A LEADING QC who is chairman of the Scottish Tories has been appointed the UK government’s most senior adviser on Scots law.
Richard Keen is stepping down from his post in the Conservative Party to become the Advocate General for Scotland.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the job would see Mr Keen take on a central role in supporting the UK government at a time when it is bringing in new legislation to extend devolution to Holyrood.
However, the move led to claims from the Scottish Nationalists that his appointment was a sign the Conservatives were rowing back from their “more powers” pledge.
The SNP referred to comments made by Mr Keen last year when he said he did not “think it’s the answer just to say ‘more powers’”.
He added: “What is the answer to the devolved settlement is to ensure that the powers that Holyrood has are used properly and there is accountability.”
The SNP’s Stewart Maxwell, a member of Holyrood’s devolution committee, said: “The appointment of Richard Keen sends further clear signals that the Tories intend to backtrack on further powers for Scotland.
“Mr Keen has previously argued that more powers are not the answer and his appointment comes less than 24 hours after the publication of the Scotland Bill, which falls far short of implementing the Smith Commission recommendations.
“At the general election, people in Scotland gave the SNP an unprecedented democratic mandate to ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard at Westminster more loudly than ever before. The SNP will do all we can to ensure Scotland’s interests are protected and the Tories cannot wriggle out of delivering the powers promised to the people of Scotland.”
The Scotland Office disputed Mr Maxwell’s claims. A spokesman said: “The UK government is delivering the Smith recommendations on more powers in full through the Scotland Bill, which was laid in parliament on Thursday.
“The clear signal is actually that the Scottish Parliament is on course to become one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world, with wide-ranging choices over tax, welfare and many other areas. The idea anyone is backtracking on powers is simply wrong.”
Mr Keen is one of the most prominent figures in Scottish legal circles, having acted in various high-profile cases including the Lockerbie trial. He served as dean of the Faculty of Advocates from 2007 to 2014.
But he stood down from that role to become the chairman of the Scottish Conservatives.
Mr Mundell said: “This is a key job for Scotland and Richard is exactly the right person to take it on.”