Scotland politics

Smith Commission timetable 'unrealistic'

scottish parliament Image copyright Getty Images

The commission tasked with brokering a deal on Scottish devolution faces an "unrealistic" timetable, academics and MPs have warned.

The Smith Commission on Scottish devolution was set up by the prime minister in the wake of last month's independence referendum.

But a House of Commons committee was told the commission was potentially heading for a "botch job".

And it was claimed a sustainable solution was unlikely to be found.

The five Scottish Parliament parties have already submitted their proposals for further devolution to the Smith Commission, which aims to agree a way forward by the end of November, before the UK government puts forward draft legislative proposals in January 2015, with a bill to be brought forward after the 2015 UK election.

Devolution vow

The pre-referendum pledge of further devolved powers to Scotland has also led to a row between the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats over the issue of whether or not Scottish MPs should continue to be allowed to vote on English-only issues in the House of Commons.

Earlier on Thursday, Lord Smith - who is chairing the cross-party devolution commission - told the BBC that he did not believe the deadlines which had been set meant he was attempting to tackle "mission impossible".

But speaking at a meeting of the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Tory MP Christopher Chope questioned whether people should rely on the "so-called" devolution vow made by the leader of the three main UK parties shortly before the referendum.

Mr Chope said the vow was given without the UK parliament's consent and had been dismissed as "salesman's puff" by nationalists.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionLord Smith on leading a commission on devolution:: 'I don't see it as mission impossible at all'

Graham Allan, convener of the committee, warned there was a "feeling arising" in some quarters that the Smith Commission should be suspended.

Prof Michael Keating, director of the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change, told the committee: "Frankly, I think the timetable that we have been given to do this is not realistic."

He added: "I'm not talking about stringing this out indefinitely and having endless discussion, but at least a year seems to be a reasonable time to put together something that will work and get the technical details right so that it won't unravel and have to be turned to again."

Mr Chope asked: "Do you think that there is any chance of that finding favour with the powers that be, rather than this mad rush into a rush job?"

Prof Nicola McEwen, associate director at the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change, replied: "No, we are in a political context where there is an election round the corner and these create imperatives which mean, I think, that the timetable is not about to be changed.

"I suspect that means whatever comes out is probably not going to be sustainable and we will be back here within a few years talking about either fixing that or 'what next?'."

'Too rapidly'

She continued: "This is not even a convention or a commission where you have got experts and representatives in a room trying to think through and reflect on the issues.

"It's not that at all, it's trying to find agreement between political parties and that is probably the last way I would recommend to nurture consent to an agreement from among the public."

Mr Chope said: "We're heading for potentially a very bad botch job."

Mr Keating said constitutional change "never happens for rational reasons", but he added: "Nevertheless, you can move too rapidly for short-term political considerations and end up making your problem worse because you have created a system that just is not going to work.

"And when we can see that happening I think it is up to us to say 'Hold on a minute, you are creating problems for yourself; that problem will not go away and allow you to move your agenda on - it will come back again very quickly.'

"And I think that's what will happen if we rush through this latest stage of Scottish devolution without proper consideration."