Scots leaders debate: SNP plan ‘devo-max’ vote

NICOLA Sturgeon confirmed that the SNP would vote for full fiscal autonomy for Scotland if the issue came before the Commons in the next year, in the first admission by the First Minister about when the nationalists wanted the powers transferred.

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon MSP at a BBC Scotland Election TV Debate. Picture: PA

The First Minister made the remarks as Scotland’s political leaders went head-to-head once again last night in a televised debate for BBC Scotland in ­Aberdeen – just 24 hours after a clash on STV.

Ms Sturgeon stated that the SNP would be prepared to back the full devolution of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood within the next year, in a major shift in the party’s position.

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The SNP leader last night stated the timescale for devolving full fiscal devolution for the first time, after previously repeatedly refusing to say when such powers could be devolved following weeks of pressure from opposition parties.

(L to R) Patrick Harvie, Ruth Davidson, Jim Murphy, BBC Host James Cook, Nicola Sturgeon, Willie Rennie and UKIP MEP David Coburn. Picture: PA

She confirmed that she would introduce full fiscal autonomy for Scotland within a year if given a chance, despite opposition warnings this would leave an ­immediate £7.6 billion hole in Scotland’s economy.

Ms Sturgeon made the admission after being challenged by Scottish Labour leader Jim ­Murphy about when the SNP wanted to see full tax and ­welfare powers devolved.

The First Minister, after initially saying she wanted the powers to be devolved as “quickly as possible”, said her party would vote for such a package if it was placed before the Commons in the first year of the new ­Westminster parliament.

“I don’t think it is any secret that I want Scotland to have as many powers over our own economy and our own fiscal levers as soon as possible,” she said.

“As Scotland’s voice in the House of Commons, if the SNP is there in numbers we will be arguing for as many powers to come to Scotland as quickly as possible. I would like it as quickly as the other parties agree to give it.”

Mr Murphy said: “Would your MPs vote for it next year?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “I would vote for it, would you support it?”

Mr Murphy said: “Absolutely not, and let me tell you why. This is the idea that we cut ourselves off from sources of taxation across the UK. After the difficult time that Aberdeen and the north east of Scotland has been through, the idea that we voluntarily give up the pooling and sharing of resources, the ability to transfer money across these islands – I don’t think it makes sense.”

Mr Murphy said Labour’s mansion tax would hit just 0.3 per cent of Scots but benefit from “tens of millions of pounds of money coming from London and the South East”.

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson said: “Full fiscal autonomy, right now if we vote for it next year, would mean that we had billions of pounds less in Scotland to spend on welfare.

“In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said it would be £7.6 billion, which is more than we spend on every single pensioner in this country.

“That’s the other half of the equation that you don’t want the people out there to know.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said: “Just imagine if we had a different vote last September. I think there would be blind panic as a result of what has happened in the North Sea.

“To have our economy, not wholly, but largely dependent on the volatile resource of the North Sea I think would have caused absolute chaos to our public services, to our pensions, to our teachers, to our hospitals.

“Nicola Sturgeon has got a nerve to continue to argue for a policy that was soundly trounced in the referendum.”

Scottish Ukip MEP David Coburn said: “If we had listened to Ms Sturgeon and her crew, frankly, we would be bankrupt, we would have nothing, the country would be finished.”

Ms Sturgeon also came under intense pressure about the prospect of a second independence referendum, after she failed to rule out such a vote in the first TV debate on Tuesday.

The First Minister placed a “triple lock” against Scottish independence – saying it must follow a change in public opinion, the election of a party proposing independence and another ­referendum.

She said: “I’m not planning or proposing another referendum. Something material would have to change before that was appropriate. Perhaps if they were to drag us out of the EU against our will. I’m not proposing another referendum. I’ve not even started the process of writing the 2016 manifesto. We’ve not published the 2015 manifesto yet.

“Something has to change and people have to vote for something that’s in the manifesto.

“I do accept the result of the referendum. There is a triple lock on this. Before it is inserted in the manifesto, public opinion has to change, and then people have to vote for the manifesto if it is in it, then people have to vote for independence.

“Politicians don’t dictate this, the people are in charge. That’s the basis of democracy.”

However, Mr Murphy hit back and accused Ms Sturgeon of ­attempting to rerun last year’s independence referendum and of trying to win independence by the back door. He said: “You don’t get independence in opinion polls. This election is not a rerun of the referendum.”

Ms Davidson added: “We will not compromise our commitment to the UK. We won’t do a deal of any sort with the SNP. Be assured we won’t let the SNP in by the back door.”

Mr Rennie, referring to Nick Cleggs’ broken vow not to raise tuition fees at the 2010 General Election, said: “You’re not going to break a promise are you ? I would advise against that.”

Ms Sturgeon also stated that Trident would influence how the party dealt with a minority Labour government.

She said: “You better believe Trident is a red line issue for us. There are no circumstance in which SNP MPs would vote for the renewal of Trident.”