What did you find most interesting during the discussion at the Newcastle University & New Statesman event on devolution at the SNP Conference?
What was most interesting about the discussion was the agreed need amongst panellists for greater certainty around the funding and partnerships that are in doubt following the UK voting to leave the EU. There was also much useful discussion around community empowerment and how changing and evolving structures of government can help urban and rural communities absorb the shocks of Brexit.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing communities in Scotland and across the UK at the moment?
The UK-wide vote to leave the EU has created a number of new challenges and exacerbated a number of existing challenges in both urban and rural communities. Brexit has put a number of funding streams which support both agricultural and rural communities at risk, including access to agricultural payments for farmers and research funding for our world-class universities. Limited assurances have been given by the UK government for some funding streams but more certainty is required across a number of areas. Challenges also exist within infrastructure in both urban and rural communities, particularly around the increasing role digital connectivity plays in our lives and the need for both businesses and individuals to have access to superfast broadband.
How are you and your colleagues working in Westminster and Holyrood to help urban and rural communities, especially in the context of Brexit?
The SNP believes in empowering communities, both urban and rural, by giving them the tools to shape their environments and have a say in how local services are delivered and run. In the previous session of the Scottish Parliament, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act was passed, giving community groups the ability to purchase and manage assets for community benefit. This landmark legislation was backed by the Scottish Land Fund to give community groups the purchasing power required to support bids for ownership under the Act. In the current session of the Scottish Parliament, the SNP will take forward its proposals for radical land reform and continue its support for community choices budgeting events at a local level, including the SNP’s commitment to give 1% of Glasgow City Council’s overall budget to communities to spend on their local services through community budgeting events if elected to administration in next year’s council elections. Our Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme is also delivering on our commitment to provide 95% of all premises in Scotland with superfast broadband by 2018. At Westminster, SNP MPs are continuing to press for the UK Government to commit to funding City Deals across Scotland, including the Edinburgh City Region Deal and the Tayside City Region Deal, as these deals between the Scottish and UK Governments have the ability to unlock inclusive economic growth to counteract the impact of Brexit. Brexit does also create additional challenges for communities, which is why the Scottish Government has brought forward £100 million of additional capital investment to help businesses and communities cope with the economic uncertainty generated by Brexit.
How important is it that universities engage with policymakers through events at party conferences and drafting policy papers etc.?
Universities are an important stakeholder in the work of government and their input can provide valuable insight into the challenges and opportunities arising from topical political issues. Getting universities’ perspective on Brexit is important, given the importance of European research funding to the work of universities in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and I look forward to continuing to engage with universities as we enter the uncertain period of Brexit negotiations. Hosting events at party conferences, like Newcastle University’s event at our own conference, provides an excellent opportunity to discuss and debate topics with academics, external speakers and politicians.