Labour plays down Holyrood powers gaffe

EMBARRASSED Labour leaders at Holyrood were yesterday forced to withdraw a parliamentary motion that mistakenly called for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The motion was published by Margaret Curran, the Labour chief whip and the minister for parliamentary business, ahead of today's debate on Scotland's place within the United Kingdom.

The motion praised the Union but noted that devolution was "a process not an event". It went on to state: "Scotland should retain the benefits of being part of the UK while, where appropriate, increasing the powers available to the Scottish Parliament."

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Increasing the parliament's powers is not Labour Party policy. Indeed, Labour is the only one of the main parties going into this year's election which does not call for at least a debate on the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The motion was withdrawn hurriedly after the mistake was spotted.

Ms Curran insisted last night that the problem had come from nothing more than a "clerical error".

It is understood that three different versions of the motion had been produced, one reflecting the Labour line, one the Liberal Democrat line and one giving the Executive's compromise line.

The draft that was published accidentally was the Liberal Democrat version of the motion.

"It was a mistake, honestly, an oversight and a mistake," Ms Curran said.

"The motion was submitted in good faith on the basis that it had been signed off [by ministers] when it had not been."

And she added: "People aren't interested in esoteric debate about powers of the parliament."

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A new, approved, version of the motion was published late yesterday afternoon, keeping the reference to devolution being a "process not an event" but without the call for more powers for the parliament.

Instead it simply noted "the respective positions of the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties on the powers of the parliament".

But Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's Holyrood leader, was quick to seize on the mix up.

She described the problem over the motion as "an embarrassing shambles" by the Labour/Lib Dem Executive.

She said: "Just when it seemed that Labour might be joining the consensus in favour of more powers for the parliament - including the ability to ban airguns, for example - they have gone back into the bunker dug by their bosses in London."

Miss Sturgeon claimed that polls showed that 70 per cent of Scots backed more powers for the parliament.

And she added: "They [Labour] are on the wrong side of the argument - the vast majority of Scots want to move Scotland's Parliament forward, but the conclusion of this shambles is Labour want to hold Scotland back."

The Tories decided to exploit Labour's embarrassment by submitting the original motion as their own amendment - giving Liberal Democrat MSPs the chance to vote for it after all.