DAVID Cameron has told SNP MPs that their party needs to “stop talking and start acting” on new powers being devolved to Scotland.
In a debate in the House of Commons following the Queen’s Speech yesterday, the Prime Minister prioritised the devolution of major new powers to Holyrood, including income tax and welfare.
However, he made it clear that he intends to resist Nationalist demands for any powers beyond those proposed by the Smith Commission.
Bolstered by his new Conservative majority of MPs, a confident Mr Cameron called on the SNP to set out what it means by full fiscal autonomy, which he warned would lead to £10 billion of cuts or tax rises north of the Border.
The Prime Minister said: “I do look forward to taking on the arguments by those who want to break up our country, because frankly they have received little scrutiny until now. Devolution isn’t just about getting new powers, it is also about the responsibility of how those powers are used.
“I would say to the SNP, if you are not happy with decisions made here at Westminster, if you want more taxes, more spending and more borrowing, you can now introduce those measures in Scotland. It’s time for you to stop talking and start acting.”
Devolution isn’t just about getting new powers, it is also about the responsibility of how those powers are used.David Cameron
Amid cheers from the government benches, Mr Cameron continued: “In this Parliament there will also be the opportunity for the SNP to set out what they mean by full fiscal autonomy.
“I’m clear about what it means. It means raising 100 per cent of what you spend. That means asking Scottish people to pay for almost an extra £10bn taxes or make an almost extra £10bn additional cuts by the end of this parliament.
“That is £5,000 of higher taxes or additional cuts for every single family in Scotland. That is the true price of the SNP. It is ironic that the party in this House that claims to represent Scotland advocates a worse deal for Scotland than the rest of us do.
“People who want the best for every nation of our UK should fight for a union with solidarity at its heart.”
However, SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson hit back by saying his party will be the “effective opposition” to the government and warned that with one Tory MP in Scotland, Mr Cameron “does not have a mandate” north of the Border.
Mr Robertson also left open the possibility of the SNP voting on English matters in the House of Commons.
He said: “The SNP has had a consistent position in this House that we will review every single piece of legislation that’s brought forward and, on a basis of an evaluation of whether it directly or indirectly has a significant impact on Scotland, then decide on the measures that we do vote on and we don’t vote on, and that position has not changed.”
Mr Robertson said the SNP still supports voting reform to deliver a more proportional system that is more representative of vote shares, despite gaining 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.
He said: “The SNP won half the vote, something not achieved by any party in Scotland for 60 years. The SNP won 56 out of 59 seats.
“It was a remarkable result, an amazing achievement for our leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, for all SNP candidates, almost all of whom are here, our volunteers and our dedicated headquarters staff.
“We will do our best to stand up for Scotland but let me be absolutely clear. We did not win the votes of all voters in Scotland and we are mindful of that.
“And we still remain supporters of electoral reform and proportional representation.”
He also reminded Mr Cameron that his party still only has one MP in Scotland but promised not to make “panda jokes” about more of the animals north of the Border than Tory MPs.
His comments were met with clapping from SNP MPs, in breach of parliamentary convention.
Traditionally, MPs are only allowed to speak in the Commons when they have made their maiden speeches, meaning most of the SNP bloc cannot currently make their voices heard.
Speaker John Bercow said: “I would invite them to show some respect for the traditions of this chamber of the House of Commons.”
MPs on all sides cheered in support of his intervention.
Meanwhile, acting Labour leader Harriet Harman, sitting next to Labour’s only Scottish MP, Ian Murray, on the opposition front bench, accused Mr Cameron of “trying to break up the United Kingdom” with English votes for English laws.
Ms Harman warned the Prime Minister against pitting the English against the Scottish as she said he “shamefully” did in the general election campaign, and she urged him not to give Scotland full fiscal autonomy as demanded by the SNP.
She said: “To get change which is fair and lasting, it must be done in a way which builds the broadest possible consensus.
“The Prime Minister must seek agreement and he must break his habit of divisiveness.
“Of course the SNP want to break up the Union, they want people to have to choose between being Scottish and being British, but it would be utterly irresponsible to continue what he did so shamefully in the general election, which was to set the English against the Scottish.
“No party, especially one that claims to be ‘one nation’, should set the interests of a family in Gloucester against the interests of a family in Glasgow or Glamorgan.
“And let’s be in no doubt, the worst possible outcome for Scotland would be the SNP demanding full fiscal autonomy that they know doesn’t add up and a Tory Prime Minister giving it to them.”
After the debate, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Scotland Bill must deliver the Smith proposals in full, but that must not be portrayed by the UK government as some kind of concession.
“Delivering Smith would only be fulfilling the pledge they have already signed up to and the promise they have made to the people of Scotland.
“In addition, we believe the massively changed political circumstances in Scotland provide a mandate for substantial further powers beyond those recommended by the Smith process and we will continue to make a strong case to the UK government for those powers to be delivered.”
Yesterday’s House of Commons debate followed a Queen’s Speech that laid out 26 bills and one draft bill in an ambitious programme of government for the first year of the new parliament.
The programme includes legislation for a referendum on membership of the European Union, a £23,000 cap per household on benefits, a charter allowing intelligence agencies to read personal e-mails and laws to clamp down on trade unions organising strikes and charging members a levy to fund the Labour Party.
There will also be another strategic defence and security review with no guarantee the 2 per cent of GDP on defence spending will be maintained and a bill to tackle those promoting extremist views.
However, with the threat of a Tory backbench rebellion, a plan to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British bill of rights was not outlined. The government will also introduce a new immigration bill to tackle people working illegally in the UK and giving the authorities the power to seize wages.