PM pledges ‘powerful’ Holyrood

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron
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SCOTLAND will today be told it will have one of the most powerfully devolved governments in the world as the SNP fights to retain influence on English issues.

Prime Minister David Cameron will set out new powers over taxation and spending which will see the Scottish parliament handed control of 60 per cent of its spending, with £2.5bn of welfare powers on top of its existing powers over education, health and justice.

But even as the Prime Minister was preparing to unveil the draft legislation in Edinburgh, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was telling reporters that her colleagues at Westminster would vote on issues specifically concerning the health service in England in order to protect funding for the Scottish NHS.

The Scottish First Minister said the move was necessary as health spending in Scotland was linked to spending levels in England through the Barnett formula.

Her comments drew a furious response from senior Conservatives who accused the SNP leader of deliberately stoking tensions with English MPs in order to re-open the issue of Scottish independence after last year’s “no” vote.

Traditionally, SNP MPs at Westminster do not vote on English or Welsh only issues, although they reserve the right to do so if they affect Scotland’s Barnett formula allocation.

The threat to a Conservative majority in the Commons in what is expected to be a close general election is just one of the factors that Mr Cameron will have to consider as the SNP continues to score highly in Scottish opinion polls.

Today, the PM will seek to honour “the Vow” made to Scottish voters in the independence referendum with a promise that Holyrood will be enshrined in law as a permanent institution, with MSPs elected under a new expanded franchise to include 16 and 17-year-old voters.

“Be in no doubt, whoever forms the UK government after May 7, these new powers are guaranteed,” Mr Cameron will say.

“The Scottish Parliament will have more control of its tax and spending – making it one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.

“The Scottish Parliament will combine the freedom to decide what happens in Scotland’s schools, hospitals, surgeries and police stations and the responsibility of determining how around 60 per cent of public money in Scotland is spent because – for the first time – the majority of the money the Scottish Parliament spends will be raised right here in Scotland.

“This includes a substantial new package of welfare powers – worth £2.5bn – to tackle long-term unemployment, disability and poverty.

“We’ve already moved to allow the Scottish Parliament to extend its franchise so 16 and 17-year-olds could vote at the 2016 Holyrood elections and here we are stating in law the permanence of the Scottish Parliament – so there can never be any question – Holyrood is here to stay.” The Prime Minister will add that Scotland will have “the best of both worlds” as part of the UK with “a strong, stable single currency” in “one of the fastest-growing economies in the developed world”.

Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan – whose party may have to rely on SNP votes in order to form a government – said Scottish MPs were entitled to vote on all issues.

“Scottish colleagues can vote on all issues in Parliament and it is really important that they do so,” he told The World At One on BBC Radio 4.