NICK Clegg has raised the prospect of the Lib Dems arguing for yet more Scottish devolution when he said the Smith Commission was not a “tablet of stone”.
The deputy prime minister said the more powers issue should not be “fossilised” but his priority was delivering the package outlined by Lord Smith of Kelvin last month.
When asked by Scotland on Sunday, if the Lib Dems would consider more powers beyond those already on offer, Clegg replied: “Listen this is not a tablet of stone. But it is a giant leap forward. Of course, these things are never sort of, you know, fossilised, but it is by far the most significant act of devolution ever in our Union and it delivers on what was dubbed the “vow” – it over delivers on it. And so it is something that we should deliver.”
When asked if the Lib Dems intended to argue for more radical devolution in the general election campaign, Clegg answered: “You will have to wait until we have drafted our manifesto. But I really don’t want you to in any way overlook what a massive achievement the cross-party agreement within the Smith Commission is.
“The SNP said there would be no devolution of welfare. There is £3 billion of welfare. They said there would be no devolution of income tax. Most of income tax is devolved.
“They said that control over the money spent in Scotland would not be devolved. Over 50 per cent of money spent in Scotland is now devolved. It is to all intents and purposes home rule.”
The Smith Commission will be discussed tomorrow when David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon meet for the first time since the SNP’s new leader became first minister.
The meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee will see Cameron host the leaders of the UK’s devolved nations at Downing Street.
The prime minister will claim that his government has led the way in developing lasting constitutional settlements. He will say that the Scotland Act has overseen the largest transfer of economic powers since the creation of the UK and is now taking forward the Smith Commission.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Cameron said: “We have shown that this government is determined to address the complex constitutional issues with settlements that are fair to all and built to last.
“We are keeping our promises, delivering on our commitments and making the United Kingdom all the stronger for it.
“It is now time we reached a point where the big debate is about how the powers are used, not about what they should be.”
Sturgeon said she would be pressing Westminster to deliver the vote for 16 and 17-year-olds at the 2016 Scottish election, saying it would be a “key early test” of the UK government’s commitment to Smith.
Sturgeon said she wanted to make sure that teenagers who voted in the referendum would be able vote for MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.
“To do that we need agreement from Westminster,” she said. “I will make it clear to David Cameron that we need to see swift action to make sure the powers are transferred in time to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to have a vote in the next Holyrood election.
“Any delay by Westminster in taking forward the necessary steps could see them deprived of a vote – but I am very confident that will not happen and that myself and the prime minister will reach a deal.”