Warning over ‘watered down’ devolution pledge

Nicola Sturgeon meeting with David Cameron at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: HeMedia
Nicola Sturgeon meeting with David Cameron at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: HeMedia
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SCOTLAND’S new devolution settlement raises more questions than it answers, experts have warned.

They were speaking amid claims from the SNP that the package of extra powers has been watered down since the recommendations of the cross-party Smith Commission.

Prime Minister David Cameron was at Our Dynamic Earth yesterday to unveil draft legislation giving Holyrood more control over areas including income tax and welfare.

But academics said the proposed extra powers created confusion in many areas.

And First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – who held talks with Mr Cameron – claimed the draft clauses had been “significantly watered down” from the proposals originally agreed by the Smith Commission, set up after last year’s referendum.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Too much of what the Prime Minister has set out imposes restrictions on the recommended devolved powers and would hand a veto to UK ministers in key areas.”

Professor Nicola McEwen, associate director of the Centre on Constitutional Change based at Edinburgh University, said the latest package created complex new arrangements including shared powers between Westminster and Holyrood over areas of welfare.

And she warned it could lead to tensions and increase pressure for further change.

She said: “At the same time as increasing powers, it also increases the Scottish 
Parliament’s dependence on UK policy and decision-making.

“In the area of welfare, the draft clauses specifically create concurrent powers, where new powers given to Scottish ministers to affect the delivery of Universal Credit will be shared with the UK Secretary of State, and subject to his agreement.

“Similar provisions are established in relation to energy efficiency, where the Scottish Government will be given the power to ‘make schemes’ for the purposes of reducing fuel poverty, subject to the agreement of the UK Secretary of State.

“Unless such joint working can be conducted on the basis of equality of status and mutual respect, the complexities and interdependencies are likely to create new sources of tension and dissatisfaction, and lead to growing pressure for a further revision of the devolution settlement.

“The Prime Minister’s hope that yesterday’s announcement will lead to ‘an enduring settlement’ may seem forlorn.”

Citizens Advice Scotland also criticised the package.

Chief executive Margaret Lynch said: “The Smith Commission led us to believe the Scottish Government could craft its own welfare system, outside of Universal Credit, taking into account the needs of Scotland. It seems now that offer has been withdrawn.”

Mr Cameron linked the new powers for Holyrood to a restriction on the voting rights of Scots MPs at Westminster.

He said: “If I am your Prime Minister after May 7, you will get in full these measures in the first Queen’s Speech of any government I lead.”

But he added: “There will also be very clearly set out rules, so that English MPs have the decisive say on issues that affect only England.”

Meanwhile, a poll found 27 per cent of people said extra powers made them more likely to vote for independence in a new referendum, while 12 per cent said they were more likely to vote against.