Tories back more powers for Scottish Parliament

Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Ruth Davidson
Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Ruth Davidson
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PRIME Minister David Cameron is backing the prospect of more powers being handed to Holyrood as part of the Conservative review of devolution, it emerged today.

• Scottish Tory leader says party must have a voice after boycott of last constitutional convention

• Backing of devolution a change in tact from Ruth Davidson who described powers under Scotland Act as a “line in the sand”

Scottish Party leader Ruth Davidson unveiled plans today for an expert group to examine the existing devolution settlement which will allow the party to set out a clear alternative to independence in next year’s referendum.

The move has the blessing of the Prime Minister, Ms Davidson revealed in Edinburgh today. Former Scotland Office minister Lord Strathclyde will head up the new working group which will also include former Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie and ex-Holyrood Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson.

The prospect of more tax raising powers - which Ms Davidson backs - will be on the agenda, but it will also cover other areas such as welfare reform.

And the creation of a Scottish National Convention, which could provide a platform for all the pro-union parties to formulate their plans for more devolution, was also backed by Ms Davidson. The body is the brainchild of Labour MP Douglas Alexander and Ms Davidson said the the Tories “must have a voice” after boycotting the last constitutional convention which led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the 1990s.

“I have established a working group to examine specifically the question of strengthening devolution and the accountability of the Scottish Parliament by examining its structures and extending its powers over taxation,” Ms Davidson told supporters in Edinburgh today.

Ms Davidson said that there is a “commitment” from the Prime Minister to the proposals.

She added: “We’ve discussed the constitution – it’s something that’s come up in our many multitudinous discussions in the last 18 months or so.”

“Yes there’s a commitment.”

Change of tactics

The announcement marks a shift from Ms Davidson who had campaigned for the Tory leadership claiming the recent Scotland Act, which is giving sweeping new tax raising powers to Holyrood, should be a “line in the sand.”

The Tory leader said it has since become clear that the referendum “will not stop the conversation” about Scotland’s future and insisted the party must be involved in this.

“We have a unique voice at the table in terms of what we will be asking for and I’m asking this group to come forward to help inform the direction that that voice will take,” she said.

The creation of a national convention to consider Scotland’s constitutional and economic future inside the UK is backed by Ms Davidson. But she does not expect a “joint position” from the three pro-union parties – Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats – to emerge.

“We all have different ideas about where devolution should be,” she said.

The pro-union parties have faced criticism over the absence of firms plans for further devolution in the event of a no vote next year.

But Ms Davidson said: “We will publish our detailed plans in advance of the referendum so the people of Scotland know exactly what we are proposing when they vote in the referendum.”

Party split?

But SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who sits on the referendum bill committee, said the Tories were “split from top to bottom” on the issue.

She added: “It is not the infamous ‘line in the sand’ that has disappeared – it is the last vestiges of Ruth Davidson’s credibility.

“The only reason Ruth Davidson and others in the anti-­independence parties are grudgingly talking about more powers for the Scottish Parliament is because we are going to have an independence referendum next year to achieve these very powers – and more.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the announcement was a “wise development.”

He said: “A majority of people in Scotland seem to support more powers for our parliament whilst staying part of the UK. So the Conservatives are on the right track.”