Welsh First Minister warns Westminster against devo intransigence

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The anti-independence campaign has been dealt a significant blow following warnings from Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones over the damage he claims is being done to the No campaign by failing to devolve more powers to Wales.

Mr Jones has sounded the alarm over Westminster’s foot-dragging on devolving more powers to the Welsh Assembly, warning that “a failure to implement tax and borrowing powers for Wales could make a yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum more likely.”

The Labour FM of Wales made the warning in a letter to Chancellor George Osborne, in which he expressed his frustration that the UK government has yet to give a formal response to the Silk Commission, which recommended further powers for the Welsh Assembly.  The Commission’s report has the backing of all four main political parties in Wales.

Mr Jones has told the Chancellor that if the UK government is seen to be reluctant to give more powers to Wales, this is likely to provide ammunition to the Scottish pro-independence campaign.

According toi the BBC, legislation to devolve additional powers to Wales is likely to be absent from the Queen’s speech.  The SNP has claimed that the Welsh First Minister’s intervention has highlighted Westminster’s continued intransigence when it comes to giving up real power.

Other signs that Westminster is likely to resist any significant extension of devolution have already appeared.  Last month the Westminster Government ruled out any consideration of devolving corporation tax to Northern Ireland until after Scotland’s referendum, dealing a severe blow to campaigners in Northern Ireland from across the political divide.

The Northern Irish First Minister, Peter Robinson, also warned that Westminster’s failure to devolve the tax powers to Stormont, despite previous promises, was undermining the campaign to keep Scotland within the Union.

A further indication that Westminster MPs are set against any significant extension of devolution came at Labour’s recent Scottish conference.  Scottish leader Johann Lamont faced ridicule after her MPs swiftly undermined modest proposals on devolving income tax powers, leaving the devolution plan mired in acrimony and without any guarantee that it will ever see the light of day.

Powerful Scottish members of Labour’s shadow cabinet, including shadow defence spokesman Jim Murphy, were reported to be opposed to any extension of tax raising powers to Holyrood.  The MPs’ opposition comes despite the fact that opinion polls consistently show that an absolute majority of the Scottish population want Holyrood to have full control over tax and spending.

Further evidence of a lack of commitment to extending devolution within the Labour party came in an interview with the BBC, where Ms Lamont was unable to confirm whether she had discussed the plan with party leader Ed Miliband or shadow chancellor Ed Balls, nor whether they had given their backing to the proposals. 

Commenting, SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell – who sits on the Referendum Bill Committee – said:

“This is a telling intervention, which undermines the credibility of the No campaign’s claims about more devolved powers following a No vote.

“Just a few weeks ago the Westminster Government ruled out even considering devolving corporation tax to Northern Ireland, and now it seems Wales is next to hit the brick wall of Westminster’s inaction.

“Leaving decisions in Westminster’s hands is simply not working for Scotland, and polling has shown that a clear majority of people want all tax and welfare decisions affecting Scotland to be made in Scotland.

“Only a Yes vote for an independent Scotland in September 2014 will secure those powers for people in Scotland, and enable us to build the wealthier, fairer country that Scotland can be.”