SNP anger as Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak vow to 'increase scrutiny' of Scottish Government as PM

The Tory leadership contenders have been warned any attempt to change the devolution settlement will be resisted as Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak both pledged greater scrutiny of Scottish Government if they become the next prime minister.

Ms Truss, the clear frontrunner in the race, has vowed to give Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) special legal protection, allowing them to be more outspoken as they scrutinise decisions made by the devolved government.

And Mr Sunak vowed if he were elected to lead the UK, the Scottish Government would be required to publish consistent data on the delivery of public services so its performance could be assessed against other parts of the UK.

The former chancellor promised UK ministers would also be required to be more visible north of the border.

Both candidates to be the next PM have vowed to hold Holyrood to account. Picture: PA

But a Scottish Government spokesman stressed the Scottish Parliament, as well as the people of Scotland, “rightly holds” ministers accountable.

The pledges from the candidates to replace Boris Johnson as prime Minister came as they prepare to face off in a hustings in Perth today – the only one scheduled to be held in Scotland.

Ms Truss said: “Having grown up in Paisley, I consider myself to be a child of the Union. When I say I’ll deliver for our country, I mean all of it.

“I will never let anyone talk down Scotland’s potential. As a nation we are stronger together and the UK needs Scotland as much as Scotland needs the UK.

“For too long, people in Scotland have been let down by the SNP focusing on constitutional division instead of their priorities. That won’t happen under my watch.”

The foreign secretary added: “I’ll make sure that my government does everything to ensure elected representatives hold the devolved administration to account for its failure to deliver the quality public services, particularly health and education, that Scottish people deserve.”

Ms Truss’s campaign has said she would push for a trade deal with India if made prime minister, with the aim of slashing a long-standing 150 per cent tariff on whisky exports.

She would change the Scotland Act to give parliamentary privilege to MSPs, to create more “robust questioning” of ministers and increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament to hold the Scottish Government to account.

Writing for The Scotsman, Mr Sunak promised to make it a requirement for Scotland’s most senior civil servant, the permanent secretary, to attend the public affairs and constitutional affairs (PACAC) select committee annually.

He said this move would allow the permanent secretary to be “free from the political pressure of the SNP”.

Mr Sunak also announced measures to make senior civil servants spend at least a year of their career outside Whitehall or in industry, as well as scrapping pay rewards based on the longevity of their service.

“The plans I am announcing will see the Scottish Government properly scrutinised by the UK Parliament, and required to publish consistent data on the delivery of public services so performance and value for money can be assessed against other parts of the UK,” he said. “I will also ensure that UK ministers attend committees of the Scottish Parliament.

“The Scottish people deserve better. They should know where their money is being spent and where Nicola Sturgeon is failing them.”

But a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Parliament, alongside the people of Scotland, rightly holds Scottish ministers accountable, which includes scrutinising the Scottish Government’s yearly Programme for Government and Scottish Budget. The Civil Service Code requires of civil servants in the Scottish Government that they are accountable to Scottish ministers, who in turn are accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

“Scottish ministers have made clear that they will continue to resist any attempts to change the devolution settlement which the people of Scotland voted for in 1999.”

The pledges were delivered as former Scottish secretary David Mundell declared there would be “no major change” to the UK Government’s stance on Scottish independence regardless of who wins the Tory leadership race.

Both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak have publicly ruled out any U-turn on the UK Government’s existing opposition to granting a second independence referendum.

A key court case that could allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for another independence referendum will be heard in October.

Mr Mundell claimed the priorities for the incoming prime minister would be tackling the cost-of-living crisis as he stressed the issues facing Scotland were the same as the rest of the UK.

The senior Tory, who has publicly backed Ms Truss, told The Scotsman: “The big issues in Scotland are what they are in the rest of the UK, other than the ongoing constitutional issue.

“They remain the cost-of-living crisis, bringing the country back to stability after Covid, seeing through Brexit and the war in Ukraine.

“I don’t expect there to be a major change on the UK Government’s approach to having another independence referendum, though obviously we have the Supreme Court deliberation.

“I also don’t think that either Liz or Rishi [Sunak] would have sent any different a letter to Boris Johnson in relation to the request to move forward with a referendum.”

The Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP, who served as Scottish secretary from 2015 to 2019, also predicted more action on cost-of-living problems.

He said: “Liz’s overarching philosophy is people should keep more of their own money and pay less in tax and national insurance.

“It’s clear if the scale of the increases are now what they are predicting, than further action needs to be taken.

“But that action does need to be targets to those most in need, and my understanding is that the treasury are looking at the options to present that to the next prime minister.”

Mr Mundell also defended no action being taken during the Conservative leadership race.

He said: “The reality is that less than four weeks we will have essentially a new government. In terms of taking action, essentially it will need to be that government that takes action.

“What needs to be done right now is all the options can be analysed and then set out for the incoming prime minister.

“There needs to be focused assistance for the most vulnerable, but I agree with Liz’s proposition that there is no point in taking money off people just to give it back to them.

“The starting point is to keep as much money as possible in people’s pockets.”

Asked how the new prime minister would fare compared to Mr Johnson, Mr Mundell warned they would be judged on “their actions”.

He said: “Anybody who is a new prime minister will have to earn their own stripes.

“The handling of these big issues, I think it’s a case of let’s give the person who’s been prime minister time to demonstrate their ability.

“Whether or not people like someone or not is not the basis of how they determine their vote, people’s votes are driven by their principles.”

There was also a defence of Ms Truss’s comments directed towards Nicola Sturgeon, with the foreign secretary having called the First Minister an “attention-seeker” at a hustings earlier this month.

Mr Mundell said: “As emerged later, that’s not a phrase that Nicola was unfamiliar with, having used it to describe the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I think she even added the word pathetic.

“The nature of modern politics is robust exchange.

"People might want that to change. Every so often people say we must make these exchanges more civilised and less robust and that lasts about five minutes.

"I remember 17 years ago when David Cameron became prime minister and agreed to adopt a much less aggressive and inquisitorial tone at PMQs and that lasted about two weeks because people complained he wasn’t robust enough at holding the government to account.”

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