By a Newsnet reporter
A bitter row has erupted between the Scottish government and David Cameron’s UK coalition after the SNP accused the Tory PM of breaching a concordat when he vetoed any UK involvement in negotiations aimed at addressing the European debt crisis.
Speaking today, SNP Treasury spokesperson and Chief Whip Stewart Hosie MP accused the Prime Minister of breaking an agreement with the devolved administrations and of adopting a ‘Little Englander attitude’ by refusing to take part in European Treaty negotiations.
In a statement issued this evening Mr Hosie claimed that Mr Cameron’s decision “sold Scotland short” and had very serious implications for Scottish based industries and financial services.
Mr Hosie said:
“David Cameron failed to consult his own coalition partners before vetoing European treaty changes, let alone involving the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations. In so doing, the Prime Minister has effectively torn-up the terms of his own concordat with the devolved administrations in order to pander to the Little Englander attitude on the Tory backbenches.
“The Prime Minister has sold Scotland short without any consultation about the veto, or apparently any assessment of the likely impact of his actions on investment into Scotland and the UK, or on negotiations affecting key Scottish industries such as agriculture, fishing, and financial services.
Mr Hosie’s criticism follows a strongly worded letter sent by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to Mr Cameron in which the FM argued that the Tory PM was obliged to explain his decision to the three devolved administrations.
Mr Hosie added:
“The Prime Minister’s negotiating stance appears to be entirely about appeasing his own backbenches, and he must now address the serious questions raised by the Scottish Government – including calls for an urgent meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, involving all four of the UK administrations, so that the full implications of the UK Government’s decision can be considered.
“Events last week totally underline the case for Scotland securing our own direct representation in Europe so that, when our vital national interests are being discussed, Scotland is not shut out of the room.”
This morning the First Minister accused Mr Cameron of “blundering” by isolating the UK from negotiations. In a strongly worded letter Mr Salmond listed six questions that he insisted Mr Cameron needed to answer (see below).
The First Minister said: “It is extraordinary state of affairs that while the Scottish Government and our agencies were working hard to promote Scotland’s interests and industries in China, David Cameron was blundering into apparently changing the UK’s entire relationship with the European Union – without even discussing it with his own Lib Dem coalition colleagues, never mind the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
“Given that David Cameron took it upon himself to isolate the UK in Europe – from non-euro and the euro members alike – and without a word of consultation, he now needs to answer six key questions about the implications for Scotland of what he has done.
“As the price of playing to his own backbenchers, the Prime Minister now leads a riven administration – with zero credibility in EU negotiations across the range of policy areas where Scotland’s interests are crucially affected.”
The situation is threatening to open up a divide between Edinburgh and London over what is the best approach to take on the European issue. Scotland is traditionally seen as having a softer more pro-European attitude, which is in contrast to the hard-line Eurosceptic stance adopted by England’s powerbase.
The First Minister’s questions to the Prime Minister are:
* What risk assessment, if any, did the UK government undertake of the likely impact of its veto decision on investment into Scotland and the UK, and on negotiations affecting key Scottish industries such as agriculture, fishing, and financial services – where qualified majority voting already applies?
* What assessment, if any, was made of how Scotland’s interests will be affected in the EU by being represented by a UK government that is excluded from important decision-making meetings, which will impact directly on Scotland?
* Given the serious impact of a UK treaty veto, why did you not consult with the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations on the use of an option which Mrs Thatcher and John Major in their negotiations both managed to avoid?
* Can you confirm the reports in the Italian and UK press that you told the new Italian Prime Minister that your negotiating stance was based on the ‘big internal problems’ you would face if you had agreed to the Treaty change?
* With key negotiations ongoing concerning the EU Budget, agriculture and fisheries, how do you believe that the important Scottish interests involved will be affected by being represented by a UK member state which has isolated itself?
* Will you agree to an urgent meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, involving all four of the UK administrations, so that the full implications of your decision can be considered?
The Joint Ministerial Committee Memorandum of Understanding, covering co-ordination of EU policy, (page 28, para B4.3) states:
“It is the Government’s intention that Ministers and officials of the devolved administrations should be fully involved in discussions within the UK Government about the formulation of the UK’s policy position on all issues which touch on matters which fall within the responsibility of the devolved administrations.”