by Joe Churcher and Derek Lambie
Sir John Major last night called for the Scottish Government to be handed more wide-ranging powers in a bid to curb the enthusiasm for full independence.
The former Prime Minster said he believed devolving everything except foreign, defence and economic policy to Holyrood would neuter some of the arguments in favour of ending the United Kingdom.
But while he said he remained firmly opposed Scottish independence, he said the rest of the UK should not stand in the way if people north of the Border voted in favour.
His comments were welcomed by senior SNP officials who said they added “a really serious contribution” to the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future ahead of a referendum, due to be held before 2016.
In a speech to the Ditchley Foundation yesterday, Sir John said: “The present quasi-federalist settlement with Scotland is unsustainable.
“Each year of devolution has moved Scotland further from England. Scottish ambition is fraying English tolerance. This is a tie that will snap – unless the issue is resolved.
“The Union between England and Scotland cannot be maintained by constant aggravation in Scotland and appeasement in London. I believe it is time to confront the argument head on.”
He added: “Why not devolve all responsibilities except foreign policy, defence and management of the economy?
Why not let Scotland have wider tax-raising powers to pay for their policies and, in return, abolish the present block grant settlement, reduce Scottish representation in the Commons, and cut the legislative burden at Westminster?”
In response, the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said last night: “These are welcome comments to the constitutional debate and a really serious contribution.
“Sir John Major has travelled a great distance since his time as Prime Minister. These comments put forward a positive unionist alternative as we approach a referendum.”
Meanwhile, former Chancellor Alistair Darling yesterday announced he will form part of the backbone of the Unionist campaign against Scottish independence. He refused to say whether he will lead the bid to keep the United Kingdom intact but admitted he wanted to play “a very, very active part”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Newsweek programme he also repeated his calls for the Scottish Government to hold an immediate referendum on the constitution.
Courtesy of the Scottish Sunday Express