Confusion over Cameron’s new powers commitment as PM refuses to elaborate

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By a Newsnet reporter

The confusion that has emerged at the heart of the Conservative party on the issue of further devolution for Scotland was further apparent today when UK PM David Cameron refused to reveal what extra powers might be devolved if Scotland opts to reject independence.

The Tory leader was asked by SNP MP Angus MacNeil to name one power that he considered appropriate as part of the “further devolution” package he said last week could be put “on the table” in the event of a win for the No campaign.

However Mr Cameron declined to name any area and instead accused the SNP of being afraid of the referendum.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr MacNeil asked the Prime Minister:  “Last week in Edinburgh the Prime Minister said there were more powers on the table for Scotland but couldn’t name any.  A few months ago he mocked the idea of Scotland controlling its own oil wealth.  In the Scotland Bill, even the Crown Estate was too big.”

“Can the Prime Minister now name one power that he has on his mind from his latest u-turn?”

Mr Cameron said:  “I didn’t think that the SNP favoured devolution.  I thought that they favoured separation (sic), yet as soon as you’re offered a referendum that gives you a chance to put that in front of the Scottish people they start running away.”

Mr Cameron’s insistence that the Scottish people are being ‘offered’ a referendum by London is at odds with his admission that the Scottish Government already has a democratic mandate to hold an independence referendum.

During a visit to Scotland last week Mr Cameron confirmed that further devolution would be considered should independence be rejected.

“When the referendum on independence is over, 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” he said.

The refusal by the PM to indicate what powers might be on offer post referendum follows confusing comments by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson who denied any new powers were being proposed.

Speaking on Newsnight Scotland Ms Davidson claimed that no offer of new powers had been made by the PM and insisted that the powers contained in the Scotland Bill currently going through the House of Lords would likely be sufficient.

However the situation was further confused today after the BBC claimed that the UK PM had suggested “substantial additional powers” were on offer if Scotland opted to stay in the UK.

In an online article the BBC wrote: “While in Edinburgh last week, Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that the Scottish Parliament could have substantial additional powers if there was a “no” vote in the independence referendum.”

The article by the BBC is the first to suggest Mr Cameron is considering a significant package of powers.  However it contrasts sharply with comments from Ruth Davidson to BBC Scotland’s Glenn Campbell that post referendum will see only a “tinkering” with the devolution settlement.

Mr MacNeil later commented on the Prime Minister’s reply, and accused him of leading a party that was in a state of “disarray and division”.

Accusing Mr Cameron of returning to the their traditional negative stance on Scottish affairs, he added:

“By avoiding a straightforward question with a negative response the Prime Minister has added to the state of disarray and division within the Tory party over powers for the Scottish Parliament.

“Just days after claiming he would be positive and more powers were on the table, David Cameron now cannot name a single power that he would devolve.  If his claims in Scotland were genuine he now has a democratic duty to set out exactly what is on offer.”

Mr MacNeil highlighted recent comments from the party’s Scottish leader Ruth Davidson and claimed the Conservatives were now panicking over their stance on Scotland.

He added:

“Who are Scottish voters to believe: the Prime Minister with his promises of ‘jam tomorrow’, or Ms Davidson with her refusal to even consider an improvement to the inadequate Scotland Bill?

“People in Scotland are entitled to know what the Prime Minister has in mind, and whether his proposals include any real economic powers and responsibilities, for example, over welfare issues.

“The Prime Minister should spell out what his alternative to independence is.  If his proposals go beyond the current Scotland Bill, David Cameron has a responsibility to say what he has in mind.”