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Nicola Sturgeon 'trying to undermine new Scottish powers'

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Alistair Carmichael and Danny Alexander have unveiled draft legislation transferring extra powers to Scotland - Image: Gordon Jack


Nicola Sturgeon 'trying to undermine new Scottish powers'


A row between the SNP and the UK Government breaks out over draft legislation to transfer new powers to the Scottish Parliament

The Telegraph
By Simon Johnson
22 January 2015

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of trying to undermine a swathe of new powers for Scotland in the hope of increasing support for a second independence referendum after the UK Government unveiled the laws to create “home rule”.

Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary, unveiled a 136-page report titled “An enduring settlement” setting out draft legislation enacting the recommendations of the Smith Commission.

They praised the 44 clauses as fulfilling the Unionist vow during the referendum campaign of “extensive” extra powers if there was a No vote, saying it would make Holyrood the third most powerful devolved parliament in the world and deliver the Liberal dream of “home rule”.

But political acrimony broke out within minutes of publication as Ms Sturgeon issued a press release calling for an “urgent rethink” and claiming the legislation gives UK ministers a veto over welfare powers that are supposed to be devolved.

The First Minister, who was due to meet David Cameron this afternoon, also took to Twitter to claims the clauses would not deliver the commission’s recommendation that Holyrood be given the power to create some new benefits.

Speaking at a press conference in Edinburgh, Mr Alexander said there were “no ifs and no buts” that Scottish ministers would have the final say and an increasingly exasperated Mr Carmichael hit out at the SNP attempts to undermine the plan.

The Liberal Democrat MP said: “It is going to be more important than ever that Scotland’s two governments are able to work together in a mature, cooperative and collaborative way.

“If this settlement is going to be made to work, and it has to be made to work because that is what the people of Scotland told us they wanted on September 18.

“Anybody who approaches the exercise of these powers with a view to thwarting (it) demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for the democratically expresses wishes of the Scottish people.”

He added: “It would be refreshing if instead of trying to kick up dust like this, the Nationalists would tell us what they want to do with the powers.”

The Scottish Secretary said the clauses merely make clear that Holyrood should consult UK ministers over changes to elements of housing benefit, including the Bedroom Tax, as the Universal Credit will remain reserved to Westminster.

He pointed out the SNP has signed up to the Smith Commission plans and said the Nationalists’ demands for full fiscal autonomy was “independence through the back door”.

Opinion polls suggest the Nationalists are on course to make large gains in Scotland and Ms Sturgeon has said she would use a hung parliament to demand further powers, in addition to those recommended by the Smith Commission.

Earlier, Mr Alexander told Radio 4’s Today programme insisted the settlement was “built to last” as it accorded with what the Scottish people want and said it was important to consider the West Lothian Question.

Referring to Ms Sturgeon disclosing that SNP MPs will start voting on English matters after the general election, he said: “It reflects the fact that in the end what the SNP want is another referendum.

“What they want is to force independence. They don’t want any of this to work. They want to disrupt it throughout. If the SNP keep trying to threaten to refight that battle they will not do nearly as well in the election as some of those polls you refer to currently predict.”

The clauses give the Scottish Parliament control over income tax rates and bands, areas of welfare, some employment programmes, further borrowing powers, air passenger duty and a proportion of VAT revenues. Overall, Holyrood will become responsible for more than 60 per cent of its spending.

They will be enacted by whichever party wins May’s general election, with Mr Carmichael estimating that legislation be passed by the end of next year and the powers transferred as soon as the necessary fiscal infrastructure is ready.

But Ms Sturgeon said proposals covering welfare, employment support and capital borrowing were a “significant watering down” of what was promised by the Smith Commission. She also argued it ties the Scottish Government to the UK’s austerity agenda.

She said: “Throughout this process, I have been clear that, despite it falling short of the real home rule powers we need to create jobs and tackle inequality, the Scottish Government would be a constructive participant, working with the UK Government to bring forward what Lord Smith recommended.

“The legislation published today does not represent the views of the Scottish Government, but it does represent some progress. However, too much of what the Prime Minister has set out imposes restrictions on the recommended devolved powers and would hand a veto to UK ministers in key areas. “

The clauses said Scottish ministers must consult the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions over changes to the housing benefit of the Universal Credit and agreement over when the change would start. However, it said UK ministers may not “unreasonably” block a deal over the starting date.

Welcoming the package, the Prime Minister said Scots had voted in record numbers to keep the UK together but a No vote did not mean “no change.”

He said: “The leaders of the other main political parties and I promised extensive new powers for the Scottish Parliament – a vow – with a clear process and timetable. And now, here we have it: new powers for Scotland, built to last, securing our future.”

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