MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Scotland will get more autonomy with no “ifs or buts,” Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said on Sunday, after Scottish leader Alex Salmond accused him and other politicians of tricking Scots out of independence.
Salmond made his allegations after Cameron, within hours of Scotland voting ‘No’ to independence in a referendum last week, unexpectedly said new powers for Scotland promised by London before the vote should go in tandem with new powers for England.
His sudden change of tack sparked a rancorous dispute with the opposition Labour party which said it had a different vision of how constitutional reform for England should unfold.
This raised the possibility a new deal for Scotland could be delayed or even thwarted by a party political row.
Angered by the turn of events, Salmond, who is stepping down as leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) after losing the independence referendum, accused Cameron on Sunday of winning the vote by making false pledges.
“It is the people who were persuaded to vote ‘No’ who were misled, who were gulled, who were tricked effectively,” Salmond told BBC TV, saying he thought last-minute promises of greater powers and continued higher-than-average funding, which he said were already unraveling, had swayed the vote’s outcome.
Cameron’s office responded by saying the government would stick to its promises.
“This Government has delivered on devolution and we will do so again in the next Parliament,” it said in a statement, referring to the next government’s 2015-2020 term in office.
A source in Cameron’s office said that despite earlier remarks by him and one of his most senior lieutenants, Cameron would not delay new powers for Scotland if cross-party agreement over wider reform for England could not be reached.
“The prime minister and other leaders have made a clear and unambiguous commitment to deliver on devolution and produce draft legislation by January. They will deliver on that commitment — no ifs, no buts,” the source said.
The dispute between Labour and the Conservatives overshadowed the start of Labour’s annual conference in Manchester, meant to focus on the party’s vision of a society where wealth and opportunity is shared more equally.
Instead, Labour leader Ed Miliband was forced to clarify his views on English devolution as part of what many voters are likely to perceive as a needless party political spat.
Cameron, under pressure from some of his own lawmakers representing English constituencies, has said he wants to stop Scots lawmakers voting on English issues in parliament, a matter he says should be the preserve of those representing England.
Conservatives fear losing votes to the nationalist U.K. Independence Party if Scotland, which has its own parliament and a large measure of devolution, gets more autonomy and keeps more funding per head than the rest of Britain, without concessions to England, the United Kingdom’s largest part.
Labour, however, has fewer lawmakers in England than the Conservatives and could stand to lose its ability to get legislation through parliament if it was in government under Cameron’s English proposals.
Miliband said on Sunday he disagreed with the proposals because he thought more time and consultation was needed to work out a solution to “the English question” accusing his rival of playing politics.
“You know we’ve spent two years trying to keep our country together. Let’s have a proper constitutional convention, let’s look at these issues,” Miliband told BBC TV.
“Let’s not drive our country apart because David Cameron thinks it’s a sort of opportunity for him to do it.”
Cameron, who is due to meet some of his own lawmakers on Monday to discuss his proposals for English voting, made it clear that the disagreement could resonate in the May 2015 general election, warning Miliband his reluctance to restructure voting arrangements in favour of England could backfire.
“The challenge to Labour and Ed Miliband is clear: either resolve this issue with us, or explain to the people of the rest of the U.K. why they shouldn’t have the same powers as we are rightfully devolving to the people of Scotland,” Cameron said in an article released on social media on Sunday.
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