Nicola Sturgeon: ‘Devo is route to independence’

NICOLA Sturgeon today tells hardline independence supporters that they must embrace efforts to make Holyrood stronger in order to attain their ultimate goal of breaking from the UK.

Despite defeat in the referendum enthusiastic Yes supporters gathered at Holyrood last weekend. Photograph: Lisa Ferguson

The First Minister-in-waiting claims that Lord Smith’s Commission on more Holyrood powers could be the “trump card” for building confidence in independence.

Her pledge to engage with the Smith Commission and improve devolution comes amid scepticism from Yes voters that the body, which was created by the pro-UK parties, will fail to deliver radical enough change.

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With the SNP bolstered by a massive influx of new and highly motivated members, Sturgeon has to balance their desire for independence with the party’s decision to co-operate with Smith.

Danny Alexander. Picture: John Devlin

In an article for the Scottish Left Review, published in today’s Scotland on Sunday, Sturgeon attempts to reach out to hardliners at a time when the Scottish people have rejected independence and her party is poised to work for change within the UK.

Although the Smith Commission was established to strengthen the devolved settlement, Sturgeon argues that the people-power seen during the referendum means that Whitehall cannot put Scotland “back in a devolved box”.

“Regardless of the referendum outcome, there is a new self-confidence in the land demanding powers for a purpose – the ability to create more jobs and tackle the gross inequality that scars our country. That is the project which all of Scotland is now focused on,” Sturgeon writes.

Despite a ten-point No victory on 18 September, Sturgeon claims that the 45 per cent Yes share of the vote would eventually be seen as the moment when independence became a question of “when not if”.

Sturgeon argues that Gordon Brown’s suggestion that the new powers on offer would lead to a modern form of Scottish home rule suggests that substantial new powers over finance, the economy and welfare should come to Holyrood. This, she says, could eventually produce a desire for full independence.

“The more responsibilities we can demonstrate Scotland is capable of successfully discharging, – and the more these are used to build a fairer country and more economic opportunity for all – the less people will heed the siren voices claiming that to go no further would cause the sky to fall in ...Therefore the last card played by the Westminster parties to achieve a No vote – the promise of ‘extensive new powers’ – may in time turn out to be a trump card for building confidence in independence,” she says.

Sturgeon went on to claim that the Yes and No camps were finding “common ground” in the aftermath of the referendum.

The idea of securing radical new powers from the Smith Commission is echoed by Andrew Wilson, the influential SNP figure and Scotland on Sunday columnist.

Writing in today’s paper, Wilson says: “Leadership now means delivering a substantial outcome from the Smith Commission process and securing powerful home rule for Scotland.”

This week the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Greens will submit their proposals for transferring powers to the Scottish Parliament.

As the parties prepare to negotiate a more-powers package, the Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael will call on Sturgeon to accept the No victory and rule out another referendum.

In his speech to the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow today, Carmichael will say: “For Nicola Sturgeon – this is of course a big test. It is disappointing that she has declined to rule out pushing for a second referendum in less than three years from now.

“There is still time for her to clarify that she will push for no such thing. And I hope that she will take that opportunity...The threat of a second referendum would not only distort Scottish politics but undermine the case for business and jobs here too.”

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems’ Danny Alexander added to the growing pressure on Labour to accept the full devolution of income tax to Holyrood.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday ahead of his speech today at the Lib Dem party conference, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that devolution of income tax is “now the centre of gravity” in the thinking of new powers for Scotland, which he said would have a “federal relationship” with the rest of the UK.

In a warning to the Nationalists he also complained that Scotland is now “the most centralised part of the UK” and insists that devolution also needs to see Holyrood cede powers to local communities across Scotland.

Alexander’s comments put the Lib Dems in line with the Conservatives, who have also said giving Holyrood complete control over income tax is the “top priority”.

The Lib Dem and Tory position is at odds with Labour’s proposal, outlined in their Devolution Commission in March, to only devolve 15p out of the 20p basic rate.

But last night there were signs that Labour would move more towards the Lib Dem and Tory position.

It was unclear how the party could do this while taking into account last week’s intervention by Gordon Brown.

The former Labour prime minister said he was against full devolution of the levy, describing the proposal as a “Tory trap” that would result in Scottish MPs being denied a Westminster vote on income tax if English votes for English laws is introduced.

Brown advocates a position that would see a small proportion of income tax still decided at Westminster, so UK rates could be decided by all MPs.

A senior Labour source indicated that the party would be prepared to compromise during the Smith negotiations by embracing a more radical package than the one in its Devolution Commission.

“There is a sense that the party has been too conservative with a small ‘c’ on this one with the other political parties going further than us in income tax. The party is not going to be uncomfortable if we accept that we should go further too,” the Labour source said.