HOLYROOD will have the power to give votes to 16 and 17-year-olds before the general election in May, the Scottish Secretary has confirmed.
Work to ensure the transfer of power - known as a section 30 order - will begin this month with a view to completing its journey by the dissolution of parliament, Alistair Carmichael said at a briefing in Glasgow.
He also warned voters not to rely on the SNP to keep their promise not to enter a coalition with the Conservatives, insisting the first minority SNP administration at Holyrood was propped up by Tory votes.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this morning that the SNP would never support a Tory government, either formally or informally.
But she suggested she could prop up a Labour government and vote on English laws if they have a knock-on effect for Scotland.
Mr Carmichael said: “The Section 30 order will be brought forward this month.
“It will go through parliament and it will be on the books by the dissolution of the House of Commons in March. The power will, at that point, have passed to the Scottish Parliament.
“The Smith Bill will be published at the end of this month, in the days leading up to Burns Night, and that carries on regardless.
“It was felt necessary that if we were actually going to have 16 and 17-year-olds voting in 2016 that we allowed the Scottish Parliament the time to get a Bill through to do the necessary work for registration and the nuts and bolts, so we’re cracking on with that.
“The rest of the Smith proposals we are cracking on with this month.”
He added: “Constitutionally this government remains in place until the Queen invites the leader or whichever party or whoever she thinks is best placed to lead the next government.
“A government that doesn’t command a majority in the House of Commons will struggle.
“There is still a lot of heavy lifting to be done in terms of rebuilding the economy in the next parliament.
“The reason for the creation of the current coalition was that we want to have the strength of purpose to reduce the deficit and rebuild the economy.
“I suspect that will be necessary in the next parliament as well.
“You see the way the SNP have changed their views over a whole range of things over the course of time, I don’t know if I would necessarily want to rely on them in a tough time.
“In 2007 the SNP administration, as we have heard from Annabel Goldie and she has never been contracted, worked because the SNP were able to rely on the Conservatives to get their budgets in particular and their business through.”
He continued: “You’ve got the Conservatives saying the Labour Party would put the economy in jeopardy with more borrowing.
“The Labour Party say the Conservatives are imposing cuts that are ideological rather than just necessary to health spending, for example.
“For once I am in a position to say they are both right.
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“As Nick Clegg is reported as saying this morning, the biggest threat to the economy is not the Labour Party or the Tory Party - it’s the pair of them.
“Also here in Scotland we have the SNP who seem to see the May election as some sort of game that gives Alex Salmond a new job as kingmaker, as if the election is to be fought and won on the grounds of his ego rather than the fragile state of the economy.
“And the suggestion we have heard from Nicola Sturgeon this morning, that somehow or other a vote for the SNP is the only way to achieve home rule, frankly beggars belief.”
He said the SNP “trashed” the Smith proposals right after they were published, whereas the Liberal Democrats are working to deliver “the powers that the people of Scotland were promised”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Ms Sturgeon said: “I heard Ruth Davidson say: ‘Vote SNP and it helps Labour.
“But I’ve also heard Jim Murphy say: ‘Vote SNP and it helps the Tories’.
“Actually, neither of these things are true because voting SNP ensures Scotland’s voice is heard, Scotland’s interests are protected and we get those extra powers for our parliament that we promised during the referendum.
“If the Westminster parties win in Scotland they will go back to business as usual and those promises will disappear quickly.”
She added: “We have said all along instinctively and in practice SNP MPs don’t vote on English-only matters.
“There is always a question, and there always will be a question, about what matters fall into the category of being English-only.
“For example, if you take decisions on the English health service. On the face of it, those would be matters that SNP MPs wouldn’t vote on, but if those decisions have an impact on the funding of the NHS in England those have a knock-on effect for the funding in Scotland.
“SNP MPs at Westminster vote on the basis of what is in the best interests of Scotland.”
She continued: “There’s something to be said for a minority government.
“The SNP would never support, formally or informally, a Tory government but we could make sure that Labour don’t get away with taking Scotland for granted as it has done for far too long.”
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