Scotland Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 2:12 pm, 27th January 2011

I shall make a little progress, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me.

At the time when the constitutional convention was established, there was a minimalist position. Many people in the Labour party were prepared to consider an assembly. I accept that many were passionately in favour, but others had reservations, and the minimalist position involved an assembly, elected by first past the post, funded by a block grant and operating with even fewer powers than the then Scotland Office.

The process-this is the real point that the SNP should take on board-of the constitutional convention meant that we finished up with a Parliament, with all the powers of the Scotland Office at that time, with a proportional voting system to make it much more nationally acceptable and, in fact, with non-defined reserved powers attached to the Parliament. That was a much more radical outcome than the original agenda, and one that would not have been achieved if my party and others had not engaged. At the time, I challenged the SNP to take part, because I wanted it to be there, knowing that it wanted independence but accepting that the party probably would not get it. The SNP's involvement, however, might have helped us to gain more powers than we did. That is why I continually regard its all-or-nothing approach as damaging to Scotland and, ultimately, to the party's own interests.

We got quite a lot of agreement, and that is relevant to this debate. Indeed, I think we got agreement in the convention on tax-raising powers, but they did not follow through into the original Scotland Bill. I remember that Donald Dewar even renewed his passport to travel to Germany, and Jim Wallace, Ray Michie and I went to Spain to look at that country's arrangements. On our return, we more or less agreed on the proposal to assign half of all income tax revenues, and VAT and excise duties, to the Scottish Parliament. The fact that those proposals did not carry through into the first Scotland Bill-I think; I suspect-owes a lot to the resistance of Mr Brown. The convention largely agreed to them, however, so I am particularly pleased that the Bill before us moves in that direction and will allow them to be introduced.

I also firmly believe-the Scottish National party ought to give thought to this-that those of us who have brought forward and will take forward this legislation are working with the grain of majority opinion in Scotland, in terms of wanting both more power and a step-by-step approach. Those of my constituents who are sympathetic to the SNP cause are puzzled as to why it cannot work with other people and take a step-by-step approach. We could all decide at what point we wish to get off, but that does not happen because the SNP knows that the majority of people in Scotland would get off long before it did.