Where’s Willie? Rennie called to clarify Lib Dem constitutional confusion


By a Newsnet reporter

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie is today facing calls to clarify his party’s position on the constitution after appearing to suggest that powers contained in the Scotland Bill and which are supported by his party at Westminster, were not enough. 

The beleaguered Lib Dem front man who according to polls is suffering from having a low public profile, has been challenged to explain apparent contradictions after he posted on Twitter that an opinion poll showing two thirds of Scots in favour of significantly more powers than the Bill contained “Sounds like the Lib Dems’ Home Rule”.

The Scottish Lib Dem leader later compounded the situation by issuing a formal statement that said “This poll shows that two-thirds of Scots support the Liberal Democrat home rule policy.”

Mr Rennie’s statement is at odds with the current stance of the Lib Dem party which currently supports the Tory designed Scotland Bill.  Lib Dem colleague Michael Moore has repeatedly refused to concede any more powers in the Bill and has instead described it as the “biggest single transfer of powers” Scotland will have seen.

The opinion poll showed that 68% of Scots support “all tax raising powers” to be controlled by Holyrood, however Mr Rennie and his much diminished band of MSPs have repeatedly blocked efforts to devolve “all tax raising powers” from London to Edinburgh.  

Mr Rennie’s Lib Dem colleague Danny Alexander, the Secretary to the Westminster Treasury, has consistently set his face against the transfer to Scotland of tax powers such as Air Passenger Duty and Corporation Tax.  The position of the Conservative Lib Dem coalition in Westminster is that the Scotland Bill should satisfy Scottish demands for greater Scottish control of the country’s finances.

The measures within the Scotland Bill have been described as a “Tory tax trap”, and have been widely dismissed as unworkable and potentially damaging.  Leading figures within the Labour party have also sought to distance themselves from it in recent months.

Mr Rennie is a member of Holyrood’s Scotland Bill committee which is considering the devolution of tax powers to the Scottish parliament.  The Liberal Democrats remain wedded to the Scotland Bill and insist that it must come into law before any future devolution of powers can be considered.  The Lib Dems have not specified what, if any, powers should be transferred in the future.

Now after saying that an opinion poll showing 68% of Scots want the Scottish government to control all tax raising powers represents “Lib Dem home rule policy”, Mr Rennie is being urged to clarify exactly what the Lib Dem’s home policy might be.  SNP MSP and deputy whip Graeme Dey has called on Mr Rennie to specify whether he backs “all tax powers” for the Scottish parliament, or whether he intends to stick to the proposals contained within the discredited Scotland Bill.  

Mr Dey said:

“Even Lib Dems must be asking Where’s  Rennie.  Keeping track of his latest policy requires a constitutional GPS system.

“Does Willie Rennie back all tax powers for the parliament as the people of Scotland clearly do or does he back the Tories’ tax trap?

“He cannot have it both ways.

“Willie Rennie may say he favours devolution of tax powers but every time he is given the chance in Parliament to back more powers he bottles it.

“If Willie Rennie backs the Scottish Parliament having all tax raising powers then he should join with the SNP, back changes to the Scotland Bill and support the devolution of real tax powers in the Scotland Bill.”