SNP postpones FFA push in battle for ‘Smith plus’

Sturgeon has insisted that she wants 'as many powers as possible' over tax and the economy. Picture: Hemedia
Sturgeon has insisted that she wants 'as many powers as possible' over tax and the economy. Picture: Hemedia
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THE SNP is expected to ditch plans to push for full economic powers for Holyrood in the Scotland Bill and will instead concentrate on strengthening the package offered by the UK government.

A senior SNP source has indicated the nationalists are not ready to fight for their flagship manifesto pledge of full fiscal autonomy to be included in the Scotland Bill when it is debated in the Commons over the coming weeks.

Not only is the SNP lion not roaring but the mouse is barely squeaking

Full fiscal autonomy is defined as handing Holyrood complete control over tax and spending.

Under the arrangement, Westminster would only be left in charge of defence and foreign affairs, continuing to run them on a UK-wide basis, with Scotland paying the UK Treasury a supplement to cover their costs.

Despite SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon underlining her commitment to full fiscal autonomy during the general election campaign, the source suggested the party will not 
attempt to amend the Scotland Bill to achieve it.

MPs will debate the proposals for more devolution contained in the Scotland Bill on Wednesday and amendments can be placed after its second reading on 8 June.

The Scotland Bill has been drafted to implement the recommendations of the Smith Commission, the all-party body set up by David Cameron to draw up the package of powers promised in the pro-Union parties referendum vow.

Even though the SNP has complained vociferously that the Smith proposals do not go far enough, a senior Westminster SNP source indicated full fiscal autonomy is not on the party’s immediate agenda.

The source told Scotland on Sunday that “there will be many amendments” to the Scotland Bill before indicating that full fiscal autonomy would not be among them.

When asked about full fiscal autonomy, he described the radical constitutional settlement as the “long-term aim” before adding, “but we need to get economic levers in place first to prepare for it”.

Instead, he said, the SNP will “focus on delivering Smith and Smith plus” centred around the proposals agreed after the referendum by the Tories, SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and Scottish Greens in the Commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin.

The Smith proposals include control over income tax, air passenger duty and £2.5 billion of welfare spending, but fall short of full fiscal autonomy.

The SNP’s pledge to introduce full fiscal autonomy was highly controversial during the election.

Labour attacked the plans, pointing to independent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which suggested that with falling oil prices moving to full fiscal autonomy would result in an annual Scottish short-fall of £7.6bn per year, rising to almost £10bn by 2020.

During the second Scottish leaders debate of the election campaign, Sturgeon suggested the SNP would go for the swift implementation of full fiscal autonomy, if they returned a large number of MPs.

Under questioning from BBC Scotland’s James Cook, she said: “I don’t think it is any secret that I want Scotland to have as many powers over our own economy and our own ­fiscal position as soon as possible.

“As Scotland’s voice in the next House of Commons if the SNP’s there in numbers we will be arguing for as many powers to come to Scotland as quickly as possible.”

Then asked by Cook directly when she wanted full fiscal autonomy, she said: “I would like to get it as quickly as the other parties agree to give it.”

She was then challenged by the Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, who asked:“Would your MPs vote for it [full fiscal autonomy] next year?”

Sturgeon replied: “Yes I would vote for it. Would you support it?”

Last week, John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, maintained the SNP “could” still put down a full fiscal autonomy amendment.

Labour plans to force the issue by putting down its own amendment for an independent report on the impact of full fiscal autonomy to be drawn up and then put to the Commons for a vote.

Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said: “The SNP consistently refer to their mandate from the Scottish people.  That mandate includes their manifesto commitment to deliver full fiscal autonomy. The First Minister confirmed during the general election that her MPs would vote for it this year.

“It now appears that they have acknowledged the £10bn financial blackhole would be bad for Scotland. Their economic credibility is now in tatters as they drop a major manifesto commitment at the only legislative opportunity they may have in this parliament, just a few weeks after the general election.

“The worst case scenario for Scotland was always likely to be an SNP amendment to the Scotland Bill that asked for full fiscal autonomy and a majority Conservative government delivering it. Not only is the SNP lion not roaring but the mouse is barely squeaking.”

The SNP intends to make the devolution of business taxes, the minimum wage and more control over welfare its priorities when it comes to strengthening the Scotland Bill.

The SNP Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, said: “Just a fortnight ago, David Cameron made a commitment to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to look beyond the plans outlined in the Smith Commission. The SNP – at Holyrood and at Westminster – will keep working hard to push the compelling case for further powers.

“It is not too late for David Cameron and the Tories to do the right thing and admit the Scotland Bill must be strengthened. We want to see an empowered Scottish Parliament with powers over business taxes, employment law, the minimum wage and welfare. These powers will enable us to strengthen and grow the Scottish economy while supporting and empowering our most vulnerable people. Amendments tabled to the Scotland Bill by SNP MPs in the House of Commons will reflect these aims.

“At the general election, the people of Scotland put their trust in the SNP. We will repay that trust by ensuring the Tories can’t get away with attempts to pay lip service to promises they have no intention of keeping.”