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Talks urged on powers for Scotland

Published 14/06/2015

The Smith Commission agreement must be reflected in full in the Scotland Bill, John Swinney has said
The Smith Commission agreement must be reflected in full in the Scotland Bill, John Swinney has said

The UK Government is being pressed to hold "substantial and serious" discussions with Holyrood ministers over the devolution of more powers to Scotland.

Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney called for talks between the two administrations to take place after Conservatives confirmed they would reject SNP proposals for full fiscal autonomy.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell has branded that proposal a "full fiscal shambles" which would cost families in Scotland £5,000.

With the Scotland Bill, which will hand MSPs new responsibilities over income tax and welfare, being debated in the House of Commons today, Mr Swinney again called for the legislation to be strengthened.

He said there were "r eal concerns about the coherence" of the current package of measures in the Bill, as he added SNP ministers would be "pressing the UK Government for substantial and serious discussions".

With the UK Government opposed to full fiscal autonomy, nationalists have said their priority is to secure additional powers beyond those already recommended by the Smith Commission, including business taxes, employment law, minimum wage, further welfare powers and equality law.

The SNP also wants the Scottish Government to have a formal role in key decisions affecting Scotland, even if they are reserved to Westminster.

The demands are set out in a new paper from the Scottish Government, which it has sent to Mr Mundell.

It comes in the wake of the party's unprecedented victory in the general election in Scotland, capturing 56 of the 59 seats north of the border.

While Mr Swinney said full fiscal autonomy is the " best route to fulfil Scotland's potential", he said devolution of the powers it has prioritised would still "make a real difference to Scotland's economy and people".

He said: "Responsibility for employment law would help deliver our fair work agenda and strengthen our partnership with business and the trade unions, while power over employment support programmes and Job Centre Plus could deliver an integrated service, joined up with existing education and training services, for people needing support.

"There is also a real advantage to devolving working age and child benefits as it would allow us to design a better, more coherent system that fits with existing Scottish services and our radical approach to preventative spending and early intervention.

"Control over equality would help us create a fairer society by making equal pay law more effective to tackle the gender pay gap, improve the diversity of boards and strengthen protection from discrimination - and would ensure that we could safeguard existing protections for equalities."

On giving the Scottish Government a role in decisions on reserved issues, the paper proposes new procedures and structures be set up "to allow the Scottish Parliament and Government a formal role in key decisions affecting Scotland directly".

It adds: "This is especially important when the UK Government's proposals do not have popular or parliamentary support in Scotland."

Mr Swinney said: " I have already heard real concerns about the coherence of the measures that the Scotland Bill currently delivers. We will now be pressing the UK Government for substantial and serious discussions on these proposals, in line with the commitment made by the Prime Minister to the First Minister in May."

When David Cameron held talks with Nicola Sturgeon after the election, he said he would not rule out making further changes to the Scotland Bill if " sensible suggestions'' were made.

Mr Mundell said: "The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government will carefully consider any changes to the Bill that are sensible.

"An amendment that kills off the Barnett formula and ends the sharing of resources across the UK is about as far away from sensible as one can get. It would be a full fiscal shambles that would cost every family in Scotland around £5,000.

"The Government will not accept amendments that are not good for Scotland. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that fiscal autonomy would mean Scotland having almost £10 billion less to spend by the last year of this Parliament. That is not good for Scotland. That is why the Government will stand up for Scotland and resist the amendment."

Asked about suggestions that differences over the implementation of further devolution could trigger demands for a second referendum, Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister has talked about this previously, and his view hasn't changed.

"We had the referendum last September and that provided a clear answer and now we need to focus on getting on with delivering on devolution and the Smith Commission agreement.

"We saw following the referendum in September the Prime Minister committing to taking forward devolution and there was then a process which involved all the parties in Scotland and they signed up to the Smith Commission agreement, and the Scotland Bill will deliver that in full."

Mr Mundell said: "Today in the House of Commons we are looking at taking forward the Scotland Bill to its next stage and we are going to benefit from a full debate about full fiscal autonomy, which will perhaps help the people of Scotland understand what it actually means.

"It is slightly odd that it is Sir Edward Leigh, a Tory grandee, who has put forward the SNP manifesto policy in relation to full fiscal autonomy, and not the SNP themselves.

"They have tabled something else, something much weaker and much lighter, which leads me to believe they do not actually support full fiscal autonomy because they know that would leave a £10 billion black hole in Scotland's finances, affecting every school, every hospital and costing every family in Scotland £5,000 a year.

"It is not a good thing and that is why we cannot support it."

He also said he was "ve ry surprised" that Mr Swinney was arguing that the Smith Commission proposals are incoherent, pointing out the Deputy First Minister was a signatory to the plans.

"It is a package agreed by the five main parties in Scotland and that is the package we are taking forward," Mr Mundell said.

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