McLeish Warns Over Scotland Powers

12 October 2014, 06:05 | Updated: 12 October 2014, 07:20

Giving Scotland more and more powers is a "dangerous recipe'' which could eventually lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, former Labour first minister Henry McLeish has suggested.

While he said a "confederal set-up where Scotland gets as many powers as it needs'' may be the only way to keep the Union together, he cautioned against continually increasing the powers Holyrood has without constitutional reform in other parts of the UK.

Mr McLeish, a former Labour MP and MSP, said: "My worry is if we continue just to look at Scotland and get more powers, and powers and powers, we get no codified constitution in the UK, no solution for England, and Wales is dangling. That is a dangerous recipe because Scotland will be going further and further out on a limb, and maybe the only thing that could happen then is for that limb to break off.''

In the wake of last month's independence referendum, which has resulted in a new commission being set up to look at more powers for Holyrood, he said: "Now is the chance not to rush through some changes about tax and policies, but for Scotland to say 'what is it we really want'.''

He stressed any changes should not be rushed through, despite the tight timetable that has been set for the Smith Commission.

Mr McLeish argued it was important to "think twice'' about the country's constitutional arrangements, stating: "I want to see the next step being really important to Scotland. And I suggest to you the next step will be the final step before something more dramatic.''

The former first minister, who was speaking at the Scottish Green Party Conference in Edinburgh, said: "My point about the Smith Commission, while I have great respect for Lord Smith, he has got to make sure that we don't end up running too fast and end up backing legislation which is not in the long-term interests of our country. That would be a terrible mistake.''

He also said the timetable for change, with its aim of legislating shortly after next May's Westminster election, meant Lord Smith had been "given an impossible task to report in the period he has''.

Mr McLeish said: "In the space of a few weeks a magic wand will be waved and everybody will go back to Westminster and there will be a command paper and then legislation after the next election.''

But he argued the legacy of the independence referendum was that Scotland's future should not be determined solely by Westminster, as he called for as many people as possible to engage with the Smith Commission.

"The legacy is vitally important, and that's why I would like to say let's not leave it just to Westminster,'' he said.

"Why is it you can have 97% of people registering to vote, 85% of people voting, then the day after we leave it to three unionist parties at Westminster to decide our future. How ridiculous.

"To make the legacy enduring we have to retain ownership of our own future. Civic politics, civic Scotland, including the trade unions, the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and all of us should participate in the next bit of developing Scotland's future.

"I plead with you not to give ownership of this important issue to Westminster solely, that would be squandering the legacy and with Scotland working together we can achieve a great deal more.''

Mr McLeish said while he had been a "product of tribal politics'', the degree of "hostility'' between his party and the SNP was "not good for Scottish politics''.

He added: "If you look at the issues, including the policies between the two parties, they often share a great deal.''

He called for parties to work together more on those issues where they agree, and added: "Political parties, especially unionist political parties, have to acknowledge there is no entitlement. We shouldn't go around as unionist parties thinking people should vote for us and just wait until they get it right.''

He said after 30 years in politics he had "real burning desire'' to tackle inequality, saying: "It is poisoning the well of Scottish society. No matter what the future holds in terms of devo min, devo max, devo more or whatever, let's commit ourselves jointly to a major assault on inequality, because it is ruining young people's lives, ruining children's lives.''