By Martin Kelly
New powers to set drink drive and speed limits along with the control of airguns will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament this week.
The powers are part of a package contained in the Scotland Bill which was recently passed by the Westminster Parliament.
The Scottish Government will consult in the coming weeks on proposed changes to drink drive limits.
Over the summer, Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill will also chair a meeting of the Scottish Firearms Consultative Panel, established to develop plans for firearms reform in Scotland.
The proposals although welcomed by the Scottish government, have been described by the SNP as failing to keep pace with events.
Welcoming the new powers Cabinet Secretary for Government Strategy Bruce Crawford said:
"We welcome additional responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament and are moving quickly to make use of the new powers we will gain next week to benefit the people of Scotland.
"On speed limits, these powers will enable the Scottish Government to make the right decisions for Scottish roads rather than have any changes imposed by Westminster. Road safety is our first priority and we have no current plans to increase speed limits.
"Work is already underway on airguns reform through the work of the Scottish Firearms Consultative Panel. Another meeting will be chaired by Mr MacAskill over the summer. And a consultation will begin in the coming weeks on proposed changes to drink drive limits."
Mr Crawford described the package as a “a missed opportunity” and claimed that the limited taxation and borrowing powers will be “out of date long before they actually have any effect”.
He added: "This Act will be remembered for what it did not do. The recent Scottish Attitudes Survey findings show that there is a clear public appetite for Scotland to have greater control over its own affairs - and that is exactly what independence offers.
"Four times as many people in Scotland trust the Scottish Government to act in Scotland's best interests than trust the UK Government to do so. Trust in the Scottish Government has leapt from 61 per cent to 71 per cent over the past year, according to the latest annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey. Trust in the UK Government is at just 18 per cent.
"The people of Scotland no longer trust the UK Government to act in their best interests. Their trust lies with the Scottish Government, as they know we will listen to their views and act fairly."
On July 3, powers over airguns, drink drive and speed limits will transfer to the Scottish Parliament along with a role in public appointments to the BBC Trust. The term 'Scottish Executive' will be replaced by 'Scottish Government' for all purposes.
Limited taxation powers over income tax, land transaction and landfill taxes, some powers to borrow for capital purposes as well as new procedures for Scottish criminal cases to be considered by the UK Supreme Court will be commenced at a later date.
The SNP has also stepped up calls for UK Government to rethink the budget hike in air passenger duty (APD) and devolve control of the tax to Scotland.
APD increased by almost 10 per cent on April 1 – meaning a family of four flying to Florida have been hit by an increase of £260 while a family who have saved for a trip to Australia will now be hit by £368 in charges.
The devolution of APD is supported by all four of Scotland’s largest airports and by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. It was also recommended by the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution, although it was left out the Scotland Bill.
The UK Treasury has already devolved APD to Northern Ireland, which also benefited from a cut in the tax last November.
SNP Westminster Transport spokesperson Angus MacNeil MP said:
"After Treasury U-turn’s on pasties, caravans and fuel duty the Chancellor should now jettison his Air Passenger Duty increase as well. His budget air raid will hit families who have saved all year for a summer holiday as well as damaging the wider Scottish economy.
"There is overwhelming evidence that Air Passenger Duty should be devolved to Scotland, to give our aviation industry the competitive edge that it needs.
Mr McNeil added:
"The Chancellor has already announced plans to devolve the tax in Northern Ireland. That’s great news for them – but Scottish passengers deserve to be treated equally.
"Devolution of APD would enable the Scottish Government to incentivise airlines to provide new direct international routes, providing Scotland's passengers with enhanced options as they go about their business more freely and more effectively.
"The best interests of Scottish air passengers are not being served by Westminster control. According to figures from the Minister of State for Transport, there are currently just four international non-EU routes from Scotland. Compare that with the similar sized nation of Denmark – connected to emerging markets like Russia, Japan, China and 24 other non-EU destinations.
"The Scottish Government is better placed to serve Scotland’s interests. The Treasury needs to listen and learn - its refusal to devolve control is damaging to Scotland’s air industry."