Scotland awaits Major's new era of Conservatism

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(First Edition)

SCOTTISH TORIES, preparing for John Major's appearance in Glasgow tonight at a fund-raising dinner, will be anxious to learn if the Prime Minister is ready to usher in a new era for Conservatism north of the border. They may have to wait a bit longer.

Although Mr Major's speech, according to one source, will be 'Edinburgh-sensitive', it will concentrate on UK economic issues rather than Scotland alone.

The results of 'taking stock', the phrase the Prime Minister used at the general election to describe plans to give Scottish politics a greater identity, will be published next month.

The Scotsman this week said a wide range of political business would fall into the hands of the Scottish Grand Committee. The newly allocated business could include Scottish Question time, adjournment debates and Scottish legislation.

The committee consists of all the Scottish MPs and meets in Edinburgh and Westminster to debate Scottish issues, although it holds no powers.

Civil service matters involving Scotland, presently dealt with by Whitehall, are rumoured to be on their way to the Scottish Office. Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, and Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Minister of State, have played a key part in assisting Mr Major with the proposed re-organisation.

Bill Miller, Professor of Politics at the University of Glasgow, commenting on the expected changes, said: 'New power for the Scottish Grand Committee would not be about what it debates, but what it concludes. At present it has no power. But if given some, then you've got to take it away from somewhere, and that is the floor of the House of Commons.'

The committee has a majority of Labour MPs. Professor Miller said: 'If they ever decided on anything in the committee, it would be reversed in a vote in the Commons. To get round this the committee simply doesn't vote.'

Mr Lang faces a series of tough policy hurdles in Scotland. These include the continued expansion of hospital trusts, changes to the education system, the potential privatisation of water and sewage companies, extensive re-organisation of local government, and the possible loss of Rosyth dockyard.

How new powers given to the Scottish Grand Committee would influence such decisions is unclear. 'How do you give the committee power, unless you accept its decisions?' Professor Miller said. 'Mr Major can't give away power and retain it in Westminster. He can do one or the other, not both.'

One possible route for the Prime Minister is to allow the committee more control of issues such as Sunday opening, or allow it more control over the Scottish allocation from the Treasury. That would take power away from Mr Lang, who divides up the Scottish portion from Whitehall.

Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, said: 'The Government may be offering the ability to debate everything, but decide nothing. That will be a toothless tiger, totally inadequate for Scotland's needs.'