Donald Macintyre's Sketch: The Scots want fiscal control... just not quite now

Stewart Hosie gave an eloquent plea for 'full fiscal responsibility'

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This Scotland Bill stuff is not for the faint-hearted. For when it comes to legislation on Scotland nothing is quite what it seems.

When the economic Braveheart of Monday's debate, the SNP’s Stewart Hosie, opened his eloquent plea for Scotland to be given “full fiscal responsibility” – controlling all domestic taxes and spending, to you and me – it sounded as if he wanted it now.

Er, not exactly. This is the nationalists’ version of St Augustine’s “Lord, make me chaste… but not yet”.

Hosie didn’t say that of course. He wanted the powers “as quickly as possible”. But no, he couldn’t give a “hard and fast” timetable. Obviously “transitional arrangements” would need to discussed. Of which the Barnett formula, allocating grant from the UK to Scotland, was presumably one.

Against this confusing background, the Tory Sir Edward Leigh was the man of the match, if only because he was one of the few MPs to speak with clarity. Sir Edward, without the backing of either front bench, was suggesting handing the Scots just what the SNP say they want, but scrapping Barnett and virtually creating a federal UK. Pretty well now.

Sir Edward is a right- winger, but – unlike some of his colleagues – is he no English crypto-nationalist but a self confessedly “romantic” unionist. He was even relaxed giving Scotland some serious UK dosh – but on the basis of “need”.

“The UK subsidises Northern Ireland to preserve peace,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we on the basis of need subsidise Scotland?”

One result he didn’t especially dwell on was that this way the SNP-run Scottish government would gradually have to take the blame for policies that went wrong as well as credit for ones that went right. The SNP wanted the Scottish government to decide when to take the powers. Which, it just might not be too cynical to suggest, could be when it wouldn’t damage the SNP.

Challenged, Hosie said he would back Leigh’s amendment if the Tory pushed it to the vote. Which wasn’t that much of a risk, since it stood zero chance of passing.