Falkirk Labour and SNP groups disagree on Smith Commission

Lord Smith of Kelvin with the 10 representatives who made up the Smith Commission
Lord Smith of Kelvin with the 10 representatives who made up the Smith Commission

Within days of the wraps coming off the long-awaited Smith Commission Report cracks were already appearing in the agreement.

While there had been unity by the five main Holyrood political parties in its preparation, once it was in black and white there was a return to the disharmony seen in the run up to the independence ieferendum.

While the SNP said the “vow” pledging more powers for Scotland had not been delivered, Scottish Labour, Scottish Tories and Scottish Lib Dems disagreed. They believe, once it is enacted, it will take forward what was promised in the days when the country was at a political crossroads.

Although Scotland voted ‘No’ on September 18, it did so with the three main UK political parties promising more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The day after the historic vote, Lord Smith of Kelvin was asked by Prime Minister David Cameron to oversee cross-party talks to deliver that promise.

A Heads of Agreement with recommendatons for further devolution of powers was to be produced by November 30 and a publication of draft clauses by January 25 – both dates already significant to Scots across the globe: St Andrew’s Day and the birthday of Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns.

In his report, Lord Smith said: “I sought to give a voice to the public and the various organisations that make up the fabric of Scottish life.”

He added that, taken together, he hoped the new powers will deliver three important overarching improvements to the devolution settlement, “making it more responsive, durable and stable”.

Among the changes his commission proposed were giving the Scottish Parliament powers to:

- Set income tax rates and bands

- Allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in Scottish elections

- Control over Air Passenger Duty

- Receive a part share in VAT receipts

But already Scottish Nationalists are saying they don’t believe they go far enough.

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, SNP group leader on Falkirk Council, said: “The more the proposals of the Smith Commission are studied the more they appear as a major retreat from the promises David Cameron and Gordon Brown made just before the polls opened in September on the independence referendum.

“Then we were promised genuine home rule but what has been delivered falls way short of this with 80 per cent of welfare and 70 per cent of taxation still collected and controlled from London.

“This means that the poorest in our society will remain the targets of Tory austerity cuts that Labour have signed up to, it means we are denied the tools to promote economic development in job creation and left with none of the major powers necessary to make Scotland a fairer society.

“Far from satisfying those who voted ‘No’ at the last minute on the back of the promises it will drive this sizable section of the electorate into the SNP camp.”

But Councillor Craig Martin, Labour’s leader of Falkirk Council, disagreed, pointing out: “All political parties have signed up for a new way for Scotland to be governed”.

He said: “This piece of work has to be welcomed and I hope the Scottish Government, who have signed up to the document, will bring it forward for everyone’s benefit.

“The people who voted ‘No’ were voting for change as well after being given specific promises and hopefully these will be delivered.

“But what I personally would like to see is devolution right down to our communities and not just to parliament which is what we asked for.”