by a Newsnet reporter
In an apparent climb-down, Scotland Secretary Michael Moore has stated that the UK government does not intend to alter the Scotland Bill in order to force an independence referendum with the timing and question of Westminster’s choosing. However Mr Moore also refused to rule out any Westminster meddling in the independence referendum planned by the Scottish government.
The Lib Dem Scotland Secretary was answering questions to a committee of Holyrood MSPs who are scrutinising the Scotland Bill, currently going through the Westminster Parliament.
Fears have been raised in Scotland that the Westminster government would seek to circumvent the historic mandate gained by the SNP government at Holyrood by inserting a clause in the Scotland Bill which would determine the timetable and exact question of a Scottish independence referendum. The terms and conditions of the referendum would then be determined by the Con LibDem coalition and the Labour party.
One of the main policies upon which the Scottish government was its promise to hold a referendum in the second half of this Scottish Parliament. Critics point out that the three Unionist parties campaigned against holding the referendum at all.
The committee convener, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani asked Mr Moore:
“Will you ensure that, in the Scotland Bill, there is nothing that interferes with the right of the Scottish government representing the Scottish people to see the timing and the wording of the questions for that referendum?”
Mr Moore replied:
“It plays no part in the bill and what we’re interested in is getting this package of measures on the statue book and implemented.”
Ms Fabiani pressed Mr Moore for clarification, asking: “If it plays no part in the bill, are you saying it will not be in the bill?”
Mr Moore replied: “I don’t anticipate it will be – it’s not what this government is bringing forward.” He added: “We’re not intending to bring forward any such proposition.”
However the Scotland Secretary refused to clarify whether the UK government would support a private member’s amendment to the Scotland Bill. Conservative and Labour members of the House of Lords Michael Forsyth and George Foulkes have both sought to make amendments to the Scotland Bill which would force the referendum with the question and timetable of Westminster’s choosing.
Ms Fabiani noted that the UK government claimed it sought “clarity” from the Scottish government on the referendum issue and said: “I’m disappointed, secretary of state, that you will not give that clarity for the Scottish people.”
However the SNP welcomed the Secretary of State’s climb-down from recent Westminster sabre rattling on the referendum issue.
Speaking after the Committee SNP MSP and Committee member Stewart Maxwell said:
“Finally sense has overcome sabre rattling in the UK Government.
“Instead of nonsense about the UK Government seeking to interfere with Scotland’s right to hold a referendum Michael Moore has confirmed that the UK Government has backed down.
“Perhaps we can now have sensible discussion from the Tory/Lib Dem coalition instead of the clamour of recent weeks.
“However it is unfortunate that he would not give a cast iron guarantee that the government will not back anyone who tries to amend the bill with such ridiculous proposals. I would urge the UK Government to make very clear to Lords and backbenchers that any efforts to override the will of the Scottish people will not have their support.”