to managing the overall availability of alcohol."
With similar concerns about the level of alcohol abuse in Scotland, Alex Neil, the new Scottish health secretary, has said that he intends to focus on Scotland’s shameful alcohol problem. Following in the footsteps of Nicola Sturgeon and inheriting the responsibility of an £11bn budget, Alex Neil has said that the country’s excessive drinking issues threaten to overwhelm the NHS which is already facing a difficult time.
He has stated that he fully supports plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol and tougher drink-driving regulations, which, he has argued will significantly reduce alcohol related problems.
Neil’s agenda is being questioned by Scotland’s whisky industry which is launching a legal challenge to minimum pricing. They have argued that alcohol sales in Scotland have already fallen by five percent since 2009.
Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said that the organisation had “no choice” but to take the issue to court and fight to save jobs and the industry.
At a time when A&E departments have reported that 70-80 percent of incidents are alcohol related, Alex Neil’s plans for government intervention are being supported by the NHS.
However, Devo Plus continues to firmly believe that it is the lack of economic powers held by the Scottish government that is the underlying cause and has said that of the 13 years of devolution that “there is such a mixed picture, and our conclusion is clear that in order to secure better social outcomes in Scotland we need wider fiscal powers and incentives for improvement”.
Jeremy Purvis, leader of the Devo Plus campaign, said that Holyrood needed the bulk of tax powers to be devolved from Westminster to tackle what he argues are policy failures.
He said, “Devo-plus would make the Scottish Parliament more accountable and help spread the benefit of the tax burden and delivery. It would lead to a much more meaningful debate on Scottish Parliament promises. It would be unable to just blame the UK government.
“The devolution of these tax powers means that the choices would be funded in Scotland and accountable to Scotland.”
In response, SNP MSP John Wilson said, “The difficulty for the Devo Plus campaign is that Scotland will never have enough powers short of independence.”
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