BLOG: Pro-UK party leaders in power promise to Scotland

More power promised if Scot's vote 'no' Photo: ITV Border

Three party leaders, three different policies on devolution, one promise: more powers for the Scottish parliament if Scots vote ‘No’ in the independence referendum on September 18.

That, in a nutshell, is the offer being made to Scottish voters today by Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie.

The leaders of Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Liberal Democrats rarely come together to make announcements.

Ms Lamont in particular has never made much of a secret of her deep dislike of Tories policies – on everything from welfare reform to tax cuts. It’s not personal, it’s political.

But with the referendum some three months away Ms Lamont and the other two leaders feel obliged to set out a joint promise of more powers for Holyrood.

Why?

The SNP say that were it not for them driving the constitutional debate, then the event at the National Monument on Calton Hill today – where all three will pose for pictures – would not be happening.

There is more than a grain of truth in that, but the referendum does strange bedfellows make.

The main Unionist parties want to counter the claim made by the SNP that the only way to guarantee more powers for Scotland – which polls shows the majority of Scots want – is to vote ‘Yes’.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont Credit: PA
Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative party Credit: PA
Scottish Lim Dem leader Willie Rennie Credit: PA

Different Ideas

Labour would give some more powers over income tax to Holyrood.

The Tories recently pledged to give power over all of income tax to MSPs.

And the Lib Dems go further advocating devolving a range of taxes, including income tax.

The leaders will not make a joint announcement today of a policy for more powers on which all three agree.

That would be impossible in the referendum timescale and, given there are some fundamental differences on how far to go, would be very difficult even if they had more time.

The SNP response to this is straightforward. They say the Unionist parties have been forced on to their ground as the polls, in their interpretation, narrow.

And they argue that nothing can trump the full economic and social powers that they say would come with independence.

The SNP has in the past also cited the example of the promise by former Tory Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home of better devolution if Scots rejected the 1979 plans for a Scottish assembly.

There is a dispute about this. Some who have looked at his speech say it was not exactly explicit. Others that it shows you can never trust the Unionists on further devolution.

Labour and the Tories say more recent examples prove they can be trusted. Labour, with Lib Dem support, set up the Scottish parliament in 1999.

And the current Tory and Lib Dem coalition have given Holyrood more powers under the recent Scotland Act.

Symbolism

In choosing the National Monument to launch their plans, the three leaders were, presumably, looking for symbolism.

Built to commemorate those who gave their lives in the Napoleonic Wars, it has fine views over Edinburgh – including over the Holyrood parliament.

The backdrop shouts ‘Scotland’ to the voters.

Their opponents might point out that the monument was never completed and is known by some as “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”.

For some nationalists at least that might be the symbolism that they are looking for to make their case for independence.

But whichever way you look at it today’s announcement by the three leaders is another significant step in the run up to the referendum.

For voters in Scotland it will, as ever, come down to a choice of which leaders in this debate they believe have more credibility.