Scotland politics

MPs call for review of Scotland Office

David Mundell Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption David Mundell is the current occupant of the Scotland Office

MPs have called for the role of the Scotland Office to be reviewed, with suggestions it could be replaced with a department for constitutional affairs.

Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee said the relationship between the Scottish and UK governments had "deteriorated" at a crucial moment.

Chairman Pete Wishart said "fundamental changes" were needed to rebuild trust.

However, a UK government spokesman said the role of the Scotland Office was "more important than ever".

The committee - which includes a number of MPs from the SNP, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem parties - held an inquiry into intergovernmental relations to mark the 20th anniversary of devolution to Holyrood.

Their report concluded that "tensions between the two governments peaked in 2014", during the Scottish independence referendum, and had "come under renewed strain" as a result of the Brexit vote.

'Political stalemate'

The group said the relationship between the governments in London and Edinburgh was now "characterised by mutual distrust and political stalemale", at a time when "goodwill and cooperation are needed most".

They called on both governments to "summon the political will to work together to rebuild trust", and made a series of suggestions for actions which could be taken.

These include:

  • A review of the Scotland Office and the role of the Scottish Secretary - currently David Mundell
  • The potential to replace the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish offices with a single department for constitutional affairs and intergovernmental relations
  • Reform of the "joint ministerial committee" framework for meetings of political leaders and officials
  • Third party-mediation to result disputes between governments
  • More training about devolved matters for Whitehall civil servants

Mr Wishart said over the 20 years of devolution, the political landscape of the UK had become "totally unrecognisable".

He said that while the relationship between the two governments was "far from ideal", it "is not beyond repair".

He said: "We are calling on the Scottish and UK governments to make fundamental changes in their approach to devolution to restore trust.

"We've also heard evidence questioning the effectiveness of the Scotland Office in Whitehall, so we are pressing for a review of the role of the Scotland Office and the secretary of state for Scotland to ensure intergovernmental processes adapt to the changing nature of devolution."

'More important than ever'

In response, a spokesman for the UK government said that the role of the Scottish secretary was "more important than ever" amid talk of a second independence referendum.

He said: "Scotland's two governments enjoy a close working relationship, as ‎the secretary of state's evidence to the committee showed.

"We are pleased the committee acknowledged our joint efforts to develop common frameworks in areas such as agriculture when we leave the EU, which will strengthen the UK's internal market.

"It is simply untrue to say that relations between the two governments have broken down."

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