Swinney under fire over secrecy in UK talks

John Swinney has come under fire for keeping MSPs in the dark about key negotiations with the UK Government which threaten to scupper landmark new powers for Holyrood.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Ian GeorgesonDeputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Opposition MSPs today demanded greater openness over talks with the Treasury to hammer out the fiscal deal which will accompany the new post-referendum powers coming to Holyrood in line with the Vow by the pro-union parties.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said this week that Scotland could get sweeping new controls over income tax by 2017 as part of the package.

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The SNP Government has threatened to veto the Scotland Bill proposals amid concerns that Scotland could lose out on the financial package, but Mr Swinney said it would be a breach of “good faith” with treasury ministers to lift the lid on discussions.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: “These discussions currently are shrouded in complete mystery.

“I am genuinely at a loss to understand why the Cabinet Secretary is unable or perhaps even unwilling to share with this Parliament, who are allies to him in this project, and indeed with the people of Scotland, precisely what is going on.

“It makes it quite difficult for us to engage in a meaningful conversational dialogue if both governments are not telling us about their proceedings.”

Conservative MSP Gavin Brown said: “I can’t help but think that there is some possibility that we could get a bit more information than we currently get so that Parliament and the Finance Committee in particular have a slightly clearer idea of where we are going.

“I think it’s important for the Scottish Government to lay out some of its stall because it has said publicly ... quite clearly and quite loudly that they are going to block the Scotland Bill or at least recommend the Scotland Bill be blocked unless the fiscal framework is fair.”

But Mr Swinney insisted that he has been “very open” about the discussions at Parliament and in committees to set out the Government’s position

He added: “I am one player in the negotiation - where is the Treasury in all of this. If the Treasury want to work out my negotiating position, they only need to look at the official report of the finance committee, the Government’s report to the finance committee and what I’ve been saying all afternoon (today) and on various other occasions on this issue.

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“I believe I’ve been very open - as open as I can be within a process which is a bilateral discussion between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom.”

Mr Swinney again repeated his threat to vote down the Scotland Bill if a deal can’t be reached on the fiscal deal for Westminster. The concerns hinge on the way Scotland’s block grant would be adjusted when the sweeping new tax powers are handed to Holyrood.

Mr Swinney said: “Any adjustment mechanism that simply seeks to reduce Scotland’s funding year after year irrespective of the policies that we pursue will not be acceptable to this Government.

“It will breach the Vow, it would breach Smith and we would not agree to such a provision within the fiscal framework.”