Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has hailed the publication of draft legislation for more powers for Scotland in a “momentous day”.
Mr Carmichael, who is also secretary of state for Scotland, played a central role in delivering what he termed “home rule for Scotland in a strong United Kingdom”.
But both the SNP government and the Scottish Trade Union Congress have said that the document published yesterday was a watered down version of Smith Commission recommendations which they say did not go far enough in the first place.
Alistair Carmichael welcomed the draft legislation.
Mr Carmichael said yesterday: “Today has been a momentous day in delivering home rule for Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.
“We made a vow to deliver extensive new powers and today’s publication of draft clauses, based on the cross-party Smith Commission, has been delivered.
“I’m delighted that under these proposals the Scottish Parliament will raise over half the money it spends, we will have a Scottish welfare system with a starting budget of over £2.5 billion and there will be votes for 16 and 17 year olds for Holyrood and local government elections. Once these proposals are enacted the Scottish Parliament will be the third most powerful devolved parliament in the world.”
The Scottish Parliament will control around 60 per cent of spending in Scotland and retain around 40 per cent of Scottish tax. According to Westminster this will make the Scottish government one of the most powerful sub-central governments in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), just behind the Canadian provinces and Swiss cantons.
Mr Carmichael claimed that Liberal Democrats had campaigned for home rule for over one hundred years and that record spoke for itself.
“We were part of the Constitutional Convention that created the Scottish Parliament; we were part of the Calman Commission and implemented it in government through the Scotland Act; and we were part of the Smith Commission and are delivering on our commitments to it in government.”
He said that the“SNP have not been on the right side of history” when it came to more powers and “despite signing up to the Smith Commission, immediately trashed it within minutes of publication.”
“They can’t be trusted to deliver on more powers,” he added.
“Liberal Democrats have delivered on this devolution deal. We have delivered on the vow made to the people of Scotland.”
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that what was contained in the draft clauses did not amount to the vow made by politicians before the independence referendum.
She welcomed the proposals “as far as they go”, but said they failed to concede powers to abolish the bedroom tax and Westminster retained a veto on the general power to create benefits in any devolved area.
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Mike Mackenzie said that the proposals
did not come near to the vow that had been outlined by the three parties and most vocally by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
But far from being the losing side, Mr MacKenzie said the SNP had consistently pushed for more powers for Scotland. He said that the Liberal Party by contrast had moved from one advocating home rule, to federalism to something that had been called “asymmetrical federalism” and now was entirely unionist.
He added: “Full fiscal autonomy, federalism, home rule, whatever name you want to put on it, it, this only amounts to a very small amount of what was promised.
“It is a step in the right direction. We will take that and argue the case for more.”
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “It is unacceptable that the Scottish Parliament should require Westminster approval to create new benefit entitlements in Scotland. The current proposals will also seriously hamper the ability of the Scottish Parliament to make different fiscal choices by tying Scotland to UK deficit reduction targets.
“Given that the STUC was underwhelmed by the totality of the Smith Commission proposals, this further watering down of the promise that was made to voters in Scotland is unacceptable. The UK government will present today’s publication as significant progress, but the truth is that we are not even at the end of the beginning of progress to meaningful additional devolution.
“It is now vital that the fullest possible public consultation is conducted, including a citizen-led process. It is also a matter of particular importance that the Scottish Labour Party looks very carefully at these clauses and takes a clear view on whether they meet its aspirations and the spirit of the Smith Commission proposals.”
As well as chapters on the constitution, tax and welfare among other issues, the paper also sets out the need for a fiscal framework, allowing the agreement to be delivered as a unified and comprehensive package of powers to Scotland.
That will allow the next government to take the clauses forward in a Scotland Bill during the first session of the new Parliament.
MSP Tavish Scott is meanwhile calling for the Scottish Government to honour its commitment to devolve the Crown Estate powers over the seabed to Shetland.
The tax raising powers will be devolved following Westminster’s publication of draft legislation based on Smith Commission recommendations. Many responsibilities currently at Westminster will transfer to the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Scott, who was a Smith Commission member said: “New powers for Holyrood are good. But they must be passed on to local government across Scotland and to local areas.
“The best example is the seabed. The Scottish Government must immediately pass the responsibility for policy and revenue raising to Shetland. That is a vow they have made and I fully intend to hold them to it.”
He added: “Today’s announcement means that there are new powers for the Scottish Parliament to raise over 50 percent of what it spends, the creation of a Scottish Welfare System with a minimum budget of more than £2.5 billion and votes for 16 and 17 year olds.
“This is substantial package and is good news for Shetland and Scotland. I also want to see a new relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments. They need to work together. That is what Shetland’s fishing, agriculture and energy industries all need right now. It will be a big test of the Scottish Government. I hope they are positive and supportive of these really important changes.”