Scottish Office to have more influence

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AN INCREASE in the influence of the Scottish Office in the United Kingdom's affairs is likely to be one of the key features of John Major's 'stocktaking' exercise, which is expected to be announced next month, writes James Cusick.

The Prime Minister told a gathering of leading Scottish Tories in Glasgow last night that the Government would be looking to 'build up the status of the Scottish Office' and to build on the influence of Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, who Mr Major said was 'never hesitant in putting forward Scotland's interests'.

However, the prospect of any widespread constitutional upheaval was, in effect, ruled out. 'I think you know where I stand on the Union,' Mr Major said. 'Some things in politics are non-negotiable.'

Just how he will address the problem of what he called the 'widespread feeling that government is too remote' is still unclear. Indeed, much of his speech was a re-run of general election addresses which highlighted the maintenance of the Union as beneficial to both countries.

The Prime Minister said the Conservatives' defence of the Union during the election had 'stirred feelings and memories that we had left untouched for too long'. He said the Government of the United Kingdom should respond to Scottish institutions which had their own 'priorities'.

But Mr Major said there was a feeling that the Government did not properly recognise Scotland's status or provide enough opportunities for the Scottish voice to be heard. He promised to 'address these concerns'.

It looks likely that increased status will be given to the Scottish Grand Committee (which meets in Westminster and Edinburgh, and comprises all Scottish MPs in a non-voting forum) and the Scottish Affairs select committee.