LONDON (Reuters) - The British government will start talks on granting Scotland more powers within a month of an independence referendum later this year if Scots choose to stay part of the United Kingdom, a government minister will pledge on Thursday.
In a speech designed to persuade Scots that they can and will enjoy even greater autonomy if they decide to stay inside the UK, Alistair Carmichael, the minister responsible for Scotland, will issue the government’s most detailed promise on greater powers to Scotland so far.
“In the event of a no vote, I will invite the representatives of Scotland’s main parties to meet in October to begin that process,” Carmichael will say, according to advance extracts of a speech in Glasgow released by his office.
“There will be a Conference on the New Scotland. It will work in the interests of the people of this country. And more powers will come.”
Scotland will vote on Sept. 18 on whether to break away from the UK. Opinion polls show most Scots will reject independence even though the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has made some headway in cutting the “no” side’s lead.
Scotland already enjoys a large measure of devolution. It has had its own parliament since 1999 with the power to legislate in policy areas such as education, health and the environment. But polls show many Scots want more powers and favour such a power transfer over outright independence.
Any talks on more powers would be likely to focus on giving Scotland the right to control tax policy and on extending its purview to most or all policy areas apart from defence and foreign affairs. It remains unclear how comprehensive a transfer of powers Britain would be willing to offer, however.
Politicians from across the spectrum, including Prime Minister David Cameron, have already promised Scotland more, unspecified, powers if it remains in the 307-year-old union.
But the “no” campaign, which includes all three of Britain’s main political parties, is anxious to ensure Scots take the promise seriously and feels that setting out a timetable will give such a pledge more weight.
The SNP, which argues Scotland would be fairer and more prosperous on its own, has accused the “no” campaign of running a downbeat “Project Fear,” a charge that even some “no” campaigners have said is partly true.
But the British government believes that promising further devolution is a positive argument that could be one of its most effective campaign tools.
“A vote against separating from the United Kingdom is a positive vote to stick with our UK family of nations,” Carmichael will say. “But it is also a vote for change within it.”
Editing by Mark Heinrich