Listen to this article
The main political parties would be invited to discuss new devolved powers for Scotland within weeks of a No vote in September’s independence referendum, the Scottish secretary has announced.
Alistair Carmichael, the UK government’s secretary of state for Scotland, has pledged to host a conference on the “New Scotland”, a move intended to convince wavering voters in Scotland that rejecting independence would open the door for the transfer of more powers from London to Edinburgh. He said that the UK’s major parties would be invited to attend, including the Scottish National party.
The Liberal Democrat minister’s comments, to be made in a speech to Scottish engineers in Glasgow on Thursday evening, mark his formal endorsement of party proposals unveiled in March for a post-referendum devolution process.
“I can confirm that in the event of a No vote, I will invite the representatives of Scotland's main parties to meet in October to begin that process,” Mr Carmichael will say, according to extracts of his speech released in advance.
A conference on the New Scotland “will work in the interests of the people of this country and more powers will come”, he will say.
While Mr Carmichael is the UK minister responsible for Scottish affairs, his proposal for a post-referendum conference do not amount to a commitment by the coalition government. The Conservatives have yet to announce details of their proposals for devolution or how consensus on new powers should be achieved.
The three main UK parties accept that cross-party agreement on devolution of more powers to Scotland will be needed, but they still have considerable differences on what powers might be transferred. The Lib Dems have consistently backed greater devolution and Mr Carmichael said that Scotland should be able to decide the rates and bands for income, capital gains and inheritance taxes.
Labour has offered more limited powers and the Conservatives are expected to unveil details of their proposals next month.
The SNP has sought to cast doubt on pro-union party commitment to devolution if the nationalists are defeated in September.
Opinion polls suggest many voters remain unconvinced that substantial new powers would be on offer, with one recent survey by ICM finding that 62 per cent of voters in Scotland would want more devolution after a No vote, but that only 35 per cent believed it would happen.
Pro-union parties have stepped up efforts in recent weeks to overcome such scepticism, with promises of more powers a theme of recent visits to Scotland by David Cameron, prime minister, and Nick Clegg, his Lib Dem deputy.