Scottish Lib Dems look to Labour and Conservatives to help outline new powers for Scotland


   By a Newsnet reporter

The Scottish Lib Dems are to seek a consensus with the Labour party and the Conservatives on more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The party has signalled its intention to join the other two Unionist parties in a bid to outline what voting No in the independence referendum might mean in terms of further devolution for Scotland.

In a statement, the Lib Dem Scottish leader Willie Rennie said he hoped all three UK parties could agree to put the proposals in their 2015 general election manifestos.

He said: “Once the Home Rule Commission reports in October we will seek to work with other parties to develop a consensus on more powers and also include those proposals in our 2015 General Election manifesto.

“We have a good track record in delivering further powers, from the creation of the Scottish Parliament to the Calman Commission and we will build upon that reputation to secure more powers in line with public opinion.”

The Lib Dems set up the ‘Home Rule Commission’ following the party’s disastrous showing in the 2011 Scottish elections which resulted in only five Lib Dem MSPs being returned.  Headed by Westminster MP and former party leader, Ming Campbell, results of this commission are expected to be announced in October.

Mr Campbell’s commission follows a similar commission in 2006 headed by another former Lib Dem leader Sir David Steel, which argued for significant more powers for the Scottish Parliament and called for the Scotland Office to be abolished.

However, the Steel Commission’s recommendations were largely ignored and then overtaken in 2007, when after the SNP’s narrow election victory, the Unionist parties set up the Calman Commission which led to the modest return of powers contained in the Scotland Bill.

The admission from Mr Rennie that his party are seeking agreement with Labour and the Conservatives on a new constitutional settlement will be seen by some as a ditching of the party’s long standing aim of a federal UK.

The Lib Dems have sought a federal United Kingdom for 100 years.  However the party has refused to argue for anything other than a straight No to independence in 2014.

MEANWHILE, any agreements between the Unionist parties look to be a long way off after further splits emerged within the anti-independence camp.

Cracks widened today after Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls attempted to split the Tory-Lib Dem coalition – an action described by Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie as “crude”.  Mr Balls urged Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable to quit the partnership and enter into a pact with Labour to create a “Plan B for the economy”.

In a separate move, Newsnet Scotland has revealed that a Labour MSP is urging his own party to create its own referendum campaign calling for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Writing for the ‘Red Paper Collective’ Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the Better Together campaign was unable to “outline a coherent vision” and that it “cannot simply speak of the virtues of the UK…without recognition that things must change within that union”.

Mr Findlay’s stance is in complete contrast with his party’s refusal to set out what further powers it would like to see for the Scottish Parliament.

Commenting, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said:

“These are just the two latest examples of the fundamental divisions that are emerging in the anti-independence campaign.

“Neil Findlay’s contribution to the constitutional debate is in stark contrast to his party’s – he has gone against the No campaign’s refusal to set out what further powers they would like to see for the Scottish Parliament.

“Mr Findlay has openly criticised the anti-independence campaign and admitted Scotland needs “something better” rather than the status quo offered by the No campaign of keeping decisions for Scotland at Westminster.

“Then you have Ed Balls trying to split up the Tory-LibDem government.  A ‘crude’ manouvre according to the LibDems’ Willie Rennie.  These politics of alliances and hatred between old Westminster parties is not a positive road forward for Scotland to go down.

“The people of Scotland deserve so much better than the negativity of the anti-independence brigade, claiming to be better together but trying to tear each other apart.

“The question they have yet to answer is why they believe we are better with a Westminster government not directly elected by the people of this country rather than by a Scottish Parliament 100% elected by people in Scotland.”