Dewar predicts a cut in Scots MPs

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Indy Politics

Scottish MPs could see a sharp cut in their numbers at the next general election because of devolution, Scotland's First Minister, Donald Dewar, said yesterday.

Mr Dewar disclosed that the figure of 72 Scottish MPs in Westminster was "extremely likely" to be reduced to bring the ratio of MPs to voters more in line with other parts of Britain. The total number of MPs in the Commons is 659.

Before devolution, its representation was proportionally higher than areas south of the border because of the need to represent specifically Scottish issues at Westminster. "It would be rather difficult to defend that once the Scottish Parliament was established," Mr Dewar said. "It is part of the devolution settlement that we should be treated, in terms of Westminster representation, on exactly the same basis as any other part of the UK."

The future role and numbers of Scottish MPs has been the cause of a dispute between Tories and the Government.

William Hague has argued that Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote on legislation affecting England alone because English MPs have no power over issues that have been devolved to the Edinburgh Parliament. But the Prime Minister has strongly rejected the argument.

Speaking in advance of tomorrow's first anniversary of the Parliament in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Mr Dewar said the issue of redrawing boundaries for MSP seats would have to be "visited and revisited".

The Scottish Parliament's first year has been dominated by high-profile issues such as the proposed repeal of Section 28, on the promotion of homosexuality in schools, which has sparked Scotland's first privately funded referendum by the Keep the Clause campaign, financed by Brian Souter, the chairman of Stagecoach. Mr Dewar has also been blamed for the spiralling costs of the new Parliament's building, which increased to almost five times the original estimate before MSPs agreed to cap it at about £190m.

But he pointed to the abolition of university tuition fees, the creation of the Drugs Enforcement Agency and the reform of judicial appointments as examples where Scotland had taken a more radical line than MPs south of the border to address Scottish needs.

Dismissing claims that the Westminster MPs were redundant, Mr Dewar said that, in all electoral tests including the Ayr by-election, parties in favour of links with Westminster got about 70 per cent of the vote.

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