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17.09.15

Scotland threatens to pull plug on Holyrood devolution plans

Scottish finance secretary and deputy first minister John Swinney MSP threatened to block additional devolved powers to Holyrood unless there was a fair deal on money.

After the issue came up at Westminster yesterday during PMQs, Swinney discussed it in the Scottish Parliament, saying the devolution proposed in the 2015 Scotland Bill would not be passed without a just “fiscal framework”.

Swinney argued the Bill fell short of recommendations made in the Smith Commission, dubbing it a “series of missed opportunities”.

He said: “It could have given the Scottish Parliament powers over employment law and trade unions, or all of social security – protecting people in Scotland from UK government policies.

“The Bill takes every opportunity to constrain and limit new powers and utterly fails to deliver the spirit of the Smith Commission. It maintains vetoes over universal credit and energy schemes and waters down the Smith proposals on social security, employment support and the Crown Estate.

“Despite receiving detailed evidence from the Scottish Government, the [Holyrood] cross-party devolution committee and a broad range of civic Scotland, no amendments to the Bill were accepted at its committee stage in the House of Commons.”

Cameron had earlier made assurances that “unprecedented devolution on taxes” was being delivered to Holyrood.

Swinney insisted that without a framework that is “fair to Scotland” and that allows the country to address its own priorities, its government would have “no hesitation” in refusing the Bill.

He asked MSPs of all parties to unite in making sure Smith Commission proposals were fully implemented –the “absolute minimum” the people of Scotland expected and deserved. MSPs responded by voting 105 to 13 in favour of this.

The Smith Commission was set up following the ‘No’ vote in the referendum on Scottish independence, after which political parties had to submit views on how powers should be devolved to Holyrood.

In November, the commission published a report recommending that the parliament should be given powers to create new benefits in devolved areas and make discretionary payments in any welfare area, as well as set income tax rates and bands on earned income while retaining all tax raised locally.

Labour is also intent on calling for all VAT revenue raised in Scotland to be assigned to Holyrood, rather than just proceeds of the first 10% as proposed in the Bill.

The party said it would allow Holyrood to design and operate under a different welfare system than Westminster, with Scottish ministers being able to top-up and create new welfare benefits.

Shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray, said: “We are focused not just on making sure that the Scottish Parliament gets the powers it needs, but also on how we will use those powers to improve the lives of people across the country.

“Our amendments would significantly increase the powers currently in the Scotland Bill by devolving £5bn more of revenue and ensuring that the Scottish Parliament has the powers over welfare that Scotland needs to design its own social security system.”

The Bill will return to the Commons over the next few weeks to be considered by MPs despite SNP dubbing the proposals a “gimmick”.

(Top image c. David Cheskin, PA Images)

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