Scottish independence: Holyrood ‘needs more power’

LIB Dem peer Lord Steel has said there should be a UK constitutional convention to transfer more powers to Holyrood after a No vote.

Lord Steel will give a speech calling for Scotland to stay in the UK. Picture: TSPL
Lord Steel will give a speech calling for Scotland to stay in the UK. Picture: TSPL

Lord Steel argued for awidespread redistribution of powers across the UK when he spoke with his fellow Lib Dem Baroness Williams at an event in Edinburgh titled In Praise Of The Union.

The peer said: “No self-respecting parliament should be expected to exist permanently on a financial grant from another parliament.

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“Most taxes should be raised and decided in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament needs to become responsible for raising the bulk of the money that it spends.

“The truth is that ourprocesses of government in the UK have just grown up higgledy-piggledy with the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland as well as our own and the European Parliaments. We need to bring some cohesion to these.”

Breaking up the family

The peer said extending devolution rather than a break-up of the “family” of the union was the way forward.

He also argued the costs debate was “irrelevant” as the discussion should be about the type of nation Scots want to live in.

Lord Steel, who believes people are “fed up” hearing about the issue, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have always stood for effective devolution, there’s more needs to be done to improve the powers of the Scottish Parliament but that doesn’t mean we go independent.

“The general feeling in Scotland is we have not finished the devolution process. We need to get the Scottish Parliament having tax raising powers to raise the money that it spends.”

Asked about the costs of separation, he said: “My view very simply is that if it is the right thing to do to go independent then the cost is irrelevant.

“Divorce is always an expensive and messy business and this would be no exception. But I think it is the wrong thing to do and therefore the argument of what it is going to cost is not the real argument. It is what sort of country do we want to live in?

“I don’t think we want to live in a country that breaks up the family of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A very successful union.”

But pushed to comment on the economic argument, he said: “The Scottish Government hasn’t really come up with detailed figures. There is a lot of optimism about North Sea oil, productivity will be up and so on.

“This is all pie in the sky. I think the costs of separating are not known. It is uncertain, it is a leap in the dark.”

He also said independence risked damage to the rest of the UK, which had stood together in “good times and bad”, adding: “That is something that we in Scotland value.”

Lord Steel, who is hosting a meeting with Shirley Williams tonight, became the co-chairman of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1989. It created the blueprint for Labour’s Scotland Act in 1998.

He was also the first presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, a post he held until 2003.

Scottish independence has dominated the headlines on and off for the last three years but the formal campaign, governed by the usual election rules, begins today.