Possibility of devo-vow breach grows as chaos engulfs No parties

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  By Martin Kelly

The likelihood of pro-Union parties honouring their pre-referendum pledge on more powers has diminished this evening after key pro-Union figures publicly disagreed over the extent of further devolution promised.

Today Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson appeared to try to limit the scope of the Smith Commission which will look at defining the extra powers Scotland will receive as a result of the vow signed by the leaders of the three London based parties.

In a speech at her party’s conference today, Ms Davidson told delegates that the SNP had to show “good faith” in discussions over more powers.

She added: “That means ruling out so-called Devo Max.  Such a plan – which would devolve everything bar foreign affairs and the Armed Forces – is a complete non-starter.”

The promise of Devo Max was confirmed nine days before the referendum by Better Together campaign leader Alistair Darling in an interview with BBC presenter Jackie Bird.

However within hours of Davidson’s comments, one of her allies in the campaign against independence raised eyebrows when he called for his own pre-referendum pledge to be honoured in full, and asked Scots to sign a petition.

In a bizarre intervention, former Labour leader Gordon Brown called for voters to sign a petition demanding the No campaign keep its promise of more powers.  According to media reports, the former Kirkcaldy MP has described devolution proposals outlined by David Cameron as a “Tory Trap” and has urged 100,000 Scots to sign a petition.

Brown was portrayed at the eleventh hour as the authoritative leader of the No campaign by pro-Union sympathisers within the Scottish media.  With support for a Yes vote growing, he claimed he would guarantee new powers equivalent to Home Rule in the event of a No vote.  Brown’s pledge was backed by Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg in a public vow.

However within a day of the referendum, and a win for the No campaign, the timetable set out by Brown was broken and the parties which had pledged significant extra powers began disagreeing.

Responding to the former Labour leader’s petition plea, First Minister Alex Salmond called Mr Brown’s latest intervention “astonishing”.

Mr Salmond said:

“This is an astonishing development.  How can Gordon Brown call for people to sign a petition urging Westminster to keep its promises on more powers for Scotland when he himself has already said that is a vow which will be honoured?

“He is now calling for guarantees on the delivery of something which he himself said during the referendum campaign was already a done deal.

“The ‘Tory trap’ is not the proposals on income tax which Gordon Brown talks about – it is the Tory trap which he and his colleagues are leading people into, in which the issue of more powers for Scotland becomes entangled in a row between factions of the Westminster establishment.

“Scotland has been promised very substantial new powers, regardless of Tory attempts to link the issue to that of English votes for English laws.

“Many of the people who voted No in the referendum did so in the belief that those new powers would be delivered, and that is what now must happen.”

The issue of more powers for Scotland has dominated the political agenda north and south of the border with disagreements between pro-Union parties over the extent of the powers promised to Scotland and the effect on England.  The issue has also witnessed splits within parties with some Unionist MSPs calling for Devo Plus, which would see full income tax and corporation tax devolved, but others arguing for a minimal package of extra powers with corporation tax retained.

Speaking on Radio Scotland last Friday, North East of Scotland Labour MSP Jenny Marra, when asked about her party’s stance on income tax said:

“Labour’s proposals were very carefully thought out […] to preserve the integrity of the UK.  You can’t completely pull apart your tax system if you want to maintain the strength of the UK economy.”

However, Ms Marra’s insistence that income tax cannot be fully devolved is at odds with her Labour MSP colleague Duncan McNeil who is part of the Reform Scotland group advocating so-called Devo-Plus which calls for income tax and corporation tax to be fully devolved to Holyrood.

Taking part in an official Better Together interview in the midst of the referendum campaign, the Inverclyde MSP said:

“As someone who supports devolution, I was very pleased to become aware of the work that was being done with Reform Scotland on how we can develop the Scottish Parliament and its powers.”

McNeil argued that Devo Plus would benefit Scotland by bringing, “democracy closer to the people of Scotland” adding that “we can apply our own solutions to problems here in our country”.