Smith Commission making “good progress”

Lord Smith of Kelvin. Picture: Neil Hanna

Lord Smith of Kelvin. Picture: Neil Hanna

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TALKS to reach a deal on new powers for Holyrood are making “good progress”, the man charged with leading the group has declared.

The Smith Commission was set up shortly after the the independence referendum and was tasked with considering what additional responsibilities should be transferred north from Westminster.

Chairman Lord Smith said the discussions so far had been “intensive” but added there was a “real determination to reach agreement”.

He spoke out at the start of a special session at Holyrood where members of the commission heard from some of the campaigners, business groups and others who have sent in submissions outlining their views on further devolution.

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Lord Smith said the commission - which contains representatives from each of the five political parties in the Scottish Parliament - had received over 400 submissions from “a wide range of organisations” as well as more than 17,000 submissions from the general public.

He said: “To me it was inconceivable that the commission could be anything other than inclusive, following as it does the extraordinary levels of engagement in the referendum.

“Everyone of the political parties represented here today shares my commitment to that.”

He said he had been “determined that the voice of the public and Scotland’s civic institutions would be heard” in the debate about what new powers should come to Holyrood.

With the commission having already held a number of meetings, Lord Smith said: “The nominees are making good progress and the talks, while intensive, are being conducted in a good spirit with a real determination to reach agreement.”

No decisions made

But he stressed no decisions had yet been made, saying: “I can assure you all - nothing has been finally signed off - not least because it is in the nature of this process that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

He said today’s meeting - where the commission split into two groups in order to hear from a wider range of groups - was an “opportunity for the political nominees to probe the thinking of some of these civic institutions”.

The Smith Commission has been established to draw up a ‘’substantial and cohesive package of powers’’ in a bid to bring about a ‘’durable but responsive democratic constitutional settlement which maintains Scotland’s place in the UK”.

It comes in the wake of the vow made by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg prior to the referendum that substantial new powers - including some responsibility for tax and welfare - would be transferred to Scotland if the country voted to remain part of the UK.

Under the timetable already agreed for reform, an agreement on recommendations for what new powers should be transferred north has to be reached by the end of November, with draft legislation produced by the end of January 2015.

This will then be implemented by whatever party wins next year’s general election.

Union, business and financial services representatives have arrived at “a consistency of view” that corporation tax should not be devolved, according to Smith Commission session chair Professor Lesley Sawers.

The ability of devolved corporation tax to create sustainable employment is in doubt and it could expose Scotland to extreme competitive dangers from across Europe, according to the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

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