Scots Vs U.K. Powers Emerges as Key Arena for TV Debate

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne pledged more powers for Scotland if voters opt to stay part of the U.K. hours before a live televised debate pitting the nationalists against supporters of the union.

The Scottish government rejected the offer as a “rehash of vague promises and unspecified more powers” that will fail to sway the people of Scotland.

“There’s a commitment by all the Westminster parties and therefore any combination of a U.K. government to make sure that if Scotland stays in the U.K. there will be further devolution of powers,” Osborne told BBC Radio’s “Today” program. This includes Conservative proposals to give Scotland more tax powers, he said, without giving more details.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband have signed a pledge guaranteeing the transfer of more policy making powers to the Scottish government in Edinburgh if voters reject independence in a referendum on Sept. 18.

The commitment, made along with the leaders of Scotland’s Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, extends to greater control over “fiscal responsibility” and social spending, regardless of the outcome of next year’s U.K. general election.

“That is the best of both worlds, that is Scotland as part of the U.K., with all the economic benefits and broader benefits that brings, but also Scotland in charge of the things that matter to Scots,” Osborne said. “People can judge us by our track record, but also judge us by the collective commitment we make across the Westminster political party divide to further devolution for Scotland.”

Tax-Raising Power

A spokesman for Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said that the Conservatives had previously offered unspecified powers in the event of a “No” vote, and the latest pledge could not be taken seriously. Only a vote for independence can deliver the powers needed to create a more prosperous and fairer society, he said.

The Scottish Parliament, which was re-established in 1999 by the then Labour government under a policy known as devolution, already has the power to raise or lower income tax by 3 percentage points, and has never used it. Lawmakers in Edinburgh also have control over policies including health care, justice, transport, housing and education, while Westminster retains power over foreign policy, energy and macroeconomic matters such as the pound.

Salmond-Darling

The distribution of such powers will feature in the first televised debate of the campaign this evening, when Salmond, the Scottish National Party leader who heads the devolved government, faces Alistair Darling, the former U.K. chancellor of the exchequer who leads the campaign against independence,

A Survation poll published in the Mail on Sunday newspaper on Aug. 3 found that 40 percent of voters said they supported independence, down one percentage point from a similar survey on July 11, while those against were unchanged at 46 percent. Don’t knows accounted for 14 percent of the 1,000 voters questioned online between July 30 and Aug. 1. The margin of error was 3.1 percentage points.

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