Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell wants to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament, the Sunday times reports.
McConnell is expected to avoid risking a bruising confrontation with Gordon Brown, the chancellor, by stopping short of demanding greater fiscal powers for Holyrood.
The first minister, who announced the proposals at a policy forum meeting in Stirling last month, hopes that he can steal a march on the Scottish National party ahead of the next Scottish election in 2007.
A Labour spokesman said the time was now right to reassess the devolution settlement and see whether changes could deliver better results for Scotland.
“Jack asked the Scottish policy forum to discuss the partnership between the two governments and the two parliaments and the way we use devolved and reserved powers in Scotland. Eight years on from the devolution referendum is the right time to do that.”
A source close to McConnell added: “Other parties are saying they want more powers for Holyrood and, in terms of the governance of the country, just saying no is not a particularly positive place to be.” (Sunday Times)
As the article notes, there seems to be an emerging consensus among the Sottish parties in favour of more powers for Holyrood.
The piece also highlights tensions amonghst the Tories over the Scottish party’s plan to use Holyrood’s power to cut income tax. Since Scotland’s revenues are controlled by Westminster, this would theoretically not affect Scottish spending plans.
Tim Yeo, a contender to succeed Michael Howard as the party’s UK leader, and Gerald Howarth, a Tory shadow minister, said the tax break would be “the last straw” for English people already angry that Scots receive 22% more in public spending per head.
They warned that the proposal, which Tory MSPs have agreed to support in principle, could lead to intolerable pressure for Scotland’s share of UK Treasury spending to be cut.
The relationship between the English and Scottish Conservative parties is an interesting aspect of the Tory leadership election. David Cameron appears to be the more unionist of the two main contenders, with David Davis having definite English nationalist tendencies.
However, the Scotsman reported recently that Cameron’s ally George Osborne has backed the plan to cut Scottish income tax, which is bound to cause tensions over Scottish spending levels.
Mr Osborne is effectively acting as Mr Cameron’s campaign chief, and said both of them are keen to forge an alliance with "reforming" Labour MPs – and may well support Mr Blair over welfare reform.
He was keen to stress that Scotland will remain an integral part of the Conservatives should Mr Cameron win. David Davis, the favourite contender for leadership, has spoken in favour of ending Scotland’s party ties with England.
Mr Osborne accepted there is support amongst his party to cut free from Scotland altogether – and revert to the pre-1965 situation where the Scottish Conservatives were a separate sister party to the English Conservatives.
"There is a big temptation for the Conservatives to become the English party south of the Border," he said. "I think flirting with English nationalism would be a profound mistake. The Conservative party is, at its heart, a unionist party. I’m determined the Conservative party remains committed to the union." (Scotsman)