THE SNP has made an embarrassing climbdown after conceding future Scottish governments will have the power to reverse cuts to tax credits.

Alex Neil, the Social Justice Secretary, was likened to a "pantomime dame," after he acknowledged ministers could use new powers being devolved in the Scotland Bill to top-up tax credits for 250,000 Scots families who face losing £1000 on average under Chancellor George Osborne's plans.

The concession, during a bad-tempered Holyrood debate, came less than 24 hours after he insisted it would be impossible under the new legislation.

In a further sign of the SNP's confusion on the issue, the party used its majority to force through a Holyrood motion which continued to claim the Scotland Bill would not allow ministers to act.

Nationalist MSPs threw out a Labour call for the Scottish Government to "to restore tax credits to families using the new powers being devolved".

The row over tax credits is likely to become a key issue in next May's Scottish Parliament election.

Scots Labour leader Kezia Dugdale promised last weekend to campaign on a promise to restore tax credits.

She would not implement planned Conservative income tax cuts for higher earners or the SNP's proposed cut to flight duty to free up money to meet the £355million cost.

Mr Neil rejected the plan but told MSPs the Scottish Government would wait until Mr Osborne's spending review, which will determine Holyrood's budget for next year, on November 25 before bringing forward its own plans "to support low income households".

Ministers will also wait until Mr Osborne has revisited the planned tax credit cuts, as he promised to do after the policy suffered a damaging House of Lords defeat.

Speaking after the debate he said: "The Scottish Government has a long standing record on protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society."

But Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour's public services spokeswoman, said: "Alex Neil is behaving like a pantomime dame trying to distract people from the paucity of what he has to say on the issue.

"What an absolute shambles from the SNP.

"They have spent days telling us we wouldn't have the power to top-up tax credits, yet Alex Neil now accepts that's just not true.

"Why can't the SNP just embrace the new powers instead of always talking Scotland down?

She added: "The tax credit debate exposed what really matters to the SNP Government - constitutional grievance rather than helping working families in Scotland".

The Scots Tories also said the SNP was in a "shambles" while Willie Rennie, the Scots Lib Dem leader, accused Mr Neil of making "a ludicrous U-turn".

Mr Neil described the power to top up tax credits as a "welcome step forward".

He conceded it would be possible after a Government amendment to the legislation was formally lodged in the House of Commons.

Scottish Government officials insisted the changes had come as a surprise but David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland who is steering the legislation through the Commons, outlined the new provisions on Monday.

He has said repeatedly since then that Holyrood would gain the power to top up tax credits.

Ms Baillie suggested a Scottish Labour government would work alongside HMRC, which administers tax credits, to maintain them at pre-cut levels.

She said restoring payments to a small number of people who lost tax credits altogether as a result of the cuts - making it impossible to "top up" their payments  would be "reasonably easy" to identify and compensate.