‘No going back’ on devolving powers

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David Cameron and Ed Miliband have insisted there will no going back on plans to devolve further powers to Scotland despite bitter divisions over future constitutional reform.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond claimed voters had been tricked into rejecting independence by the joint vow promising a new settlement for Holyrood issued by Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Nick Clegg in the days before the referendum.

Mr Salmond, who is stepping down from the job after his independence dream was rejected in the referendum, said the “Westminster gang” were already moving away from the pledge they made.

But the Prime Minister said “new powers over tax, spending and welfare are on their way to Scotland” and the timetable for setting out the plans would be met.

And the Labour leader said: “W e’re going to deliver. No ifs, no buts, we’re going to deliver on that promise.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The three pro-Union parties have made commitments on further powers for the Scottish Parliament and we have set out a clear timetable to do this.

“Lord Smith of Kelvin has agreed to oversee the process to take forward the devolution commitments with powers over tax, spending and welfare all agreed by November and draft legislation published by January.

“This Government has delivered on devolution and we will do so again in the next parliament.”

The Prime Minister has said further devolution meant it was necessary to change the way the Commons worked to ensure that only English MPs can vote on legislation which only impacts on England.

This desire for the new settlement for Holyrood to go hand in hand with efforts to answer the so-called West Lothian question about the rights of Scottish and English MPs has been met with wariness from Labour, which has most of Scotland’s 59 seats.

But Downing Street said the two processes would run in parallel, and the timetable for the Scottish reform package did not depend on reaching agreement over English votes for English laws.

A No 10 source said: “That will happen, come what may, no ifs, no buts. It is not conditional on anything.”

Mr Cameron said the ability of MPs from the devolved nations to vote on matters which do not affect their constituents was a “basic unfairness” in the constitution.

In the Mail on Sunday he issued a direct challenge to Mr Miliband: “Either resolve this issue with us, or explain to the people of the rest of the UK why they shouldn’t have the same powers as we are rightfully devolving to the people of Scotland – why, for instance, Scottish MPs should be able to vote to vary income tax rates in England, when the Scottish Parliament is going to be setting Scottish income tax rates in Scotland.”

The cross-party consensus forged between the three Westminster leaders in the effort to preserve the Union has shattered following Mr Cameron’s announcement that he was looking at wider constitutional change, which came shortly after Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45%.

Mr Miliband told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show he backed greater “scrutiny” of England-only legislation by English MPs but stopped short of a pledge on votes.

He warned there must be no rush to resolve a century-old dilemma in the constitution, and insisted a call for constitutional change was not the key lesson to be learned from the referendum.

Mr Miliband said: “We have got to look at all of these issues … we will look at any proposals people come forward with.

“There isn’t a simple answer to this question … we have been wrestling with this issue for 120 years, ever since we were talking about Irish home rule.

“I’m open to the idea of greater scrutiny of legislation by English MPs. But we can’t do it in a back of the envelope, fag packet way. We spent two years trying to keep our country together – let’s have a proper constitutional convention, let’s look at these issues.

“I’m not in favour of a new Parliament, a new set of politicians – I don’t think that’s the answer. I am in favour of one House of Commons, with 650 MPs, because, goodness, we fought tooth and nail over the past two years to avoid our Parliament being split up and our United Kingdom being split up.”

Mr Salmond – who has identified the vow by the three Westminster leaders as pivotal in the success of the No campaign – claimed the Labour and Conservative positions were “irreconcilable”.

He told the Murnaghan show on Sky News: “David Cameron doesn’t think he can carry his own backbenchers, never mind the threat from Ukip, unless he links Scottish progress to changes in England.

“Ed Miliband doesn’t want to do that because Labour would lose their majority over English business in the House of Commons. That is the logjam the Westminster leaders got themselves into.

“There is a big issue there, but shouldn’t they have thought of that before they made a solemn vow and pledge to the Scottish people.”

He added: ” It’s the people who voted No because they believed these commitments from the Westminster leadership – these are the people who are feeling most angry, most hurt, most disappointed in Scotland today.

“The wrath of Khan will be as of nothing to the wrath of a No voter who has been gulled by the Westminster leadership.”

Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg warned that Mr Cameron’s decision to link the issues could see him forced to renege on his promise to the people of Scotland.

The Liberal Democrat leader, writing in the Sunday Times, sa id: ” The Conservatives, in their rush to protect themselves from an attack from the right, are only concerned about English votes on English matters.

“Of course we need a solution to this dilemma but, by appearing to link it to the delivery of further devolution to Scotland, they risk reneging on the commitment made to the Scottish people that, in the event of a No vote, new powers would come what may.

“Worse still, if the Conservatives enter into a Dutch auction with Ukip over ever more extreme solutions to the issue of English votes, they could jeopardise the union they purport to defend.

“Surely we haven’t fought to save our Union in a vote north of the border, only to see it Balkanised in Westminster?”

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna accused Mr Cameron of behaving in a “disgraceful” way over his response to the referendum.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics: “What you are seeing is the Prime Minister here behaving in a dishonourable way and in bad faith, because he has been seeking to link English votes for English MPs to the issue of Scottish devolution and what was agreed before the referendum.

“There was no mention of tying that – English votes for English MPs – to the reforms that we need to look at that have been agreed in Scotland.”

Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown t old the Murnaghan programme: “Mr Cameron, quite deliberately to satisfy his backbenchers and also to create a trap for Labour, played politics with his own promise.

“That’s pretty disgraceful anyway, to play politics with that promise is, in my view, extremely foolish and extremely damaging to his reputation and to the reputation of Westminster.

“He must deliver on that. That promise to Scotland was made in something as close to blood as you get in politics.”

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