There is no majority for Scottish independence, a situation that is unlikely to change before next month’s referendum, but the polls have long shown popular support for greater powers to be transferred to Holyrood. With this in mind, and ahead of tonight’s TV debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, the three main party leaders and their Scottish equivalents have united to promise further devolution in the event of a No vote.
Here’s the joint declaration they’ve just released:
Power lies with the Scottish people and we believe it is for the Scottish people to decide how Scotland is governed.
We believe that the pooling and sharing of resources across the United Kingdom is to Scotland’s benefit in a partnership of nations in which distinct national identities can flourish and be celebrated.
We believe that Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole have been strengthened since the advent of devolution.
We support a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong United Kingdom and we support the further strengthening of the Parliament’s powers.
The three parties delivered more powers for Holyrood through the Calman Commission which resulted in the Scotland Act 2012.
We now pledge to strengthen further the powers of the Scottish Parliament, in particular in the areas of fiscal responsibility and social security. We believe that Scotland should have a stronger Scottish Parliament while retaining full representation for Scotland in the UK Parliament. That can bring people together from all of Scotland, from civic society and every community.
The Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have each produced our own visions of the new powers which the Scottish Parliament needs.
We shall put those visions before the Scottish people at the next general election and all three parties guarantee to start delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament as swiftly as possible in 2015.
This commitment will deliver a stronger Scottish Parliament in a stronger United Kingdom.
Johann Lamont, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party
Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party
David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party
The move is designed to counter the nationalist claim that the only way to guarantee new powers for the Scottish Parliament is to vote for independence. In this respect, it is the reverse of the intervention launched by the economic spokesmen of the three main parties earlier this year when they announced that the UK would deny an independent Scotland permission to use the pound. Having focused on what the country couldn’t do after separation (resulting in a largely negative tone), the leaders are now emphasising what it could do as part of the union.
The Yes campaign will undoubtedly reject their words as too vague (and there are significant divisions between the parties over how far future devolution should go), while others will question why this positive message wasn’t delivered earlier in the campaign. But as Darling prepares for what will be a testing debate with Salmond, their intervention will help to shore up his position.