SNP demand powers to call for future independence referendum

The SNP have tabled an amendment that would give Holyrood the power to deliver a referendum on independence without having to seek agreement with Whitehall


MPs will get the chance to debate a wide range of amendments on the final day of consideration in the House of Commons of the Scotland Bill.

The Bill seeks to implement the recommendations of the commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin following last year’s independence referendum on further powers for Holyrood. It all forms part of the efforts by the main UK parties to fulfil the vow made by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg as things began to look tricky for the Better Together campaign.

The vow, brokered at the time by Gordon Brown and published in the Daily Record, committed to ‘extensive new powers’ being given to the Scottish Parliament.

With MPs debating the Bill for the final time before consideration in the House of Lords, they will debate over 80 amendments tabled last week by the UK government. The amendments include:

  • Measures to strengthen the permanence of the Scottish Parliament which will include the need for a referendum for the Scottish Parliament and government to be in anyway abolished.
  • Flexibility to the Scottish Parliament on benefits as they relate to carer, enabling Holyrood to legislate to provide for forms of non-financial assistance, in the words of the BBC ‘with a view to reducing maternity expenses, funeral expenses or expenses for heating in cold weather’. There will also ‘no longer be a cap on the amount of discretionary financial assistance an individual who is in receipt of a reserved benefit can receive to assist with rental costs’.
  • Whilst Universal Credit will remain a policy area within the purview of the Department for Work and Pensions, ministers nor of the border will have the power to vary housing costs within it for claimants renting their homes as well as deciding when to pay those housing costs direct to landlords.

At the time of tabling the amendments, Scottish secretary David Mundell declared in no uncertain terms:

“These improvements will strengthen the Scotland Bill and put beyond any reasonable doubt for any reasonable person that the government is delivering the Smith Agreement exactly as we promised we would. We are making the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.”

With the SNP crying foul that the Bill doesn’t fulfil the recommendations of the Smith Commission, they too have tabled an amendment that would give Holyrood the power to deliver a referendum on independence without having to seek agreement with Whitehall.

Speaking in favour of the proposal, SNP seputy first minister John Swinney yesterday told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show for Scotland that having delivered a referendum last year that was ‘beyond reproach’, and that this set ‘a strong precedent’. He continued:

“The fact that the Scottish parliament exercised its competence with such care and such effectiveness should allay any of those questions that are raised about whether it is right for the Scottish parliament to hold that particular power.

“Whether or not Scotland has a referendum in the future should be up to the people of Scotland – and in the hands of the Scottish parliament – rather than the UK government.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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