Scots devolution in dispute as MSPs meet Mundell

NEW Scottish Secretary David Mundell has hit back at claims that the UK government had sold Scotland short and pulled back from the devolution package pledged as part the Smith commission process.

From left, Lewis Macdonald, David Mundell, Bruce Crawford and Linda Fabiani at Dover House where the MSPs handed over report. Picture: Contributed

Mr Mundell defended the UK government’s plan to extend devolution saying it “strikes the perfect balance of a strong Scotland within the security of the wider UK”, as he met SNP and Labour MSPs from Holyrood’s devolution committee.

They claimed the UK draft legislation did not meet the “spirit or substance” of the Smith Commission on the devolution of key powers over tax and ­welfare.

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And they demanded “more change” to draft clauses at talks with Mr Mundell in London.

The Smith Commission proposed a range of new powers for Holyrood, including greater control over income tax. Picture: Alex Hewitt

SNP MSP Bruce Crawford, who leads the committee, said the Scottish Secretary had “signalled he will make some amendments to the draft clauses and that is welcome”.

The former SNP minister added: “We had a constructive and helpful meeting. We are pleased the Secretary of State is moving quickly with the introduction of a new Scotland Bill.

“Our report sets out what changes the committee think necessary to reach the baseline of a bill that meets the spirit and substance of the Smith Commission’s report.

“Parts of our report are being taken on board now and that is helpful. But let’s see the bill – we’ll reserve judgment until then.”

Mr Mundell held the talks with Mr Crawford, Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald and Linda Fabiani of the SNP at the Scotland Office in London today. He said: “I was glad to welcome the committee members to Dover House. I read their report with interest after it was published last week and listened closely to what they had to say.

“I have made my position clear: the UK government will deliver the Smith recommendations, giving Scotland one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.

“It will have powers over a wide range of tax decisions, including the Scottish rate of income tax, as well as additional powers in many other areas.

“This strikes the perfect balance of a strong Scotland within the security of the wider UK.”

The commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, which was set up in the wake of last year’s independence referendum, proposed giving a range of new powers to Holyrood, including greater control over income tax and some responsibility for welfare and benefits.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he could consider “sensible suggestions” on what further powers could be transferred to Scotland.

However, Mr Crawford said the draft legislation was “not fit for purpose” and gave it five marks out of ten.

His committee noted that the welfare clauses do not match the “spirit and substance” of Smith as there is no power for the Scottish Parliament to top up reserved benefits despite that being one of the powers highlighted under Smith.

Labour MSP Mr Macdonald said the bill expected to go before the Commons later this year had to stick to the principles laid out in Smith.

He said: “We know the government has said it will make changes and that’s welcome, but the bill has got to reflect as closely as possible the recommendations made in the Smith Commission report.”