Cameron plans for Scottish home rule dismissed as inadequate

Scotland to get new powers next year on income tax, borrowing and welfare rules

British prime minister David Cameron speaking in Scotland last night. He said it was “a great day for Scotland and a great day for the United Kingdom”. Photograph: James Glossop/PA Wire

British prime minister David Cameron speaking in Scotland last night. He said it was “a great day for Scotland and a great day for the United Kingdom”. Photograph: James Glossop/PA Wire

 

Scotland will get new home rule powers next year, under plans published yesterday by the British government that were immediately attacked as inadequate by the Scottish National Party. Under the proposals, the Scottish parliament will have powers to vary income-tax bands and rates, but not personal allowances. It will also be able to borrow on its own account and have the authority to set some welfare rules.

Insisting that promises made to Scottish voters before last September’s independence referendum had been kept, prime minister David Cameron said that the extra devolved powers are “built to last”. Speaking in Edinburgh, Mr Cameron rejected criticism from Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and others, saying: “It’s a great day for Scotland and a great day for the United Kingdom. ”

The SNP wanted “to break up our country”, he said. “Well, I don’t want separation, and neither did the Scottish people vote for separation. They voted for a strong devolved parliament and this is what they will have.”

The legislation will not become law before the next British general election in May, but it will be part of the first package of legislation dealt with by the next government, the major parties have pledged.

The Scottish parliament will become responsible for more than 60 per cent of state spending in Scotland, but will have responsibility for raising about 40 per cent of its budget itself – not enough to impose discipline on Holyrood, say critics.

 

On the offensive

Immediately, however, Ms Sturgeon went on the offensive, saying that the proposals put forward last year by the Smith Commission had been “significantly watered down”, particularly on Scottish demands for an end to the bedroom tax.

 

Under the proposed legislation, Scotland will be able to vary welfare rules, but it would have to consult with London, which meant a veto, said Ms Sturgeon. This charge was angrily denied by Mr Cameron and Liberal Democrat Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael.

“I can absolutely guarantee there is no veto. If Scottish ministers, for instance, want to change the rules over the spare-room subsidy, they absolutely have the power to do that,” said Mr Cameron.

However, similar consultation rules have been tried elsewhere – in Wales, for example – and have proved unworkable.

There were questions, too, from the former Labour chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling, who led the pro-union campaign last year. He expressed fears that Mr Cameron plans to deny Scottish MPs a vote in the UK budget.

Curbing voting rights was not part of yesterday’s legislation, but Mr Cameron and chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne have both expressed a wish to exclude Scottish MPs from some votes, which could make it impossible for Labour to win a Westminster majority.

Questioned yesterday, Mr Cameron said English and Welsh MPs in the Commons should have “the decisive say” on matters that affect only England and Wales.

English votes for English laws

“If I’m prime minister after May 7th, Scotland will get its stronger parliament, guaranteed, but I also will address this question of English votes for English laws, which has been left alone for far too long,” Mr Cameron added.

 

The question now is whether the devolution offer will satisfy the Scots. Up to two-thirds say they want full home rule, with power over everything bar defence and foreign policy.

But attitudes are often contradictory. For example, a majority of Scots want full authority over tax and welfare, but they do not want rates to differ from those offered elsewhere in the UK, and they want them paid from the UK kitty, rather than just from Scottish-raised taxes.