HIGH-level discussions about setting up a constitutional convention after the next election to create a devolution settlement for the whole of the United Kingdom have begun, a Cabinet minister confirmed yesterday.
Stephen Crabb, the newly appointed Conservative Welsh Secretary, who is regarded as one of the key government figures driving forward the devolution agenda, told Scotland on Sunday the prospect of a UK constitutional convention in the next parliament had been discussed.
He said was one of the subjects aired in a meeting between David Cameron and the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, held at the Royal Welsh Show last week.
The move is significant with all three parties stating that they will extend powers to Holyrood and consider further devolution to Wales, as well as looking at how to devolve responsibilities to English regions.
The discussions are also aimed at countering claims in the independence referendum by the SNP that the Unionist parties are not serious about devolving more powers away from Westminster.
The idea of a constitutional convention, inspired by the Scottish version, was proposed by the Welsh First Minister.
Crabb said: “We had a meeting with the Prime Minister and we talked a bit about this in general terms.
“We should have a standard model of devolution but not necessarily the same powers and, yes, I think we are going to have to look at how the different models of devolution relate to each other because at the moment devolution is developing in a piecemeal way.”
He also said that “fiscal responsibility”, including handing over tax powers, was high on the agenda.
Crabb said he is “relaxed” about all of income tax being devolved and the lock step which prevents different changes to different tax bands being removed, as proposed by the Scottish Conservatives’ Strathclyde Commission for more powers for Holyrood.
He said: “The Strathclyde proposals are positive and that sets out the next stage for fiscal devolution for Scotland. I see that as a very healthy development.
He argued that more devolution especially of tax will help “challenge socialist orthodoxy”.
He added: “I am very comfortable with the way devolution is developing. It is quite an exciting landscape that is emerging for devolution. So fiscal devolution I see as particularly important because of strengthening accountability for devolved government.”
Crabb admitted to being a late convert to devolution. He described it as “constitutional vandalism” in an article he wrote in 2007.
“I got that wrong,” he said and added one of the moments which changed his mind was a speech by Lord Brian Griffiths who ran Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit in the 1980s.
The new Welsh Secretary described himself as half Scottish, half Welsh, although as a “passionate rugby fan” Scotland was his second team.
He was born in Inverness and spent most summers at his maternal grandparents’ council house in Greenock.
Crabb said he felt a strong emotional tie with Scotland and believes that his views have been shaped by his Scottish mother’s values.
He added: “From when I was seven, mother raised us on her own. A very Scottish lady. A strong role model for us. Very, very strong work ethic.”
He said he sees himself as “a product of the Union” and believes he will lose part of himself if Scotland votes Yes.
He added: “When I talk about ‘Better Together’ and the importance of Scotland being part of the Union and the UK I very much mean it.”