By a Newsnet reporter
Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Edinburgh on Thursday to meet with Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, Mr Salmond has called on Mr Cameron to “spell out” the details of his apparent offer to consider more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Cameron had said on Thursday that any such proposal could only be considered after Scotland had voted against independence, but yesterday Mr Salmond demanded specifics from the Prime Minister, and said that Mr Cameron had a “democratic obligation” to allow the voters of Scotland to examine his offer.
On Thursday when meeting with business leaders in Edinburgh, the UK PM said that a No vote in the referendum did not have to be “the end of the road” for devolution, adding, “I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further. And, yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved.”
The First Minister has insisted that Scots would “not be fooled” by Mr Cameron’s apparent offer, which was eerily reminiscent of promises made by Conservative leaders prior to the 1979 referendum on Home Rule.
During the 1979 campaign, former Conservative Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home promised that if Scots voted no, the Conservative government would offer “something better”. The day before the referendum, Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher pledged that a no vote would not kill devolution, adding: “[A no vote] will open the way for all parties to explore together a lasting alternative arrangement which can enjoy the support of the whole British people.”
Even though a majority voted in favour, the referendum narrowly failed to pass the artificial hurdle set by Westminster that 40% of those on the electoral roll must vote in favour, and not – as in all elections and referendums before and since – a simple majority of those who voted. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister later that year, and Scottish Home Rule was off the table for almost 20 years.
In an interview with today’s Scotland on Sunday, former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling conceded that the Scottish Parliament should have extra powers and went further than the Prime Minister by raising the possibility of transferring control of income tax to Holyrood. However Mr Darling backed the Prime Minister’s stance that a discussion of the details of extra powers could only be had after Scots had voted against independence.
However Mr Cameron’s offer was criticised for its lack of clarity and detail. A spokesperson for Mr Salmond said that if the anti-independence parties have an offer to make on extra powers for Holyrood, they must clearly spell out what is on the table in order that Scottish voters may make an informed choice.
SNP veteran Winnie Ewing, who took an active role in the 1979 referendum campaign, said the the experience of that campaign proved that Conservatives cannot be trusted on Scottish home rule. She said:
“When I heard David Cameron say last week that if people voted No to independence in the referendum, then he would deliver more powers for Scotland, my mind went back immediately to the scandal of 1979 when Scotland was cheated out of a parliament.
“In February 1979, just days before the devolution referendum, former Conservative Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home told Scots that if they voted against the assembly then on offer, a future Tory Government would deliver a better scheme. And we know fine what happened.
“Scotland actually did vote Yes – though not in sufficient numbers because of the infamous 40 per cent rule – but we didn’t get a parliament. Instead, we got Margaret Thatcher – and 18 long years of a Tory government Scotland didn’t vote for.
“I was a very good friend of Alec Douglas-Home. I would meet him when we were both MPs, on the Terrace of the House of Commons in the morning, where we would both draft our speeches to be made later in the day. We would often exchange jokes that we would include in Burns Supper speeches.
“It was on one of these informal occasions that he once said to me: ‘Winnie, I am a nationalist in my heart but not my head’. I remember that I replied to him quoting Burns: ‘The herts aye the pert that aye maks us richt or wrang’.
So we got on very well. And, therefore, I am sure that he himself was sincere at the time when he made this promise to Scotland, to deliver a better Bill. But of course the promise was never fulfilled by the Tories, and unfortunately Alec’s name will forever be associated with this breach of faith by his party.
“So let’s not have a repeat of history, and not be gulled by empty promises from David Cameron.
“When Alex Salmond comes forward with the referendum in autumn 2014, grab with both hands the opportunity for Scotland to become an equal and independent nation. Alec Douglas-Home offered Scotland “jam tomorrow” in 1979 – and we got 18 wasted years.
“Scotland has another opportunity to take a step forward – and I’d advise the people of Scotland to trust themselves, not Mr Cameron.”
Mr Salmond’s office said in a statement:
“David Cameron himself has now said that more powers for Scotland, beyond the current Scotland Bill, is ‘on the table’.
“If he has this card up his sleeve, he has a democratic obligation to put it on the table – and to place it face up, so that the people of Scotland can see what it amounts to.
“Not only does this apparent offer need to be in the public domain well before the referendum, David Cameron should spell it out within the timescale of the Scottish Government’s consultation on the referendum, which ends on May 11. That is plenty of time, if the Prime Minister and his colleagues are serious about it.
“People across civic Scotland are considering the powers that Scotland needs to have a successful economy and fair society – instead of punitive cuts and a stagnant economy from the UK coalition – and are weighing up the arguments for a possible ‘devo-max’ option in the referendum.
“They – along with everyone else in Scotland – are entitled to know what is in the Prime Minister’s mind, how developed this supposed offer is, and whether it includes real economic powers and responsibility for the welfare system, for example.”