Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Parties in devolution package clash

The debate over more powers for Scotland is set to continue as unionist and nationalist politicians clashed over the extent of the most comprehensive package of devolution since the creation of Holyrood.

UK parties insisted the Smith Commission on devolution goes way beyond "the vow" they delivered in the final weeks of the independence referendum campaign - but nationalists argue that the vow "patently has not been delivered".

New Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon claimed the recommendation for changes do not go far enough and urged voters in Scotland to use May's general election to send that message to the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

While Ms Sturgeon has written to the Prime Minister to pledge her government will help implement the changes, she has also raised fears that this could be delayed by squabbling at Westminster over the issue of whether or not Scottish MPs should be allowed to vote on legislation that only affects England.

Lord Smith, who chaired the commission, said the proposals that he unveiled in Edinburgh would "deliver a stronger Parliament, a more accountable Parliament and a more autonomous Parliament".

He stated: ''The recommendations, agreed between the parties, will result in the biggest transfer of powers to the Parliament since its establishment.''

The Smith Commission, which was set up hours after Scots voted against independence in September, recommended Holyrood should be able to set its own income tax rates, with all of the cash earned staying north of the border.

But while the agreement states there should be ''no restrictions on the thresholds or rates the Scottish Parliament can set'' on income tax, it said all other aspects would remain reserved to Westminster, including the amount people can earn before they start to pay the charge.

The commission also backed the devolution of air passenger duty, something the SNP has been campaigning for, and suggested a share of cash raised from VAT be assigned to Holyrood.

Welfare payments including attendance allowance, carer's allowance, disability living allowance - and the personal independence payment which will replace it - should be devolved, it suggested, along with c old weather payments and winter fuel payments.

A range of other benefits and the state pension will remain under the control of Westminster, although the commission said MSPs should be allowed to create new benefits in areas where they has devolved responsibility and should also be able to make discretionary welfare payments in any other area.

Westminster would remain in charge of licensing for all offshore oil and gas extraction under the proposals but Holyrood could get the power to determine if fracking goes ahead in Scotland.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "We made a vow of further devolution for Scotland and today we show how we are keeping that vow and we will continue to keep that promise."

But Ms Sturgeon said: "W e don't think it lives up to the rhetoric that was used by the Westminster parties in the run-up to the referendum."

Ms Sturgeon said: "There is absolutely no question that the powers that are recommended for devolution to the Scottish Parliament we welcome, and we now want to work constructively with the UK Government to make sure those powers are delivered.

"I've written to the Prime Minister today saying we want to work with the UK Government and will be constructive partners in getting the legislation drafted and getting progress towards delivery of these powers as quickly as it is feasible to do."

But she added: " Obviously we don't think the package goes far enough, we don't think it lives up to the rhetoric that was used by the Westminster parties in the run up to the referendum.

"I believe it is very difficult to look at a package of proposals which leaves 70% of tax in the hands of Westminster and 85% of welfare spending still controlled by Westminster, I think it's very difficult to describe that as genuine home rule. That still feels to me in many different respects to be continued rule by Westminster.

"I think it has fallen short of delivering what many people expected."

She continued: " If you look at the tax revenues we will control, that will be 37% of our spending, if you add in the assignation of VAT that goes to 48%. It's less than half the spending the Scottish Parliament will be responsible for."

She also warned there could be "many obstacles potentially along the way" to implementing the deal, and said: " I'm concerned that what we might be about to see is a battle between Labour and the Tories around English votes for English laws that means that we start to see this package of proposals fall by the wayside or get caught up in all of that. I think that would be really, really unfortunate."

But Mr Cameron argued: ''The Scottish Parliament is going to have much more responsibility in terms of spending money but it will also have to be accountable for how it raises taxes to fund that spending and I think that's a good thing.

''I think the report today also makes the case for English votes for English laws unanswerable and we will be taking action on that shortly.

The Prime Minister said proposals for English votes will be published ''before Christmas'' and that draft clauses for devolution will be before Parliament in January.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "We have not only delivered on our vow, we have actually over-delivered on it now. Call it 'vow-max' if you like, 'vow-plus-plus'."

Meanwhile former Scottish secretary Michael Moore, who represented the Liberal Democrats on the commission, said: "The Smith agreement gives us home rule for Scotland."

The package of new powers was also backed by Labour, although the party had not previously supported such extensive devolution of income tax.

Leader Ed Miliband said: "We think it's right to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament. We said during the referendum campaign, we vowed to the people of Scotland that we would do that, and that's what this does - including on income tax.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown, who was one of the key players in the pledge to deliver more powers for Holyrood, said: "The vow to deliver a stronger Scottish Parliament within the UK has been kept, as promised, and the timetable for draft laws to be published in January will now be honoured, as promised."

But the Campaign for Home Rule said the proposals would give the Scottish Parliament control over taxes which would raise less than two fifths of the amount of cash it spends.

Chairman Ben Thomson said: "With this deal, political parties have reached a consensus on a significant next step. From our perspective more work needs to be done to align responsibilities closer to what could be described as Home Rule."

He added: "T hese proposals would give the Scottish Parliament control over taxes which would raise less than 40% of what it spends. We believe that to achieve proper accountability, Holyrood needs to raise all of what it spends."

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph