Scottish independence: ‘More Holyrood powers’ plan

Anas Sarwar has ruled out a formal agreement between the unionist parties. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Anas Sarwar has ruled out a formal agreement between the unionist parties. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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SCOTLAND’S main pro-union leaders are poised to establish the “bones of an agreement” on handing more powers to Holyrood before the referendum as an alternative to independence.

However, the prospect of a formal “joint position” being agreed between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives on further devolution before the historic vote in September has been ruled out because of the “unrealistic time-scales”.

Nationalists insist that it is “laughable and naive” to believe that a No vote will result in enhanced responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament.

The pro-union parties have come under increased pressure in recent weeks to set out their own vision for Scotland’s future inside the UK, since the Scottish Government published its 670-page “white paper” last November detailing its vision for how an independent Scottish state would operate.

All three parties are in the process of coming up with their own proposals for greater devolution which will be published before the referendum.

Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar said: “It’s right that each party goes through its own process, but the choice is about independence – Yes or No – not the next stage of devolution.

“There may be some kind of process. I don’t think we’ll get in the same position. I think that’s unrealistic given the timescales, but perhaps a process.”

He added: “If Scotland votes No, which I hope it does because it’s the right thing for Scotland, would the SNP not want to be part of that conversation, what the next stage of devolution will look like? Surely they will still be pro-devolution after the referendum. It’s not some kind of bribe or political fix or power- play to out-Nat the Nats in what we can offer. It’s right that we have a model that works for people.”

Former Scottish secretary Douglas Alexander has called for a national convention to be established, including the SNP, following a No vote in September.

The pro-union parties have previously come up with a joint agreement which appeared in each of their manifestos at the 2010 Westminster election to hand more powers to Holyrood following the recommendations of the Calman Commission.

However, Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said it was “very seriously unlikely that a joint position will be reached” between the parties before the referendum.

He said that both Labour and the Conservatives will devise their own plans for more powers for devolution, which will complement the Lib Dems’ own plans in the Campbell Commission.

“What will emerge from that is something where you do see the bones of an agreement on what will be in the manifestos,” he said.

“It makes logical sense to say this is what more devolution needs to look like.”

Tory Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP Liz Smith said there are likely to be “overlaps” in the proposals for greater devolution put forward by each party.

“I don’t think it’s realistic in the timescale that we will have every detail in a joint position – that’s not going to happen,” she said.

“What would be helpful before the referendum is that we understand the parameters in which the debate has to take place beyond the referendum.”

However, youth employment minister Angela Constance dismissed the “jam tomorrow” promise from the pro-union parties.

“The Better Together parties have missed the boat. They were all proponents of a Yes/No question in the referendum – it had to be a straight choice. They conspired against a third choice.

“People aren’t going to buy this jam tomorrow. This notion that a No vote will be a mandate for further devolution is laughable and naive.”

Mr Sarwar is heading a Labour devolution commission which is due to unveil plans to devolve further powers to Holyrood at the party’s Scottish conference in Perth in March.

An interim report from the commission to Labour’s 2013 conference in Inverness suggested income tax powers could be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood. Mr Sarwar has also indicated that a new package of workers’ rights and improvements to the living wage will be at the heart of the plans.

For the Conservatives, Lord Strathclyde, former party leader in the House of Lords, is heading a commission established by party leader Ruth Davidson aimed at taking forward the party’s plans for greater devolution to Holyrood.

However, an interim report planned for last year has yet to be published and the party has admitted it is running late.

The Liberal Democrats have set out plans for a federal-style system in the UK after a commission report published by former leader Sir Menzies Campbell.

The Scottish Parliament would collect almost all income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax and air passenger duty – but not VAT, alcohol or excise duties.

It also proposes adopting a federal system, which would create a series of regional and national parliaments and assemblies across the UK, with a federal government retaining powers over foreign affairs, defence, currency, welfare and pensions.

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