Scotland politics

Devolution should not be a 'backroom deal' says McConnell

Jack McConnell Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord McConnell: "The parties will need to treat this issue seriously"

Scotland's political parties must reach an agreement on more powers that will "stand the test of time", a former first minister has said.

Ahead of the first talks on more powers, Lord McConnell warned the parties involved against "looking for a backroom deal".

He called for tax powers beyond those proposed by the pro-Union parties.

But he said the pro-independence parties' proposals did not "meet the desired will of the Scottish people".

The comments, reported in the Times, came as the Smith Commission, set up to reach agreement on more powers for the Scottish Parliament, prepares to hold its first meeting.

"It will set the tone for the urgent discussions which follow and the word around the table must not be compromise. It must be principle," Lord McConnell said.

"If you are designing a new tax system for Scotland, the system has to work and be sustainable for at least a number of years, so I hope Robert Smith will note the proposals from the different parties, but then start a discussion on the basic principles that should then determine what is delivered.

"If he can drive it on points of principle, then the parties will need to treat this issue seriously and not just be looking for a backroom deal.

"Deals reached behind closed doors are not going to reach a semi-permanent solution. This has to be seen as based on principle and stand the test of time."

Devolution timetable

Ahead of the 18 September referendum Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who had campaigned to keep Scotland in the UK, set out individual proposals to deliver more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

After voters had rejected independence, Prime Minister David Cameron announced the establishment of a commission, chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, to consider these proposals and those of the pro-independence SNP and Scottish Green Party.

The three main UK parties backed a timetable to deliver new powers, set out by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as polls in the last days of the referendum campaign suggested the result was too close to call.

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Media captionHenry McLeish: "Every vote has got to be fought for"

Lord McConnell said tax raising powers should amount to more than 50% of the overall tax take, a policy which would go beyond Labour's plan to give Holyrood responsibility for raising 40% of its budget.

But he criticised proposals to the commission from the SNP and the Scottish Green Party, who have called for the Scottish Parliament to have control of most taxes.

'Slightly panicked'

He said: "I believe very strongly that expectations have been raised in Scotland by the slightly panicked reaction in the last 10 days of the referendum campaign.

"The current proposals from all three UK-wide parties do not meet that expectation.

"Given the result of the referendum, the proposals from the nationalists and the Greens do not meet the desired will of the Scottish people."

Jack McConnell, who was Labour First Minister of Scotland from 2001-07, has said the party must "rediscover our sense of purpose, our vision for Scotland".

His words echoed those of his predecessor Henry McLeish, who told the BBC: "There's no entitlement to a vote now.

"Labour has got to realise that every vote has got to be fought for."

Lord Smith told the BBC he did not consider his task "mission impossible" and his commission could reach agreement by the end of November as planned.

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