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Lord Smith: Scottish Parliament's new powers "won't work" unless Holyrood and Westminster cooperate

"To make things work, there are so many interconnections" Photo: ITV Border

The Scottish parliament's new tax and welfare powers "just won't work" unless Westminster and Holyrood fully cooperate.

That's the warning from the man who brought Scotland's political parties together to hammer out the powers blueprint after the independence referendum 'No' vote.

Lord Smith of Kelvin told ITV Border's Representing Border that Brexit had "put a spanner in the works" in terms of relations between the two governments but they still had to cooperate.

After the referendum then Prime Minister David Cameron asked Borders resident Lord (Robert) Smith to get agreement between the Tories, Labour, the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems on new powers after the 'vow' by the Unionist parties to give MSPs more power.

In an interview for a special programme which looks at his career - from growing up in Glasgow's Maryhill to senior roles in business and chairing the company which ran Scotland's Commonwealth Games - Lord Smith also reveals 'high-ranking' politicians tried to influence the work of what came known as The Smith Commission.

I asked Lord Smith why relations between the two governments were so important to him, and for the country? His Smith Commission report emphasised the need for cross-border co-operation:

To make things work, there are so many interconnections, that if tax changes here​ -​ yes I know we've got devolved tax up in Scotland, devolved income tax but there are still carry overs there - and unless you're talking, it just...it won't work.​

So, I hope and pray it will get better, but when something like Brexit comes out, obviously it throws a bit of a spanner into the works​... but they've got to cooperate."

– Lord Smith of Kelvin

We also asked the Scottish and UK Government's to respond to Lord's Smith's call. They agree in principle​ that they should world closely together​, but the politics of Brexit loom large​ in their responses.​

SNP ​Deputy First Minister, John Swinney Credit: PA

SNP ​Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who was a member of the Commission told me: ​

One of the big themes of the Smith Commission was the importance of effective intergovernmental working and we're absolutely committed to that, but I think if you look at the current live example we have of that are in Brexit. ​The arrangements are not working satisfactorily.

​​And you don't need to just take my word for that, look at the independent perspective of the Welsh Government, because they're as frustrated as we are about the fact that the UK Government cannot adjust to the realities of devolution and the fact that they've got to work with other government's to agree common and well thought through positions.

That's what the Smith commission required in intergovernmental working and I think so far the UK government is wanting on that."

– John Swinney, SNP ​Deputy First Minister

Scottish Secretary David Mundell, who has been conducting negotiations with the Scottish government sees it a bit differently. He said:​

I think there's been a lot of politicking around Brexit, particularly when Nicola Sturgeon linked Brexit to having another independence referendum.

​​I think if you can take that politicking out - if you can actually focus on what the issues are, then you can move forward.

I've said myself in recent days we really do need to work together to get a Brexit that works for Scotland and to prepare Scotland for Brexit.​"

– David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland
Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell Credit: PA

South of Scotland MP, Mr Mundell​ added:

I think there are a lot of positive signs to say the two government's can work together. I think it's possible and I think we need to demonstrate that we will do it."

– David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland

So there is ​hope then that Edinburgh and London can allay Lord Smith's concern. The big test of that will be when Theresa May next meets Nicola Sturgeon, which is scheduled to happen within the next few weeks.

There is also another intriguing aspect of Lord Smith's interview.

He told me that all five parties - the SNP, the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens - nominated two members each, who he described as "really good people."

Lord Smith continued:

And I didn’t really get interference actually. Well, OK, there were one or two phone calls but I made it very clear ‘thank you for your input but the people inside the room, right, the people you’ve appointed here, they will be making this decision. OK?'”

– Lord Smith of Kelvin

I suggested that he was not going to tell me who those calls were from. His reply: ​

Let’s just say extremely high ranking politicians across many parties” (confirming they were from north and south of the Border​).

I daresay it was well-meaning, but ​(I told them) ​'I​ don’t think you understand’. This is the commission, we are going to come up with our recommendations. What you do in legislation after that is up to you.

​​But that's going to be the recommendation. It will be unanimous and I’m chairing it and I’m not having dictation or anything like that. And they respected that, after they had made their point​..."

– Lord Smith of Kelvin

The Representing Border special programme featuring Peter MacMahon's interview with Lord Smith of Kelvin will be shown tonight on ITV Border in Scotland at 22.45.