The Scotland Secretary has been accused of “putting the cart before the horse” for urging the country’s political parties to set out how they plan to use new powers being devolved from Westminster before the finances underpinning them have been finalised.
During a speech in Edinburgh, David Mundell called for the SNP and the other Scottish parties to be “upfront and tell people what their plans are” about how they intended to use the new powers on tax, welfare and other issues contained in the Scotland Bill.
Warning that it would “not go down very well” with voters if politicians were unable to outline their plans for the new powers ahead of the Scottish Parliament election in May, Mr Mundell said parties that attempted to bury the issue could suffer “electoral repercussions”.
The SNP hit back, saying that the Scotland Secretary’s intervention was “a bit premature” given that the financial arrangements underpinning the new powers are still the subject of intense negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments.
“The SNP has always been clear that we want to see as many new powers as possible come to Scotland’s parliament and that we will use them to the fullest, in line with our progressive vision for Scotland, once they are delivered,” said the party’s MSP Stewart Maxwell. “But no party in the Scottish Parliament should consent to them being devolved without a fair fiscal deal. People in Scotland would expect nothing less.”
Under the terms of the Scotland Bill, which is currently passing through the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament will be given control over income rates and bands from April next year, as well as being handed the power to spend VAT revenues and alter some aspects of welfare expenditure.
In his speech, Mr Mundell said the Scottish Parliament would see “a huge increase in its financial accountability to the people of Scotland” once the new powers had been devolved. “So significant are the changes to its powers, and so immense the potential for their use, the Scotland Bill will create, in effect, a new Scottish Parliament,” he added.
While Holyrood has previously been dismissed by some as a “pocket money parliament” with little responsibility for raising the funds it wanted to spend, the new powers would consign this viewpoint to history by handing MSPs the levers to do so, Mr Mundell said.