EXPERTS have given their views on the news that a group of Unionist peers, including a former deputy first minister of Scotland, will seek to restrict Scottish Government spending in areas such as independence and foreign engagement.

The three peers – LibDem Jim Wallace, Tory Annabel Goldie and Labour’s George Foulkes – will work together to pressure the UK Government to curb the SNP-Green administration's spending in reserved areas.

There are suggestions that spending on international offices, overseas aid, and independence work will be key areas the group wants to focus on.

However experts have criticised the “fundamental vagueness” to their arguments and suggested it would be better for Unionism if its political advocates were not so “thin-skinned”.

It has also been pointed out that the Scottish Government’s first international offices were created by a Labour-LibDem government, in which Wallace served as deputy first minister.

Aileen McHarg, a professor of public law at Durham University, said: “This issue has been rumbling on for a while and there is a fundamental vagueness to it. If the argument is that this kind of spending is already outwith devolved competence, then legal action can be taken to stop it.

“If the argument is that it *should* be outwith competence then the Scotland Act (and presumably also the Government of Wales Act and the Northern Ireland Act) would have to be amended.

"The challenge there will be to rule out the kind of spending that these peers find politically unacceptable, whilst not unduly hamstringing future Scottish Governments of a more appealing (to them) political complexion.”

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She added: “Alternatively, it may be that neither of these things is in contemplation, and this is just an attempt to delegitimise the current Scottish Government and its political aspirations.”

McHarg also shared a statement from Anurag Deb, a researcher at Queen's University Belfast’s law school.

Deb wrote: “We never seem to get comparable concerns being raised about the Stormont executive's foreign engagements (and nor should we, across all devolveds).

“And before anyone thinks this is a post-1998 development, there are plenty of records of ministerial trips abroad from pre-1972 Stormont (eg to Europe and the US), even amid rising sectarian violence in the early 1970s. No recorded concerns around foreign engagement then.”

Foulkes and his newly formed group have not raised concerns about Wales’s international offices, despite the Welsh Labour government maintaining 21 to the Scottish Government’s nine.

David Clark, who served as a special adviser in Robin Cook’s foreign office during the early stages of devolution (1997-2001), said: “Foreign engagement has been part of devolution from the start and is perfectly normal for sub-state entities across the democratic world.”

He added: “The best approach for Unionists would be to stop being so thin-skinned about it, otherwise they look as if they want to reverse devolution.”

Pollster Mark McGeoghegan also questioned why the peers would want to restrict Scottish Government powers.

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He said: “The problems here are multifarious, but apart from anything else the conflation of work on secession with aspects of Scottish Government spending on activities like paradiplomacy, which are of strategic benefit to Scotland regardless of who is in power, is dangerous.”

SNP MP and KC Joanna Cherry said she takes the view that “unelected peers dictating what the Scottish parliament may and may not do is a fundamentally unpalatable state of affairs and should be seen for the nakedly Unionist political posturing it undoubtedly is”.

Her colleague at Westminster, SNP MP Stewart McDonald wrote: “The devil makes work for idle hands.

“It’s long past time to retire these busybodies from their publicly subsidised ego trip – properly. Not in a gilded palace – at great expense to the public – but returning extremely low, if any, value.”