London seeks end to Scots nuclear veto

THE UK government is searching for a way to end Scotland's effective veto over the building of nuclear power stations north of the Border. It has asked the Calman Commission – set up to review devolution – to solve the "problem" of Holyrood using devolved powers, such as over planning, to block its energy plans.

Westminster insiders claim the anti-nuclear SNP has sought to use all measures at its disposal to "frustrate" any plans to build nuclear power stations in Scotland. There is also concern from the Ministry of Defence over the way the Scottish Government has orchestrated opposition to nuclear weapons on Scottish soil.

The intervention on nuclear power, though couched in cautious language, might spark renewed battles between Westminster and Holyrood over the constitution – and it lands Sir Kenneth Calman and his commission with a political hot potato.

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Westminster ministers are said to be "relaxed" about Scotland receiving its medium-term energy needs from England and think several changes of administration are likely at Holyrood before it will be asked to address any plans for a new nuclear power station in Scotland.

However, there remain concerns about the SNP's willingness to use devolved laws to block Westminster's ambitions.

The Calman Commission was set up with the support of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats – a cross-party grouping with a majority in Holyrood.

Should the recommendations to curb the veto powers be adopted by Calman and come before the Scottish Parliament, that cross-party group could force them through in the face of SNP opposition.

The Nationalists' anti-nuclear stance has extended to attacking plans to renew the Trident warheads on the Clyde by suggesting, for example, using powers to impose traffic-calming measures that would make it difficult for large convoys to get in and out of Faslane submarine base.

In its submission to the Calman Commission, the UK government says the first nine years of devolving power from Westminster to Holyrood is "a success, by any measure". But there are areas "where the inevitable overlap between devolved and reserved matters has the potential to cause difficulty". These include Holyrood's planning powers and the ability of the Scottish Government to make rulings under the Electricity Acts – namely, in relation to nuclear power.

The Scotland Office submission to Calman states: "It was clearly not the intention of Parliament in passing the Scotland Act that the use, or threatened use, of devolved powers should undermine the delivery of reserved policies."

The Scotsman has been told that south-east England remains the most likely location for any new UK power stations, as it is more energy-efficient to build them close to centres of population. Dungeness in Kent, where there is already one reactor and a second being decommissioned, is considered a favourite site.

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The 126-page submission from the UK government aims to outline how devolution has worked in practice. An interim report from the commission is due before Christmas, with the full findings due next autumn. Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, will then decide which, if any, recommendations to accept. Some changes may require Westminster to pass amendments to the Scotland Act.

Although Labour has made it clear it has no wish to claw back planning powers to Westminster, it faces criticism for claiming that devolution is a success, while making no proposals for a further transfer of powers from London to Edinburgh.

One government source said of the submission: "It's not saying this is what we are going to do, or hinting at taking powers back or devolving further powers. It's saying this is how devolution works in practice. But it does say there are one or two things which are, by the nature of devolution and reserved powers… where things can come into conflict."

Another insider said: "They (Westminster] think the Scottish Government is using planning powers to frustrate the UK government's energy policy. They think it is bad for business, which wants security of supply. Our view points out this is a 'pinchpoint'. It may or may not be resolvable. It may be one in which there is a trade-off. Calman is being asked to look at it. But we are Unionists and we are quite relaxed about the fact that Scotland will rely on England for energy."

The SNP accused Labour at Westminster of "reverting to type" by rejecting any increase of powers to Holyrood. Alasdair Allan, MSP, said: "There is a veiled threat to claw powers back to Westminster – potentially paving the way for unnecessary and unwanted new nuclear power stations being imposed on Scotland."

The submission outlines the views of Westminster government departments on the experience of devolution. Virtually all found it to be a workable arrangement – but highlighted concerns about transferring further powers to Holyrood.

The Scottish Parliament has set up a working group to see if it can use devolved powers to block the renewal of the Trident. But the MoD's submission made clear that it would not allow competing interests to undermine national security.

The Home Office warned that giving Scotland more powers would increase the risk of migrants moving illegally from Scotland to other parts of the UK. It also rejected calls for devolution of firearms legislation, saying this would affect the 200,000 people who travelled to Scotland for game shooting every year.

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A spokesman for Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said: "The Labour government are offering nothing… and are rendering the whole Calman exercise farcical."

Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: "It is barely conceivable that, having lost the 2007 general election in Scotland on a platform of no change, Labour has decided that no change is again its position."

However, last night, Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, told The Scotsman: "The British government has no intention whatsoever of taking planning policy from the Scottish government.

"The SNP government is the only major organisation refusing to participate in the Calman Commission, but it is not too late to start now.

Why Sir Kenneth is left playing piggy in the middle as Salmond and Brown play power games

WHAT matters more: the right of one local community to protest about an unwanted development in their neighbourhood, or the needs of hundreds more to heat their homes?

That is one dilemma at the heart of the debate about whether the UK government should have the right to allow nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland. The SNP minority administration at Holyrood is dead set against it, and can probably count on the support of the Liberal Democrats and Greens.

The SNP's objections matter because, under devolution, it has the power to veto any planning application. It also, under the rights afforded to Scottish Government ministers under the Electricity Act, has a big say in new power stations.

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The SNP's objections go beyond the old-guard "no to nuclear" protests. It sees Scotland as a world leader in wind and hydro power, something a move to nuclear would undermine. It also has well-founded concerns about the cost and risk of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

This is hugely frustrating to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, who is keen to build more nuclear power stations. The south-east is the most likely location, because of the higher population and the presence of Dungeness in Kent (the preference is to site new power stations in locations familiar with their presence).

Mr Brown has travelled twice to the Middle East this year to ask its wealthy nations to invest, not just in new nuclear stations but in UK renewable energy, such as wind and wave power. The last thing he wants is an SNP government using planning powers to frustrate his efforts to boost the country's energy supply.

This is the dilemma which Sir Kenneth Calman's commission reviewing Scottish devolution has been asked to fix. It is being asked to do Gordon Brown's dirty work for him.

Instead of spelling out a diktat that Scotland should take its share of any new power stations, Mr Brown's government has raised concerns over the quibbles between London and Edinburgh on matters such as nuclear power – and invited Sir Kenneth to suggest a solution.

Therefore, if Sir Kenneth fails to recommend something he supports, the report can be ignored. But if Sir Kenneth suggests that Holyrood has to bow to Westminster's wishes on concerns such as energy, then the report will become a stick to beat the Nats with.

The only question that remains is timing. Sir Kenneth's report is due in a year. A general election must be called by June 2010 – by which time Labour, and Mr Brown, could well be on the way out.

But in a similar vein, it is just as possible that the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections will return a government more in favour of nuclear power. As a Scottish Labour spokesman confirmed yesterday: "Labour believe in a mixed energy policy and would not rule out any low-carbon source of energy."



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FIREARMS legislation will continue to be a reserved power for Westminster, despite calls in Scotland for a ban on air guns.

The Home Office said: "Any significant differences in legislation could create licensing anomalies which might have to be addressed by a temporary licensing process. It could also result in the introduction of different forms and certificates and we would need to work out the exchange of information between Scottish forces and our own national firearms licensing management system. The impact on the police's workload could be considerable given that some 200,000 people from the UK are estimated to make at least one visit to Scotland each year for game shooting."


THE Home Office has dismissed calls for separate immigration policies north and south of the Border.

Its submission said: "There is a risk variations in treatment for migrants in Scotland will lead to calls for further variations, up to full devolution of immigration and asylum matters, and for variations in other parts of the UK.

"There are inevitably tensions inherent in the settlement, where reserved matters (such as asylum and immigration] rub up against devolved matters, including access to services and policing. While overall current arrangements are working well, these tensions have been more marked since the change of administration, and we expect them to increase."


THE government's submission to the Calman Commission on Scottish devolution says Westminster is "keen" to see how the financial accountability of Holyrood can be improved.

However, it gives no details as to how this can be achieved.

A submission from the Scotland Office said: "The devolved funding arrangements provide the Scottish Parliament with not only a rising budget but also continuity and a stable, transparent and predictable way of funding public services in Scotland.

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"The government is keen to consider with the commission, in accordance with its terms of reference, how the financial accountability of the parliament may be improved."


ANY move towards a local income tax would have severe financial consequences for Scotland.

The Department for Work and Pensions has said it will not pay council tax benefit (CTB) to the Scottish Government if it were to implement the controversial policy.

In its submission, it said: "If proposed changes in Scotland go ahead, this is one area of social security policy where there could cease to be national coverage. Without council tax, there is no case in logic, and no statutory basis, for paying CTB or CTB subsidy. Government subsidy for a different system to council tax would be hard to justify, as a system that is based on ability to pay has no need for a benefit to support it."


FUTURE aid programmes in Malawi are under review, according to a submission from the Department for International Development. Since 2005, Scotland has been actively involved in a programme with sub-Saharan Africa, in particular Malawi.

The DfID says it has not seen "any formal evaluation of the policy and programme". It adds: "We understand work is under way to review a selection of the Malawi projects. Given the small scale of the overall contribution for Malawi (3 million from the devolved budget in 2007-8 compares with 70 million budgeted from the UK government), the impact in Malawi at national level is likely to be limited and sustainability may be difficult to attain."