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Crossing borders

Brian Taylor | 13:58 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009

Isn't it splendid - truly splendid - to see examples of cross-border co-operation between Holyrood and Westminster?

Today, for example, following that approach, MPs will scrutinise legislation aimed at allowing fatal accident inquiries into the death of Scottish military personnel killed overseas to be held in Scotland, instead of solely in England by coroners.

Last week, we had the agreement between the UK and Scottish governments to amend the law in both parliaments in order to prevent backdated compensation claims by prisoners with regard to slopping out.

In both cases, plain common sense prevailed. For which, thanks to our esteemed tribunes of the people, wherever based.

However, the impression remains that the relationship between the Scottish Government and the Scotland Office, especially at political level, remains competitive rather than co-operative.

Is your business in trouble? Fret not. Alex Salmond and Jim Murphy will race each other to get to your door.

I exaggerate, of course. And both would stress - with justification - that their primary motivation is to help those struggling with the recession.

Two delegations

But, still, one hears the chat. The conversation with a senior Scottish Government Minister who describes the Scotland Office as "an obstacle" to good relations with Whitehall, implying that Ministers at Holyrood prefer the direct approach where possible.

The conversation with London-based folk who express their concern at the tone they discerned in particular discussions with Holyrood officials: somewhat dismissive towards the UK perspective.

Plus do we really need two business delegations to China, one featuring the Scottish secretary and another offering the first minister?

As the Politics Show disclosed, that has prompted concern at confusion.

Wouldn't their Chinese hosts prefer a single perspective? Say, for example, the Chinese raise with Mr Murphy the funding of higher education in Scotland: highly relevant to business.

Should he say that, in direct terms, it is nothing to do with him?

Alternatively, say the topic in Shanghai or Beijing turns to corporate tax rates, how should Mr Salmond reply? Give them the phone number of the Treasury?

Past contact has tended to be via the Scottish Government/Executive - presumably, in part at least, because Scottish Development International, with its global economic reach, is funded directly by Holyrood.

SDI has three offices in China.

Mr Murphy insists China will well understand that Scotland has "two governments" - the Westminster and Holyrood versions.

Both, he says, must be deployed in Scotland's interests.

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