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More often than not, the myriad of regulations and reports which are produced in Brussels do not make it onto the column inches of our newspapers here in Scotland, in spite of the fact that much of the EU legislative process has a very direct effect here. I was therefore delighted recently to draw some attention to the Eurostat report on national minimum wage rates across the EU which shows that, of the twenty-two member states which pay a national minimum wage in the EU, the UK is seventh – lagging behind Luxembourg, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France and the Netherlands.
This gave us a good opportunity to, once again, call for the national minimum wage to be devolved to Holyrood in order for Scotland to tackle pay inequality more effectively – rather than leaving the powers in the hands of a Westminster establishment which has repeatedly failed when it comes to tackling pay inequality.
Put simply, the UK national minimum wage is just not good enough to compete with the ever rising cost of living.
The Eurostat report demonstrated the clear extent of Westminster’s failures on the issue of low pay – and shows us falling well behind small, normal independent nations like Ireland and Luxembourg. It is therefore an absolute scandal that unionist politicians spent the referendum campaign decrying Ireland, in particular, as being an economic basket case when, in fact, the Irish still receive a better minimum wage than the paltry levels in place here in Scotland, thanks to the UK Government.
The SNP Scottish Government has led the way in implementing the living wage of £7.85 per hour for public service workers. However, by its very definition, this doesn’t extend to the private sector which can still pay a minimum wage of just £6.50 per hour to those over twenty-one years of age. What’s even more scandalous is that, legally, an apprentice at 16 in the UK can still be paid a shocking £2.73 per hour.
That’s why we need real economic powers to ensure everyone in Scotland gets a decent wage – and to tackle the problems caused by pay inequality.
Powers over the national minimum wage could and should have been devolved as part of the Smith Commission process - giving Scotland the power to act where Westminster has failed to do so. But unfortunately, the Westminster dinosaurs completely failed to meet the aspirations of the people of Scotland.
That is exactly why we need a strong team of SNP MPs elected in May to send a clear message to the UK Government that the real economic powers of Home Rule need to be devolved - including the power to raise the minimum wage – to allow us to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous place for everyone who lives here.