SCOTTISH Secretary Michael Moore has said there is a “strong case” for devolving parts of the welfare state to ministers at Holyrood, in a wide-ranging interview on the future of devolution.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, the Lib Dem Minister said there were “rough edges” between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament’s efforts to help people back into work.
He backed proposals in a report on Home Rule written by former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell which said Job Centre Plus and the controversial Work Programme for long-term unemployed should be controlled by in Edinburgh.
Moore said: “On welfare, there is a debate now to be had about that. On the employability agenda, there are rough edges between what the Scottish Government is responsible for and what we are responsible for.”
He said he and SNP finance secretary John Swinney had worked “well together” to ensure the rough edges were smoothed over, but added: “That is an area that we highlighted in the Home Rule commission so that is an area where you can look at and say is that an area where we should be thinking about devolving.”
“I am spending a lot of time around Scotland talking to people about youth unemployment about underemployment and it makes sense to make these things as tight as possible… areas around bits of the welfare agenda and the employability agenda should be up for debate,” he added. However, Moore warned there could be no certainty on further devolution, given the fact that neither the public nor the other pro-UK parties had a settled view.
He said: “Predicting where that process takes us is a mug’s game. Will we take a small step or a large step next time, who knows?”
He added: “There are some in the Conservative party who agree with that and some opposed to it, and some in the Labour party too. That’s why, as I say, you can’t predict where this goes.”
He also ruled out a devolved Scotland having control over immigration, saying: “I genuinely think that on the immigration side of things it is pretty challenging. Very quickly you get into some very difficult areas. It is a highly integrated economy.”
His backing for more devolution in the welfare state follows proposals by Sir Menzies’ Home Rule Commission which argued the Scottish Government should run employment programmes. It also supported far greater tax devolution. The Lib Dems have gone further than Labour and the Conservatives on greater devolution, but have ruled out devolving control of benefits and pensions.
The SNP last night said the limits to devolution Moore admits to illustrate the need for independence.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Only an independent Scotland will give us the powers we need to create a fairer welfare system and scrap punitive Westminster policies such as the Bedroom Tax which impact most heavily and unfairly on our most vulnerable people.”