FLAGSHIP new powers promised to Scotland during the referendum campaign will be “honoured” even if a controversial move to tie them to a “fairer” deal for England is blocked, William Hague has confirmed.
The Leader of the Commons insisted pledges made to Scottish voters will be delivered, as a Parliamentary motion was published at Westminster on further devolution for Holyrood.
The Prime Minister yesterday met senior Tories about plans to limit the voting rights of Scottish MPs and Mr Hague warned that Labour opposition to the so called “English votes for English issues” would see it become a key issue at next year’s UK general election.
He made it clear more devolution in Scotland would be delivered, even if political opposition made change more difficult elsewhere in the UK.
The cross-party “vow” from all three pro-Union leaders to hand more powers to Holyrood appeared to be in danger of unravelling when David Cameron suggested immediately after the referendum that change would be tied to more powers for England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
It prompted immediate claims from Nationalists that No voters had been “tricked”.
And Alex Salmond is expected to go on the offensive over the additional powers for Scotland today, when MSPs return to Holyrood and stage a keynote debate on the referendum and its outcome.
Westminster is facing pressure from other parts of the UK, which are demanding the same kind of greater control over decision-making which has been pledged to Holyrood.
Mr Hague is to chair a new government committee to look at the options for change and encouraged Labour to join the debate after yesterday’s Chequers meeting.
He insisted that “commitments to Scotland would be honoured”. But he said the issue of the role of Scottish MPs at Westminster should be considered at “the same time as part of efforts to make the political system more responsive” to voters across the UK.
“If other parties make it impossible to deal with it in tandem, then it will be an issue at the general election in May and the people will decide,” Mr Hague warned.
He added: “This issue of fairness for England – as well as for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – is one that cannot now be avoided. That is now something we have to face up to.
“It has been discussed for a very long time. The time has now come to make some decisions about this.”
English MP’s are growing increasingly implacable about the so called “West Lothian Question”.
This allows Scottish MPs to vote at Westminster on English-only issues like health and education which do not affect their own constituents because of devolved Holyrood powers in these areas. The motion at Westminster yesterday calls on the government to lay a “Command Paper” setting the agreed plans between all three main pro-Union parties on greater Scottish devolution by 30 October, before going out to consultation.
It also calls on the government to “publish heads of agreement by the end of November and draft clauses for the new Scotland Bill by the end of January 2015”.
But senior Nationalists warned that the high-profile “vow” made by Mr Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in the days before the referendum is falling apart, with no mention in the motion of safeguarding the “Barnett formula” which carves up Scotland’s funding share from Westminster.
Politicians south of the Border, who claim their own areas lose out, have demanded this be overhauled, prompting concerns that Scotland could lose out to the tune of £4 billion.
SNP treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie said: “They’ve failed to deliver a timetable, they’re now failing to deliver on guaranteeing Scotland’s funding.
“This is beginning to unravel very, very quickly indeed and I’m sure a great number of those who voted No with good faith will now be looking askance at the failure of the Unionist parties in government and the British Labour party to deliver.”
Labour leader Mr Miliband had been angered over the Tory attempt to link new Holyrood powers with change in England and the rest of the UK, amid concerns Scottish MPs would effectively take on “second class” status at Westminster.
He is expected to set out his commitment to devolving more powers quickly in a speech to the Labour conference in Manchester today.
He will say: “We will show the people of Scotland over the coming years that they made the right choice – because we are better together.
“But let’s face it: our country nearly broke up. A country that nearly splits apart is not a country in good health.
“Can anyone build a better future for the working people of Britain?”
The UK government is coming under pressure on a number of fronts to ensure that extra powers for Scotland leads to a better deal around the rest of the UK.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told Labour’s annual conference yesterday that “home rule” must be extended to Wales and Northern Ireland in the wake of Westminster’s promise of further devolution to Scotland.
Mr Jones said the promise of further tax and spending powers for Scotland alongside a more powerful parliament must now be offered to Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Labour First Minister warned that nationalist views held by the likes of supporters of the Scottish National Party, the UK Independence Party and Plaid Cymru will “harden” if Westminster fails to “refound the UK”.
“The future we promised to Scotland must be delivered – an equal share of resources, a seat at the table, a powerful Parliament – that must be offered to Wales and Northern Ireland too,” he said. “Not just home rule for Scotland, but home rule all round. We can deliver a fair, better Britain together with a modern government.”