Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Summer of Love continues in SNP/Tory-Lib talks

David Cameron emphasised the Tory "respect" agenda for Scotland by meeting with First Minister Alex Salmond for the second time in a month.

The Prime Minister chaired the first joint ministerial committee meeting since the election in the Downing Street Cabinet Room, just to prove how seriously he takes devolution.

Salmond was delighted that the "proper importance" is being attributed to the JMC mechanism which became, er, rusty when Labour was in office in Westminster and almost every devolved administration.

"A respect agenda is better than a disrespect agenda," said Salmond afterwards.

Not even Donald Dewar, or whoever dreamt up the JMC with then Home Secretary Jack Straw, could have imagined the political menagerie at this afternoon's meeting.

The committee is made up of ministers from the UK and devolved governments and around the Cabinet table was a rainbow of Tory, Lib Dem, Labour, SNP, Plaid, DUP and Sinn Fein politicians.

Representing the Westminster Conservative-Lib Dem coalition were David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Clegg, Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Tory Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan.

Scotland’s SNP First Minister sat on the other side of the long table. He was accompanied by Labour's Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, who heads a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition in Cardiff, and his Plaid Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones.

Northern Ireland’s coalition was led by First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP assisted by Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein.

There's only one thing the devolved Ministers want out of the JMC - money and more power, okay two things.

While there was never going to be political agreement on spending cuts the meeting was cordial. But the First Minister revealed afterwards that the Treasury and the Scottish government are "on the cusp of an agreement" over the £182m fossil fuel levy.

The fund for renewable energy projects is available to the Scottish government but previously the Labour Treasury insisted the same sum was to be cut from the overall Scottish budget. Salmond said the fund could be used to create many jobs in the renewable sector.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore described the meeting, which also made concessions on Scottish Ministerial representation at EU fishery talks, as productive. Salmond's cals for capital acceleration - spending to be brough forward from future years - was a non-starter. Flexibility on borrowing, on and Barnett consequentials for Olympic regeneration spending will be considered, but don't hold your breath.

The doomsayers had the sky falling in if there was a Tory government in Westminster and an SNP administration in Scotland (I may even have been among them).

It was meant to be the SNP's perfect scenario springboarding into an independence referendum. That agenda wasn't being played after the meeting.

Salmond just seems to be happy to go along with Cameron's Summer of Love, for the time being. He said he was there "to maximise what was best for the country" and if he can make some progress can be made in the context of political agreement he's going to be in there.

When it comes to casting around for someone to blame for next year's cuts as the Scottish elections approach the happy smiles and bonhomie after a JMC meeting might well disappear.

No comments:

Post a Comment