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Scottish Independence Debate / Scott: commission should reverse ‘centralisation’

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott.

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has called for “centralisation of powers” to Edinburgh to be reversed ahead of his first meeting with Lord Smith, who is chairing a commission on delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The former Liberal Democrat leader was due to meet Lord Smith in Edinburgh on Thursday having been appointed as one of his party’s two representatives on the Smith Commission. It was set up after the Scottish people rejected independence by a margin of 55-45 in last month’s referendum.

Scott said he wanted to see a “substantial package of new powers” to strengthen the parliament at Holyrood, along with seeing powers handed from Edinburgh to other parts of the country.

But senior Labour politicians and Yes campaigners have this week expressed concern about the direction of travel since the 18 September poll.

SNP Shetland branch spokesman Charlie Gallagher said the party was participating “in good faith”. But, with polls suggesting a clear majority of Scottish people favour some form of “devo max”, he fears the Smith Commission proposals will not go far enough.

Scott said he was “encouraged by how many Shetlanders have been in touch with me already” about the commission’s work.

On Wednesday he met SIC chief executive Mark Boden to discuss the local authority’s desire for more powers to be offered to the islands, while he has also discussed the matter with convener Malcolm Bell and other councillors. 

“I want to reverse the centralisation of powers within Scotland that we have sadly seen over the past seven years,” Scott said.

“I also want to see real change over the Crown Estate. I have argued all my political life that the seabed should be an asset that is held in trust at an island level. Now is an opportunity to drive that forward.

“There is lots that can be achieved by political party representatives working constructively together and I want to play a full part in doing exactly that.”

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said earlier this week that the UK Government would ensure “significant new powers” over finance, welfare and taxation are handed to the Scottish Parliament: “We pledged further devolution and we will deliver on that promise.”

Carmichael had been speaking prior to a post-referendum House of Commons debate on devolution within the UK.

Following this week’s “command paper” setting out the various political parties’ stances, Carmichael said the Smith Commission “must now be left to carry out its work before heads of agreement are published at the end of November”.

“This is the first time all of Scotland’s main political parties will be involved in a process exploring areas of further devolution,” the Scottish secretary of state said. “I welcome that as an important recognition we must work together to deliver the new powers people want to see for Scotland.”

But Gallagher said he was left disheartened following Tuesday’s House of Commons debate. He fears “the whole thing either ending up as some monumental stitch-up, or more likely 1979 all over again, and we did warn about it”.

Since 19 September, he continued, a substantial number of No voters have approached him to say “I got it wrong, I should have voted Yes”. Gallagher said a 450 per cent increase in SNP membership in Shetland “reflects what’s going through people’s minds”.

He backed SNP leader-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon’s call for control over all taxation and revenues so that “in the end we will just have defence and foreign policy at Westminster, more or less what the liberals would call federalism”.

Gallagher pointed out that Tory MP Roger Gale spoke this week about how he proposed in 1994 that the House of Commons and the House of Lords be abolished and replaced by regional assemblies, along with an elected senate for UK-wide issues.

Backing that notion, he said it was vital for democracy that the unelected House of Lords (“a retirement home on the Thames”) was consigned to the past.

Gallagher fears that hopes for more devolution to Scotland could be sunk by disagreement between Labour and the Tories over English votes for English laws.

“If they don’t come up with something good, I can see Labour taking a hammering in the General Election next year,” Gallagher added. “And we might end up with a liberal MP on the south coast and a liberal MP in the Northern Isles, because I can see the rest of them being wiped out.”