Sturgeon will seek more powers from GE pact talks

Nicola Sturgeon faces questions on her Government's legislative programme at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

Nicola Sturgeon faces questions on her Government's legislative programme at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

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NATIONALISTS could use any post-election talks aimed at forming a new Westminster government to win enhanced powers for Holyrood, the First Minister has suggested.

While draft clauses that will form the basis of a new devolution Bill have already been set out, Nicola Sturgeon said there may be “further negotiation that further refines” these in the wake of the general election.

The SNP leader has already ruled out a deal to support the Conservatives if David Cameron fails to win an overall majority in May.

But she has indicated a deal with Labour could be possible, if Ed Miliband’s party agrees to deliver a number of key SNP demands, including what Ms Sturgeon has described as “real powers” for the Scottish Parliament.

A total of 44 draft clauses, which will underpin the new legislation, were published last month after the Smith Commission secured a cross-party deal on further devolution in the wake of last year’s independence referendum.

At the time, Ms Sturgeon complained that the Smith Commission proposals had been “significantly watered down”.

But today she told MSPs at Holyrood that “depending on the result of the UK election, there may be further negotiation that further refines what we are talking about”.

Ms Sturgeon insisted the Scottish Government wants to ensure the devolution legislation, which will be taken forward after the May election, is “fit for purpose”.

The First Minister was questioned on the issue as she appeared before a Holyrood super committee, made up of the conveners of every Scottish Parliament committee.

She told the Conveners Group her SNP administration had already identified areas where it believes the draft clauses can be improved.

Ms Sturgeon said: “For example we want to see the need for the Scottish Government to obtain the consent of UK ministers in key areas, particularly around welfare, to be removed from the clauses.

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“We want to see a move back to what the Smith Commission proposed in terms of the power of the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits in devolved areas and to supplement benefits in reserved areas.

“We would like to see the removal of some of the restrictions around employability programmes, and there are a number of other areas we want to explore with the UK Government.”

She added: “Although we take a very different view to the UK Government on the extent and scale of the powers we want this Parliament to have, nevertheless we are determined to work constructively with the UK Government to improve the clauses and to get a Bill that is fit for purpose to be introduced as soon as possible.”

She went on to outline changes she would like to see made to the welfare system and to the new Universal Credit benefit, although she stressed Scottish Government ministers would have to see how much “actual devolution of power” there will be.

The First Minister said: “I want to get rid of the bedroom tax, I would like to vary the frequency of payments to make sure we can direct payments to the person in the household most in need of them. I would like to have the option in Universal Credit to pay the housing element direct to landlords where somebody is in a particularly vulnerable situation.”

She also said she would like payments for carers to be increased, adding: “I have made clear in the past I think it is completely wrong that Carer’s Allowance is set at the lowest level of any benefit of its kind, and I would like to see this Parliament be in a position to increase Carer’s Allowance and give carers, who do such a fantastic job, a much better deal.”

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