Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Scotland's human panda David Mundell loses on pedantry


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Indy Politics

Rarely has London felt so provincial – Thessaloniki to Edinburgh’s Athens of the North. While the panoply of Anglo-Scottish power – First Minister, Prime Minister, Secretary of State – was cavorting round Holyrood, the Commons made do with a sparsely attended, 40-minute statement.

True, David Cameron’s super-controlled visits to Scotland give him less exposure to the public than they would somewhere less dangerous – Somalia, say. This is to prevent him going head-to-head on live television with demonstrators dressed as giant pandas to show that Scottish Tories are an even more threatened species, with only one MP as opposed to the two bamboo-eating furry creatures in Edinburgh Zoo.

In Westminster, it fell to Scotland’s human panda, David Mundell, the junior Scotland Office minister and lonely Tory MP, to unveil the historic new draft Bill. Mundell has the accent and manner of a competent, genial and slightly pedantic Lowland solicitor. Which is what he is. But after echoing the PM by declaring that Scotland would have “one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world”, he was brilliantly out-pedanted by the Labour shadow minister Russell Brown’s explanation that it would be the “third-most powerful devolved Assembly in the OECD”.

Both Mundell and Brown were gleeful that, thanks to cross-party co-operation, the proposals had been produced “ahead of the Burns Night deadline” – in contrast, say, to Chilcot. Not to mention the ill-starred child sex abuse inquiry, which, as the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, had earlier witheringly pointed out to Theresa May, still has “no chair, no powers, no clarity”.

Not that this is all heading for an easy ride. Mundell reminded MPs demanding “English votes for English laws” that the Scottish proposals were “stand-alone”. Meaning: “That hornets’ nest is above my pay grade, thank goodness.” But when the former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling raised the thorny question – particularly for a future Labour government – of Scottish MPs’ being able to vote on the Budget, since any reform must not create a eurozone-style crisis by undermining “the fiscal integrity of the United Kingdom”, Mundell said ominously that there would have to be a “debate” about that since “there will be elements of the Budget that do not apply to Scotland”.

So plenty of hurdles ahead. The best laid schemes o’ mice and men, gang aft agley. As Burns himself rightly put it.