Jim O’Neill says the SNP government needs to stop looking to others for a solution to poverty in Scotland, and start using the powers it has to help.


A few weeks ago, when Richard Leonard raised the issue of workers having to pay to receive their wages from contractors working for the Scottish Government, Nicola Sturgeon said she was unable to do anything since employment law was not devolved to Scotland. “Perhaps Richard Leonard would like to join me in making a case to the Westminster government for those powers to be devolved”.

She repeated the formula a week later when Richard raised similar practices at the refurbishment of Waverley Station for Network Rail, on the grounds that, while the Scottish Government were paying for this, that part of Network Rail had not been devolved. Another way to make an argument for doing nothing.

How many times have we heard this from the SNP? If powers were devolved, Scotland would be turned into a land of milk and honey. And it remains an excuse for dodging taking any action that might create problems for the big companies.

A report last week suggested that a million people in Scotland were living in poverty. That is 20% of the population. If the real figure is anything near that, we should be ashamed and disgraced. We still have too many foodbanks, and here in North Ayrshire, like elsewhere in Scotland, we now provide school dinners in the holidays to many of our children. However, the Scottish Parliament already has the powers to begin to alleviate that poverty.

Some years ago, in the Scotland Act, many social security powers were devolved to Scotland. Such powers can be used better the lives of those in need in Scotland. But last year Jeanne Freeman, the SNP Social Security Minister, asked the UK Government to hang on to a number of these powers for another year to ensure that the new Social Security Agency, to be based in SNP controlled Glasgow and Dundee, could cope with them.

I was astonished recently to read that, with all the fine words about dealing with poverty, the SNP government has asked the UK Government to hang on to these powers for yet another year, while attacking the evil Tory Government for cutting further the benefits available to people. How is this taking action about the disgraceful level of poverty our fellow citizens are enduring?

Meanwhile the North Ayrshire MSP, Kenneth Gibson, raised the Westminster government’s Ayrshire Growth Deal, which local Councils have been fighting for, at First Minister’s Questions. Sturgeon welcomed it with faint praise, on the grounds that no date had been set for its start. However, neither he, nor our other MSP, Ruth Maguire, mentioned the reason given for not awarding the Social Security Agency to North Ayrshire. Ms Freeman said that “they would not be able to recruit suitable staff in North Ayrshire”. This in the face of a report that the local authority would be the one that would most benefit from the jobs. Of course, North Ayrshire has a Labour administration. And, how will a Growth Deal work if there are no suitable workers here?

The reason given is nonsense, since a recent skills audit in North Ayrshire confirmed that there were people with a great range of skills seeking work here. Again, how is this leading an attack on poverty in one of the most impoverished local authorities in Scotland? And where are our MSPs, who we would expect to defend their constituents? Not a peep has been heard from either, forcing the conclusion that they agree with the Social Security Minister’s assessment of their constituents. Emails to Ms Maguire have yet to produce a reply.

All of this brings to mind an old phrase of my granny’s. In their claims on wanting more powers and fighting poverty, the SNP government are all fur coat and nae knickers!