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PM to consider further devolution

David Cameron could implement "sensible suggestions" on more powers for Scotland in the wake of the SNP's landslide in the general election.

The Tory Prime Minister, who secured an unexpected majority at Westminster last week, travelled to Edinburgh for talks with Nicola Sturgeon.

With the discussions taking place just over a week after Scottish nationalists won an unprecedented 56 of the 59 constituencies north of the border, Mr Cameron told the First Minister he would consider proposals from her government to extend the devolved settlement.

The Conservative leader confirmed he would include legislation to implement the recommendations of the cross-party Smith Commission on more powers for Scotland in the forthcoming Queen's Speech, saying: "We will deliver the stronger Scottish Parliament, be in no doubt about it."

But after Holyrood's Devolution Committee said the draft clauses that have already been drawn up did not live up to either "the spirit or the substance'' of the Smith Agreement, the Prime Minister did not rule out further changes.

Mr Cameron said: "We're going to look again at welfare and make sure the clauses reflect what that agreement was."

He added: "The First Minister wants to send some proposals for me to look at and I'm happy to examine proposals, there's going to be a debate, of course there will be a debate.

"I don't rule out making other changes if sensible suggestions are made."

Mr Cameron said he had had a "very positive meeting" with the First Minister at her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon said two issues of significance had been agreed at the talks.

She told Sky News: "Firstly, there was a commitment from the Prime Minister that the legislation that they will shortly introduce to the Westminster parliament to implement the proposals of the Smith Commission will implement those proposals in full."

Ms Sturgeon added: "Secondly, I have said we will put forward proposals for devolution further than the Smith Commission proposals.

"The Prime Minister has said they would consider those proposals.

"I am not going to put words in his mouth and say he has agreed any specific proposals, but there is an agreement to look at that and there will be a meeting with the Deputy First Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland to take that discussion forward."

But there was what Mr Cameron described as an "honest disagreement" between the two leaders over whether Scotland should have full fiscal autonomy.

The SNP supports changing the system to that Holyrood is responsible for raising all the cash it spends, with Ms Sturgeon saying: "I want Scotland to have full fiscal autonomy, David Cameron doesn't, but what we said in our manifesto was that there were priority powers over and above the Smith Commission that we wanted to see devolved.

"So, what we are talking about are business taxes and employment legislation, the minimum wage and more powers over welfare."

Mr Cameron insisted: "I think the option of full fiscal autonomy is not a good option for Scotland inside the United Kingdom, I think it would land Scottish taxpayers with £7 billion of extra taxes or Scottish people with £7 billion of extra cuts."

The Prime Minister said: "I want people in Scotland to know that the whole of the United Kingdom stands behind your pensions, stands behind unemployment benefit, will stand behind Scotland if it has a difficult year, if the oil price goes down.

"That's what I believe in, the solidarity union as well as the United Kingdom that's about defence and foreign affairs and all the institutions we have built together."

Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary and sole Scottish Labour MP after his party lost 40 of its 41 seats, warned there is a "real risk" the Tories could do a deal on full fiscal autonomy.

He said: "Labour stood on a platform of ensuring that the final say on benefits rests with the Scottish Parliament and promising a Home Rule Bill within 100 days, so we welcome attempts to deliver quickly on further devolution.

"However, there is a real risk that what we get now is a Tory deal on fiscal autonomy, or some way towards it, that leaves Scotland worse off.

"Whatever the SNP's political ambitions, they must not accept a Tory deal that cuts Scotland's budget."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "Only a week after the result the SNP have returned to business as usual, stoking up divisions in their drive for an unstable constitutional settlement."


From Belfast Telegraph