Cameron and Sturgeon: jaw-jaw not war-war

Scotland may have voted 'No' to independence in September's referendum but it has continued to grow apart politically from the rest of the UK.

Relations between the Scottish and UK governments are increasingly becoming like those between two foreign powers.

That was clear from the meeting between David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh today.

David Cameron met Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland for the first time since the election. Credit: PA

Mr Cameron was keen to promote what he calls the "respect agenda" and made the gesture of coming to Scotland to see the First Minister.

Ms Sturgeon for her part was polite and correct in welcoming the Prime Minster to the slightly faded Georgian grandeur of her Bute House official residence.

Both sides emerged from the talks - which lasted only about an hour - saying they had been constructive and positive.

I am sure they were. Up to a point. But this is where it becomes much more like international diplomacy.

After world summits the leaders present nearly always say things were positive and constructive, but that usually hides a multitude of disagreements.

So it was with Ms Sturgeon's meeting with Mr Cameron.

Nicola Sturgeon. Credit: PA

The First Minister claims that, following the SNP's extraordinary general election performance, her party has a mandate to press for an "end to austerity" and wide ranging new powers for Holyrood.

She argues the election of 56 SNP MPs out of 59 in Scotland, shows that Scots want the SNP manifesto, which contained pledges on these issues, to be implemented.

David Cameron. Credit: PA

Mr Cameron sees it rather differently.

He claims he has a mandate from the UK parliament election which his party won to continue to pursue "value for money" - the phrase he prefers to use instead of "austerity".

He also argues that he has a mandate to deliver the promise of more powers to Holyrood made by the all-party Commission set up after the 'No' vote under Lord Smith of Kelvin.

Smith promised to give the Scottish parliament control over income tax levels and bands, increased borrowing powers, some welfare, and air passenger duty - to name some of the most important powers.

Lord Smith of Kelvin, the head of the Smith Commission. Credit: PA

Ms Sturgeon and the SNP say their win last week gives them a mandate to demand this process goes much further.

They say Mr Cameron must give Holyrood control over, among other things, employment policy, a far larger proportion of welfare, national insurance and business taxes.

In terms of the strictly constitutional position, Mr Cameron is right. Scotland is still part of the UK.

In terms of their powers over UK policies, his government does have a mandate.

In terms of the practicalities, it's a bit different. The SNP, as a Nationalist party, argue there is a distinct Scottish mandate.

Even if that is, strictly speaking, wrong - in areas reserved to Westminster at least while Scotland remains part of the UK - it is a strong political argument.

A Yes supporter outside Bute House in Edinburgh Credit: PA

At today's meeting the Prime Minister promised to look at the issues the SNP raised but in an interview with me, and interviews with other journalists, he made it pretty clear that he is not going to accept the SNP plans.

And this is where it gets like international diplomacy. Ms Sturgeon welcomed Mr Cameron's promise. She made much of promise to consider her party's ideas.

The Prime Minister welcomed the First Minister's constructive approach and promised that his ministers would meet here for further discussions.

But behind the diplomatic niceties both sides know full well that they are not going to cede ground to the other.

I fully expect the Queen's Speech to contain a pledge to implement the Smith Commission proposals and no more, and for subsequent published legislation to spell that out in detail.

The Houses of Parliament. Credit: PA

This legislation will be the first real test of the SNP's new 56-strong parliamentary group at Westminster.

As David Cameron made clear today, and his new Scottish Secretary David Mundell told me earlier this week, it will be up to the SNP to table amendments to try to enhance the proposed powers.

At this stage it look very, very unlikely the UK government will accept any substantial changes the SNP are set to propose.

It will be up to the Nationalist group to try to find allies for their plans. It's hard to see Labour wanting to help, given the SNP left them with just one MP in Scotland.

There might be some Tory right-wingers who back the idea of Scotland getting more financial powers - though they may be surprised to learn the SNP is not immediately proposing full fiscal autonomy - Scotland raising all of its own revenue.

So we had the diplomatic speak today. Neither side at this stage wanted to be seen as too aggressive, both wanted to be seen a conducting relations is civilised way.

It may continue awhile but I doubt if if this diplomatic phase can last very long.

We are likely to move from jaw-jaw to Westminster parliamentary war-war pretty soon.

You can see my interview with David Cameron today here.

And you can see my interview with Scottish Secretary and Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP David Mundell here.

More on this story