By Shaun Gibson : @ShaunyNews
SCOTLAND’S politicians will put aside party differences today to work on more devolved powers to the Scottish parliament. Representatives from five Scottish parties – two each from the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the Greens – will be told by Lord Smith of Kelvin to find consensus on bringing new powers to Scotland when they meet in Edinburgh Lord Smith and the politicians are on a tight timetable to deliver the vow made by the pro-Union parties to deliver more powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote. With a Command paper already issued, the parties have to agree a way forward by the end of November . Then the UK Government will put forward draft legislative proposals based on what is agreed in a bill in January.
The bill will be brought forward after the general election by whatever government come in. Reaching consensus on the points that can be agreed will be the easy part in the first formal session of the Smith Commission. The five Scottish parties have already submitted their proposals so everyone is aware of each other’s demands. The focus will be on finding common ground, something Lord Smith is optimistic about. He said: “Having spoken to all of the parties individually, I believe the will is there to reach agreement. “Today’s talks give them the chance to sit down together, find common ground and begin the process of delivering what the people of Scotland expect – a package of new powers which will strengthen the Scottish Parliament within the UK.”
Easily-dealt with issues include devolving the powers of the Crown Estate Commission, who own the seabeds around the UK and receive rents from Scotland’s fish farm and offshore wind turbine operators. Moving beyond that, there may be agreement on devolving powers such as funds for housing benefit and aspects of welfare including attendance allowance and job training. Nicola Sturgeon has already said that the process must deliver “something substantial.” The First Minister-elect knows independence won’t come out of the talks but wants something very close to it. She said. “The language that was used during the referendum campaign was very clear. The other parties, in seeking to persuade people to vote No, said that more powers would amount to near federalism, a modern form of home rule, devo max.”
The SNP submission makes great play of the campaign pledges of other party leaders, laying plenty of ground to cry foul if, in their eyes, the powers package falls short of what was solomnly pledged. Alex Salmond, now cast in the role of pointman for the SNP as his formal leadership role fades, has already talked of “betrayal”. The Scottish Government have called for maximum devolution within the UK, including full control over tax and fiscal policy, in a wide-ranging set of proposals stopping just short of full independence.But the demands of the SNP and the Greens for devo max powers will sail right over the bar of one of the Commission’s key remits, to maintain the integrity of the UK. The great faultine may not be if the Commission deliver devo-max demands, they will not, but on how much and how far they will go up to that limit.
There are major disagreements between Labour and the Conservatives on the issue of tax devolution . In the run-up to the talks the trickery of David Cameorn on linking whether or not Scottish MPs should continue to be allowed to vote on English-only issues in the House of Commons has fouled the atmosphere . The Tories want to go further on the handover of tax levying powers than Labour do. Complete devolution of tax raising powers would be independence by the back door, Gordon Brown has argued. But the Lib Dems, who want Holyrood to have complete control of the rates and bands of personal income tax, seem unfazed.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems want Edinburgh to be in charge of setting rates and bands of personal income tax while Labour would impose limits, lower than even Brown wants. Brown wants Holyrood to be responsible for raising 54 per cent of its own revenue, quadrupling the figure from the £4billion it currently raises to £18billion in 2016. Scottish Labour want powers that would allow the Scottish Government to raise 40 per cent of their budget. There is plenty of room for the parties to fall out, as they will, but also pressure on them to find agreement too.
Meanwhile, former first minister Jack McConnell fired a shot across the bows of the Commission and his own party yesterday saying that the quick fix must stand the test of time. He said: “If you are designing a new tax system for Scotland, the system has to work and be sustainable for at least a number of years. “I hope Lord Smith will note the proposals from the different parties but then start a discussion on the basic principles that should then determine what is delivered.” He added: “Deals reached behind closed doors are not going to reach a semi-permanent solution. This has to be seen as based on principle and stand the test of time.”
The representatives on the commission:
SNP – Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney and Linda Fabiani MSP.
Scottish Labour – Finance spokesman Iain Gray MSP and shadow work and pensions minister Gregg McClymont MP.
Former Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie will represent her party with Glasgow University law professor Adam Tomkins.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats – Former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore MP and former party leader Tavish Scott MSP.
The Scottish Green Party – Co-leaders Patrick Harvie MSP and Edinburgh councillor Maggie Chapman.
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