By Bob Duncan
The Anti-independence coalition of Tory, Labour and Lib Dems have come under pressure to clarify their stance on Scottish devolution following Scottish Secretary Michael Moore's double failure to say which powers would be devolved to Scotland if the nation votes NO in the 2014 referendum.
Under interrogation from SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP at today's Scottish Questions, Lib Dem MP Michael Moore twice failed to address a direct question on what further powers would be devolved.
Moore's failure to clarify the proposals that will be offered by the Labour/Tory/Lib Dem allliance comes despite the official launch of the campaign, to be spearheaded by Alistair Darling, being only days away.
It also follows admissions from senior members of his own party that the status quo, including new powers contained in the Scotland Bill, is not enough. Last year, Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie set up a new party commission to look at Home Rule, headed by Sir Menzies Campbell, to assess what extra powers for Scotland might mean.
As recently as February, the former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott, senior Labour MSP Duncan McNeil and the Conservative former Holyrood presiding officer Alex Fergusson, put forward a proposal for a raft of new powers they referred to as Devo Plus.
The group argued that the Scottish Parliament should take direct responsibility for raising nearly all of the £35bn it spends each year. That would include control over all Scotland's income tax, its corporation tax and more than 80% of North Sea oil revenues, but would still leave the UK government collecting national insurance, VAT and other taxes for defence and foreign affairs.
Also in February Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, and his Labour colleague Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said that the Scottish Parliament will need new tax powers which could see it raising nearly all the £30bn it spends each year, independently of the Treasury.
A few weeks Later in early March, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont announced the creation of a Labour Party Commission to propose constitutional and political reforms in Westminster and other parts of the UK, to avoid Scotland's new powers creating further tensions with the rest of the UK, or raise questions about the role of Scottish MPs at Westminster.
Despite these initiatives, Scottish Secretary Moore was unable to clarify what the position of the No campaign would be.
Early this year, Prime Minister David Cameron said the referendum did not have to be "the end of the road" for devolution, adding “I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further and, yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved."
Only last week Mr Cameron again hinted that Scotland might gain control over all of its income tax revenues, if the nation votes NO in the 2014 referendum.
Mr Moore's refusal to articulate the anti-independence campaign's position on more powers, on the eve of it's own official campaign launch, was seized on by Mr Robertson who said it showed a lack of consensus and confusion between the three Unionist parties.
Angus Robertson questions Michael Moore:
Speaking after the exchange in the House of Commons, Angus Robertson said:
“By avoiding two straightforward questions with a negative response, Michael Moore has added to the state of confusion that has engulfed the anti-independence parties over Scotland’s constitutional future.
“Mr Moore and his Tory and Labour allies all admit that the constitutional status quo is not sustainable but, with only days until the formal launch of the ‘No’ campaign, he cannot name a single power that he would devolve. If the anti-independence parties claims were genuine they have a democratic duty to set out exactly what is on offer.
“The anti-independence parties have been left behind by people across civic Scotland who are considering the powers that Scotland needs to have a successful economy and fair society - instead of savage cuts and a stagnant economy from the UK coalition. People in Scotland are entitled to know what the anti-independence parties have in mind, and whether their proposals include any real economic powers and responsibilities, for example, over welfare issues.
“Mr Moore seems to have ditched the Lib Dems’ own policy of more powers for Holyrood and is now just acting as a front man for a Tory Government Scotland didn’t vote for – no wonder so many Lib Dems in Scotland have abandoned the party in favour of the SNP.
"While we take nothing for granted, we are very confident that we can win the Yes case for independence and equality for Scotland in the referendum.”
The No campaign launch was recently delayed by the fiasco over the choice of name and slogan - "Better Together". However it quickly emerged that "Better Together" was in fact already in use, having been introduced by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon in February 2008 as part of a drive aimed at supporting Scotland’s NHS Boards, front line staff and patients in driving forward service improvement.
The NO Campaign is now to be relaunched later this week under a hastily replaced official slogan “A stronger Scotland, a United Kingdom”.
Bizarrely, anti-independence insiders have announced that the NO campaign will not use the word “no”, due to it being too negative, the campaign will also avoid the word “Union” as this too is considered to be an electoral liability.
How BBC Scotland reported the session:
The full Scotland Questions session can be seen here: