DAVID Cameron was in Edinburgh today to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and pledge to press ahead with new powers for Holyrood in the Queen’s Speech.
Ms Sturgeon was set to tell the Prime Minister that after last week’s election of 56 SNP MPs, there was widespread demand in Scotland for “substantial” extra control to be transferred, going beyond the measures proposed by the cross-party Smith Commission.
But Mr Cameron insisted the package based on the Smith proposals would mean “an unprecedented rise in the powers of the Scottish Parliament” and make Holyrood “one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world”.
The UK government said the visit, eight days after the election, underlined his commitment to “renewing and refreshing the United Kingdom” and the importance he placed on the “respect agenda”.
But it comes a day after a special all-party committee of MSPs criticised the draft legislation drawn up to implement the Smith proposals as “falling short” of the commission’s own recommendations.
The MSPs said the legislative clauses prepared by the coalition government before the election did not meet the “spirit or substance” of the Smith Commission proposals on welfare and benefits, and would require extensive redrafting in other key areas.
Committee convener Bruce Crawford said: “The committee believes the current proposals do not yet meet the challenge of fully translating the political agreement reached in the Smith Commission into legislation. For example, there is no power for the Scottish Parliament to top up reserved benefits despite that being one of the powers highlighted at the time of publication.”
Mr Cameron said: “I am here today to underline my commitment to our United Kingdom and Scotland’s important place within it. Scotland has two governments and it is the duty of the First Minister and myself to respect each other’s roles and responsibilities and to work together for the benefit of all the people of Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon promised a “constructive and co-operative” approach. But she said there was strong support in Scotland for substantial new powers, including over the minimum wage and employment law.
“Scotland expects these powers to be delivered, and I expect the Prime Minister and his government to recognise the democratic mandate that now exists to deliver them,” she said.
Meanwhile, George Osborne has promised a “revolution” in the way England is governed, with elected mayors presiding over far greater powers in major cities.
On a visit to Manchester, he said legislation would be included in the Queen’s Speech to help create his “northern powerhouse”.