MSPs endorse new Holyrood powers under Scotland Bill

From Democracy Live: Government Strategy Secretary Bruce Crawford led the debate on the Scotland Bill

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New income tax and borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament have been endorsed by MSPs.

The measures are part of the UK government's Scotland Bill, which is nearing its final stages in the Lords.

The Scottish government supported it, even although it said the bill had been "bypassed by events".

Opposition parties said the new powers were significant, and that the SNP had been forced into a climbdown over the contents of the legislation.

The Scottish budget is currently wholly funded by a Treasury grant, and backers of the Scotland Bill say Holyrood will, in future, be more accountable for the cash it spends, by having to think about how it is raised.

The legislation, which the UK government said would not be passed without support from MSPs, will bring in a new Scottish rate of income tax and borrowing powers worth £5bn.

It will also devolve powers over air guns, drink-driving and speeding limits, as part of what has been described as the largest transfer of financial powers to Scotland since the creation of the United Kingdom.

The Holyrood parliament agreed to the Scotland Bill by voting unanimously for a "legislative consent motion", which allows Westminster to make changes to Scottish Parliament powers.

It was all remorselessly genteel. Ineffably polite.

Like duellists anticipating a deferred contest, the main participants, mostly, indulged in nothing more hurtful than a little light word-play.

I refer to the debate at Holyrood this afternoon in which MSPs endorsed the concept of enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament - with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

All who took part were warm in their praise of Linda Fabiani who had chaired Holyrood's committee investigation into the issue with deft diplomacy.

She smiled, disarmingly.

It was as if the participants knew that this was not the core conflict, nor even a skirmish.

Rather, it was a display of potential political armour - a wappenschaw, to use the Scots word.

To secure a deal to win Holyrood backing for the bill, UK ministers dropped plans to return certain powers to Westminster and also agreed to review the role of the UK Supreme Court in Scottish criminal cases, amid SNP claims of interference in Scots law.

The UK government also said the new borrowing limits would be reviewed regularly and would consult on whether the Scottish government should be able to issue its own bonds.

The Scottish government's minister for strategy, Bruce Crawford, said the SNP had worked to ensure aspects of the bill which were "damaging" to Scotland's interests had been removed.

Mr Crawford, whose party wants to hold the independence referendum in autumn 2014, said: "In the judgement of the Scottish government, the package of changes makes it possible for the parliament to support the bill - but it could have been so much better."

He added: "The Scotland Bill has now been bypassed by history and events - its promoters are already looking past it, although so far they're reluctant to say what they can see.

"This government has a clear view - independence is the only state that allows Scotland to flourish."

Labour MSP James Kelly welcomed the bill, but said it could have gone further by including more borrowing powers and devolving powers over air passenger duty and the Crown Estate, which oversees costal areas.

Mr Kelly said: "It is a substantial package of measures, which is something that should be welcomed by the Scottish Parliament.

"I firmly believe the proposals which have been brought through the Scotland Bill will mean more accountability from this parliament to the people of Scotland."

The Tories' David McLetchie said the series of powers the first minister demanded were put into the bill at last May's election, known as the "Salmond Six" - including devolution of corporation tax and broadcasting - had come to nothing.

Scotland Bill powers

  • New Scottish rate of income tax
  • Devolution of stamp duty land tax
  • Devolution of landfill tax
  • Power to create new taxes
  • New borrowing powers of about £5bn of the budget
  • Legislative power over air weapons
  • Responsibility for drink-driving and speed limits
  • A role in appointments in broadcasting and the Crown Estate
  • New procedure for Scottish criminal cases that go to the UK Supreme Court

Mr McLetchie said: "The legislative consent motion which has been tabled by the Scottish government can be viewed either as a humiliating climbdown or a tactical retreat.

"Perhaps it is a mixture of both, because when one looks back on the heady days of last summer and reflects on the rhetoric of the first minister and his so-called six demands, there is no doubt that people unaccustomed to humility should now be eating a large slice of humble pie."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the Scotland Bill was a "significant step forward" for his party's drive towards a "home rule parliament".

Of the SNP, he said: "When it came to the Scottish elections, they had the six big demands, which they whispered during the election campaign, but they were red lines which they insisted the UK government must agree to - they failed to make their case."

Mr Rennie added: "Bruce Crawford did a commendable job, trying to big it up, all the significant changes that we'd got as a result of this process - they weren't big changes. These were in the process already."

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, said: "There were times when it sounded like the Scottish government would not support this transfer of powers.

"However, I am glad the Scottish government and parliament have now chosen to come on board and support a bill that will further empower the Scottish people and make the Parliament more accountable to them."

The Scotland Bill came about as a result of the work of the Calman Commission, set up to look at Scottish devolution 10 years on from its inception, in 1999.

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