Ruth Davidson’s ‘line in the sand’ vanishes as she U-turns on more powers

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Despite a promise that the discredited Scotland Act was a “line in the sand” for devolution, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is set for a volte-face and will suggest that further powers be devolved to Scotland in the event of a No vote in the referendum.

In a speech due to be made today, Ms Davidson will also call for a review of the role of Scottish MPs at Westminster, which could result in Scottish MPs being stripped of their ability to vote on matters which only affect England or Wales.

Ms Davidson’s intervention could lead to Scotland facing a cut in the number of MPs the country sends to Westminster.  The move is likely to prove popular with the Conservative led government as they believe it will increase the chances of the Tories achieving a majority in Westminster.  However any change is likely to be resisted by the Conservative’s coalition partners the Lib Dems.

Ms Davidson is expected to say: “With the spending powers already coming to the Scottish Parliament the role of Scottish representatives in Westminster needs to be reviewed.”

It is understood that Ms Davidson will call for the Scottish Parliament to be given greater responsibility for raising its own funds.  Under the terms of the Scotland Act, from 2016 Holyrood will become responsible for raising 35% of its own budget, up from the 15% it currently raises.  Ms Davidson will also argue that the Barnett Formula should be abolished.  

She will add: “Responsibility for raising 35% of Scotland’s revenues is coming to Holyrood under the Scotland Act by 2016, so the much-derided and little understood Barnett Formula is already in its death throes.”

In comments redolent of the infamous promise by former Conservative PM Alec Douglas Home prior to the Home Rule referendum in 1979 that if Scotland voted No then the Conservatives would deliver “something better”, the Scots Tory leader is also expected to suggest that a US-style federalism should be the way forward for the devolution settlement.  

However Ms Davidson is not expected to make specific proposals nor to commit her party to a detailed plan for further devolution. 

Sir Alec Douglas Home’s promise of an unspecified “something better” turned out to be Margaret Thatcher and her refusal to consider any form of home rule for Scotland.

Commenting ahead of Ms Davidson’s speech, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing – who sits on the Referendum Bill Committee – said:

“The Tories are split from top to bottom on the issue of more powers for Scotland. With this announcement, it is not the infamous ‘line in the sand’ that has disappeared – it is the last vestiges of Ruth Davidson’s credibility.

“The only reason Ruth Davidson and others in the anti-independence parties are grudgingly talking about more powers for the Scottish Parliament is because we are going to have an independence referendum next year to achieve these very powers – and more.

“The guaranteed way to achieve the powers that Scotland needs to build a strong economy and fair society is to vote Yes – a No vote is a vote for nothing. If Ruth Davidson believes that democratic accountability is a good thing – and it is – the way to have real accountability in Scotland is to have Holyrood responsible for 100 per cent of the nation’s tax and spending decisions, a position which already carries majority support in Scotland.

“The fact is that, under the Tories, money is being cut from budgets that the Scottish Parliament has already democratically set, as we saw with their £100 million raid from UK budget last week – the Tory/Lib Dem coalition at Westminster are thus undermining democratic accountability in Scotland.

“At every step of the way, the Tories have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting more powers for the Scottish Parliament. And it was of course the Tories who offered Scotland a better form of devolution in return for a No vote in 1979 – and swiftly broke their promise to Scotland.”

Ms Davidson’s speech follows encouraging poll results for the Yes campaign which shows the gap between those in favour of independence and those against is narrowing.  A Panelbase poll on behalf of the Sunday Times and Real Radio showed that the gap has narrowed to 10%, meaning the Yes campaign requires only a five per cent swing in order to achieve a Yes vote.

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