THE SNP has let "the cat out of the bag" after one of its MPs admitted that to bring in full fiscal autonomy(FFA) for Scotland quickly would be disastrous, the Liberal Democrats have claimed.


Ahead of the first major debate today on the new Scotland Bill, giving Holyrood more tax powers, the Scottish Liberal Democrats seized on remarks made by Tommy Sheppard, the Nationalist MP for Edinburgh East, who suggested achieving FFA was "a process", that could take at least three or four years to implement; meaning it was unlikely to happen before 2020.

Asked on the BBC why the SNP was now rowing back on its manifesto pledge of FFA, Mr Sheppard, his party's spokesman on constitutional matters, said: "Having a government being able to be responsible not just for spending money but for raising money is surely something that's an ideal situation and it's one we want to move towards but we don't do that and achieve that until we have the economic powers to be able to manage the Scottish economy in the interests of the people that live there. So we want additional powers to set minimum wages, much more powers on the tax structure, powers to borrow, powers to invest."

But when asked about whether it was motivated by fears of losing the Barnett Formula - the Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated FFA would cost Scotland £8bn a year in lost revenue - he replied: "But, of course, you wouldn't take these things away overnight - that would be a disaster; it would be a silly thing to do. So we have to prepare the ground for full financial responsibility and we will be bringing forward amendments to make those changes and prepare the ground."

Ian Murray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, noted how the SNP might only have the legislative opportunity of the Scotland Bill to push for FFA in this Parliament, which runs to the end of the decade.

Pointing to the SNP manifesto, he said:"Both Nicola Sturgeon and candidates, who were standing for the SNP, consistently said, time and time again during the election, that they would vote this year for FFA. They are rowing back on that because they know the sums don't add up."

He added: "To say this will take several years when they said an independent Scotland could be achieved in 18 months, it's just being a little bit disingenous.They should really bring forward FFA, let's have the debate..."

Conor Burns, the Tory backbencher, said the truth was that the SNP was "desperate to keep grievance and blame on the table".

He argued: "They want to be able to blame the Tories in England for everything that goes wrong in Scotland and not have the accountability to the Scottish people themselves for tax and spend. That's why they were clambering for independence, they wanted that in 18 months and now suddenly their manifesto promise of FFA is undeliverable? No, no, no. They are running away from responsibility..."

Mr Sheppard branded Mr Conor's argument "just silly" and pledged that there would be amendments to the Bill that would "create the conditions where we can move towards where the Scottish Parliament is responsible for its own finances; we're not running away from anything. You have to accept this is a process".

Mr Sheppard described the IFS £8bn prediction as an "academic estimate based on doing absolutely nothing to change the way the economy is run in Scotland".

He then said: "With the best will in the world, it will take three to four years to implement this..."

Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: "The SNP have let the cat out of the bag. It is a refreshing change that a senior SNP MP has finally admitted that they won't bring forward their plans for FFA because they would be a disaster for Scotland. It would have been helpful for the voters to hear such candid remarks before the election."

The MSP said it was clear the SNP leadership knew pulling Scotland out of the Barnett Formula and removing the UK-wide pooling of pensions would be bad for the nation's economy and society.

"The SNP repeatedly disputed the assessment of the Institute of Fiscal Studies that FFA would cost Scottish public services by £7.6bn. Now a senior MP seems to agree."

Mr Rennie added: "John Swinney should explain why he continues to argue for FFA when one of his senior colleagues says it would be a disaster if it was brought in tomorrow. The SNP have always claimed that independence or maximum powers are required urgently. Yet now the cold reality of the cost of their policies is laid bare they don't seem so urgent anymore."

Mr Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, will be at the Treasury today for talks with Chancellor George Osborne to talk about more powers for Holyrood and the latest consequential cut to the Scottish Budget, around £180m, of the UK Government's reductions in departmental spending for this year.