SOCIAL justice secretary Alex Neil yesterday performed a remarkable U-turn when he admitted new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament would enable MSPs to reverse tax credit cuts north of the Border.
Mr Neil made the admission during a Holyrood debate in which he was expected to argue for the Scottish Government’s previous position that proposals to enhance devolution were not strong enough to act on the Chancellor’s controversial proposals.
His volte-face was described as a “humiliating shambles” by Labour politicians, who had called the debate to discuss leader Kezia Dugdale’s new policy to restore tax credits.
While proposing a Scottish Government amendment which claimed “there was no proposed power in the Scotland Bill” to tackle the cuts, Mr Neil dramatically changed his stance.
Mr Neil conceded that the UK government had done enough to strengthen the bill delivering more powers to Holyrood for action to be taken.
Mr Neil said he welcomed “new amendments tabled today by the UK government which go much closer towards what we have asked for in terms of the powers that are required”. His comments led the Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser to ask Mr Neil to confirm that it was his understanding that the UK government amendments would give Holyrood power to mitigate the reduction in tax credits.
Mr Neil replied: “The amendments tabled today should give the Scottish Parliament those powers.”
Labour’s public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie responded: “What a humiliating shambles from the SNP. The SNP have spent days telling us we wouldn’t have the power to top up tax credits, yet Alex Neil now accepts that’s just not true.
“Yesterday Alex Neil issued a press release demanding tax credits be devolved, even though he conceded today that the power to top up tax credits is already being devolved. Why can’t the SNP just embrace the new powers instead of always talking Scotland down?
“The tax credit debate exposed what really matters to the SNP government – constitutional grievance rather than helping working families in Scotland.”
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “Alex Neil made a ludicrous U-turn in a single six-minute speech. He changed his mind halfway through about whether he has the power to mitigate these damaging tax credit cuts. It is the final nail for claims of SNP competence.”