TORY MPs voted to keep Westminster’s veto over the Scottish Parliament’s new welfare powers during last night’s debate on the Scotland Bill in the House of Commons.
It was the third day of scrutiny of the Bill and the Conservative Government refused to accept any amendments put forward by the SNP or Labour.
Despite cross-party consensus from just about every Scottish MP on scrapping the vetoes in the Scotland Bill, Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell refused to budge and claimed that no such veto existed – despite the report from the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Devolution (Further Powers) Committee saying that it did.
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Dr Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP’s spokesperson on social justice and welfare, said Mundell was acting as if he believed the other parties were “a oot o step but oor Jock”.
As well as the amendment to scrap the veto, there were votes in the House of Commons debate that, if passed, would have devolved National Insurance, employment support programmes and housing benefit to Holyrood. All were defeated. A Labour amendment to allow the Scottish Government to top up reserved benefits, and mitigate against Tory cuts, was also defeated.
Speaking after the vote Whiteford told The National she was “very disappointed”.
She added: “We’ve seen so little willingness from the Tory Government to listen to the democratic aspirations of the people of Scotland, and to progress when it is clear that the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s elected parliamentarians recognise the need to remove the veto from the Scotland Bill to bring it line with Smith Commission recommendations.
“The Secretary of State’s position seems to be ‘they’re a oot o step but oor jock’ as there’s huge consensus from Scottish MPs that we need to put this matter beyond all doubt.”
During the debate, SNP MP Pete Wishart pointed out that so far the Government had accepted no amendments and expressed concern that the Tories may try and make changes to the Scotland Bill in the House of Lords.
Responding for the Tories, Priti Patel, Minister for Employment, asked the SNP to give the Government the “benefit of the doubt”.
Mundell, who was described by North Ayrshire and Arran MP Patricia Gibson as a shameless “colossal governor-general”, said the Bill did meet the spirit and substance of the Smith Commission and the SNP amendments could be described as “Smith-plus”.
The Government, Mundell said, was “listening to the points being made about the amendments, but we are also listening to what everyone is saying about the Bill in its current form and how it reflects Smith”.
He continued: “Much of what is being said is predicated on the view that the Scottish Government and the UK Government are always at odds. That is simply not the case, and it should not be given common currency.
“On 90 per cent of issues, the two governments work together very closely for the benefit of the people of Scotland.
“They are working together closely on very serious ongoing issues at this moment, and there are absolutely no problems and no need to resort to external review processes.
“The Smith process established a shared response for welfare, and I think that it shows that we must adopt a new mindset.
“That, to me, is what the spirit of the Smith Commission is about: working together in a shared space.
“A commitment to doing that is as important as anything in the Bill.”
Earlier in the day, Deputy First Minister John Swinney wrote to Mundell to criticise him for claiming the two men had “productive discussions” over the Scotland Bill.
He wrote: “There will have to be clear movement by the UK Government, otherwise it is becoming harder to justify that description.”
After the debate SNP leader in the Commons, Angus Robertson, was scathing of the Conservatives.
The Moray MP said: “This was typical Tory arrogance – a single Tory MP refusing to listen to the representatives of the people of Scotland”.
“We saw cross-party support on the Opposition benches for SNP amendments being voted down by a Tory government with a single MP in Scotland.
“At a time of savage cuts to the welfare state by the Tories – causing real hurt to hard-working families and vulnerable people, and driving more and more people to foodbanks – the choice is between having welfare powers in Scotland’s hands, or leaving them in the hands of Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne.”
There will be further debate of the Scotland Bill on Monday.