My thoughts are with those who have been affected by the recent flooding across the Borders, caused by unprecedented levels of rainfall.
The initial priority had to be to ensure that people were safe and to co-ordinate the response, restoring power and transport networks, and ensuring that communities got access to the support they need.
I am glad to see the response from communities and volunteers to the scale of the flooding, as well as the financial support from the UK government for the worst-hit families and businesses. It is important that we all do everything that we can to protect and support those affected by the flooding.
When I became Secretary of State for Scotland in May, I committed to meeting the leaders and chief executives of all 32 of Scotland’s councils.
I found a common thread has emerged in nearly every local authority I have visited – a strong desire for greater devolution within Scotland. Not from Westminster to Holyrood – though most councillors I have spoken to are fully supportive of the new powers coming north of the border in the Scotland Bill – but from Holyrood to local communities.
Whereas in England powers and responsibilities are being willingly passed from ministers to councillors in local communities, in Scotland that direction has been reversed.
Policing is a case in point. Eight local forces have been centralised into a single Police Scotland. All power over policing invested in a single chief constable and all scrutiny and accountability the responsibility of a single, Scottish Government-appointed panel.
The claim is that this is more efficient, but compare the Scottish government’s approach with the UK government’s that has presided over reductions in police budgets, without losing the 43 local police forces of England and Wales. Instead,it has supported them to improve their performance and efficiency by sharing back-office functions, but keeping their local identities. And crime has continued to fall.
Scotland cannot afford to be left behind as the rest of the UK revolutionises how it governs itself, giving towns, cities and counties more of the autonomy.
It’s time we had a proper debate about devolution within Scotland. We don’t have time to delay – the debate needs to start now and it needs to be front and centre of this year’s Scottish election campaign.
The Scottish Parliament has had full control of local government in Scotland for 16 years. And in that time, what has it done to empower them?
The Borders, like much of Scotland, is fortunate to have a network of community councils, based around historic settlements in which people feel real pride. Why don’t they take on more of a role to provide direct accountability to their local communities?
We need a proper conversation across Scotland, and we need the Scottish Government and the Scottish political parties to be participants in that.
As we look ahead to the start of the election campaign and beyond, I invite everyone who cares about improving lives in Scotland to join that debate.