Stall set out for transfer of powers to Holyrood

Lord Smith talks to students at Heriot Watt University School of Textiles and Design in Galashiels.
Lord Smith talks to students at Heriot Watt University School of Textiles and Design in Galashiels.

Proposals to devolve greater powers to the Scottish Parliament have been described as an unprecedented achievement by the Borderer who oversaw their creation.

Lord Smith of Kelvin, who lives at Eshiels near Peebles, pictured, was contacted by Prime Minister David Cameron days before the September 18 Independence referendum.

Referendum picture.

Referendum picture.

Lord Smith revealed this week: “Mr Cameron asked if, in the event of a no vote, I would be prepared to take on the role of chairing a commission into more devolved powers for Holyrood.

“I said I would, but only on condition that my name would not be mentioned if the vote was yes.”

With 55 per cent of Scots voting to stay within the UK, the 70-year-old former chairman of the engineering Weir Group duly began his task of assembling consensus and coming up with recommendations which would satisfy the famous ‘vow’ given by the three main pro-Union parties on the eve of the referendum.

He was charged to do so by November 30, but in the event, the Smith Commission published its report three days ahead of schedule. Under Smith’s recommendations, the Scottish Parliament will be given the power to set income tax rates and bands on earned income and will retain all income tax raised in Scotland. It will have powers to create new benefits in areas already devolved and make discretionary payments in any area of welfare.

A share of Value Added Tax will be assigned to Holyrood and Air Passenger Duty will be fully devolved.

Constitutionally, the parliament will be made permanent via UK legislation and given powers over how it is elected, including allowing, if it desires, votes for 16 and 17-year-olds.

Unsurprisingly, the package of proposals has been greeted with a mixed response from local politicians.

Christine Grahame, the SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, said the recommendations fell far short of what had been promised in the run up to September 18.

But Lib Dem MP Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) hailed the new powers as a big deal for the Borders and Tweeddale’s Conservative MP David Mundell said the proposals were durable, radical and practical.

Lord Smith commented: “Taken together, these new powers will deliver a stronger, more accountable and a more autonomous parliament.

“The recommendations, agreed between the parties, will result in the biggest transfer of powers to the parliament since its establishment.

“This agreement is, in itself, an unprecedented achievement. It demanded compromise from all of the parties.

“In some cases that meant moving to devolve greater powers than they had previously committed to, while for others it meant accepting the outcome would fall short of their ultimate ambitions.

“It shows that, however difficult, our political leaders can come together, work together, and reach agreement with one another. I pay tribute to them for doing just that.”