Unionists ‘more powers’ pledge in chaos as confusion reigns


  By Martin Kelly
Offers of more powers by the three Unionist parties have degenerated into chaos and confusion after Labour and Lib Dem MSPs appeared to contradict one another on the issue.
On Friday, Labour MSP Jenny Marra insisted Labour’s limited tax proposals could not be extended to cover all income tax as it would undermine the strength of the UK economy.

Speaking on Radio Scotland on Friday, the North East of Scotland MSP, 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”

The Labour MSP’s view is endorsed by fellow Reform Scotland member, MSP Alex Fergusson.

Conservative MSP Fergusson, who is a former Presiding Officer, went further by describing Devo-Plus as a “starting point” for extending devolution.

In the same interview as Mr McNeil, he said: “I believe that Devo Plus offers a very, very good and well worked-up and thought-out starting point for the furtherance of devolution as we go forward.

“I think it is very important that people understand the consequences of voting no in the forthcoming referendum.  I believe Devo Plus offers a very good starting point for where it might lead to.”

The issue of more powers has resulted in confusion and anger with the three leaders of the London parties facing accusations that they have broken a pre-referendum vow on more powers.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed a No vote would lead to Home Rule for Scotland, with legislation being in place by next spring.  Mr Brown’s pledge was reinforced when Better Together leader Alistair Darling agreed that Scotland would be granted Devo-Max if voters rejected independence.

Senior members of the Scottish Government, including First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, have both insisted that Mr Brown’s Home Rule pledge, endorsed by David Cameron and Ed Miliband, should be honoured.

However, speaking on Friday, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, whose party claim to advocate a Federal UK, described the SNP interpretation of Mr Brown’s offer as extreme.

Speaking in Perth, he said: “An attempt from nationalists to redefine home rule and federalism in an ultra-extreme form is perhaps understandable but it is not something that will create a sustainable settlement that will stand the test of time.”

Speaking today, Nicola Sturgeon said Unionist parties would face a backlash if pledges they made in the final days of the referendum campaign were not delivered.

She told the Sunday Times: “I’ve said it directly to Lord Smith – we go into this in good faith. We won’t get everything we want from it.

“It is not going to deliver independence but it has to go a very long way to deliver what people out there think was promised to them. It has to be a comprehensive package.

“Between the 45% who voted ‘Yes’ and a sizeable number who voted ‘No’ because they thought that was the route to more powers, there is a powerful public majority out there for change.

“In the few days before the referendum the language being used was the language of substantial radical change – devo max, something close to federalism, home rule. That is the expectation that has been generated.

“Unless we end up with a package that is substantial the backlash against the Westminster parties is going to be severe.”