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Devolution event axed 'due to lack of interest'

THE commission set up to look at the future of devolution in Scotland has had to cancel its first public event due to lack of interest, critics have claimed.

The Calman Commission – set up by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories to look at new powers for the Scottish Parliament – was due to meet the public in Stirling on Monday.

But yesterday the event was suddenly cancelled. After repeated requests for an explanation The Scotsman was told: "A small number of the necessary preparations for the event could not be completed in time".

The SNP – which is examining greater powers through its National Conversation – said the real reason was that few Scots were interested in talking to the Commission's members and suggested the forum had been "humiliated". A spokesman for the Calman Commission refused to comment on this.

Chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman, the Commission has been under constant attack from the Nationalists, who have accused it of being a self-selecting, closed group who, unlike the National Conversation, have failed to try to get the views of ordinary people.

They have also questioned why it will not look at the question of independence but only at increasing powers in the devolution settlement.

The invitation-only event at the Tolbooth arts centre in Stirling was going to be the first attempt to meet the public, although the commission has asked for responses on its website.

The event was set to emulate a tour of Scotland recently carried out by the Scottish Cabinet as part of the National Conversation.

A Scottish Government source said: "It comes as absolutely no surprise that members of the Calman Commission have had to cancel their trip to Stirling because of lack of interest.

"Not content with excluding the option of independence from their discussions, the Unionist parties have been determined to exclude the people from talks on their country's future – the commission has been nothing more than a group of politicians talking to each other behind closed doors."

He said the cancellation was "an enormous humiliation for the Commission and added that the contrast with the "open, inclusive nature" of the SNP Government's National Conversation could not be starker.

"It has captured the imagination of people the length and breadth of Scotland, with more than 425,000 hits on the Scottish Government website, while hundreds of members of the public packed out town halls to hear Cabinet ministers at the recent events held around the country," he said.

But a commission spokesman insisted the reason was that some preparations, in particular the analysis of submissions from interest groups, could not be completed in time.

He added: "The commission has a serious task ahead of it in exploring the experience of Scottish devolution and it is determined to make sure its engagement programme and work is as effective as possible."

It will now have its first meeting with the public in Glasgow in a fortnight and the Stirling event will be rescheduled.

BACKGROUND

THE Calman Commission was the brainchild of Wendy Alexander, not long after she became leader of the Labour Party at Holyrood.

Her plan was to have a rival body to the SNP government's National Conversation looking at the devolution settlement ten years after it was agreed.

The SNP claimed that the proposal from Ms Alexander was intended to distract attention from an investigation into her leadership campaign donations which was beginning at the time and ultimately led to her resigning over the summer.

However, unlike the National Conversation, the proposal was supported in the Scottish Parliament and voted through with a budget with backing from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

But the commission's remit specifically did not allow it to look at the independence question.

Sir Kenneth Calman was chosen to chair it and its membership includes politicians from the main Unionist parties along with business, religious, youth and union representatives.

 
 
 

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