THE TORIES are being “disingenuous” when they argue with the Scottish Government to mitigate the need for the rape clause, a senior SNP MSP has said.

Christina McKelvie, who chairs Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, says Ruth Davidson’s call last week for the SNP to “propose a new benefit to provide funding for families with more than two children” was misleading.

In her statement the Scots Tory leader said: “Of course this would have to be paid for, but if the SNP Government believes this to be of such importance, then it can act.

Loading article content

“However, if Nicola Sturgeon simply wants to use this to complain about the policies of the UK Government — and not act at Holyrood when she has the power to do so - then she leaves herself open to the charge of gross hypocrisy.”

McKelvie, who is pushing for a debate on the policy in Holyrood, told The National: “It’s dead easy to say that, but we cannot change the policy because it’s wholly Westminster’s. It’s Universal Credit, which is not devolved in any part to the Scottish Parliament.”

She added: “So, in order to change this in Scotland you would need to create a new benefit. It’s not clear whether we have got the power to do that yet, because the DWP won’t confirm some of that.

“But the other part of it is even the benefits that we are getting devolved when we are looking at topping them up or changing the formula for eligibility slightly, we’re not getting any assurances from DWP or UK Government that they won’t claw that back via other benefits like Universal Credits or ESA or JSA where they would cut that for people who would maybe be claiming.”

The MSP continued: “It’s not as straightforward as ‘oh you’ve got the power you just mitigate it’. It’s not like the bedroom tax or council tax relief. It’s a bit more complicated. It’s two different jurisdictions, two different social security policies.

“That’s an easy get out for the Tories and other to just say that, It’s not as straightforward as that and they’re being really disingenuous.”

A Tory spokesman said: “As the SNP’s former social justice secretary Alex Neil has acknowledged, the Scottish Parliament has the power to replace any reductions in tax credits if it wishes to.

“It also can create new benefits if it so chooses. As we said last week, we would consider any proposals the SNP wants to make.”

McKelvie’s attack on the Tories came as organisers of a protest in Glasgow last week, shifted efforts to Edinburgh and called on others to join them outside Holyrood on Thursday for a large demonstration after First Minister’s Questions.

Meanwhile, The First Minister used a column in a local newspaper to accuse Ruth Davidson of being complicit in the “utterly immoral policies of their Westminster colleagues.”

Sturgeon said the UK government’s tax credit cap and the rape exemption was “inhumane and barbaric”.

“And while the rape clause is the most attention grabbing of the Tories welfare cuts, it’s not the only way in which women are being made to pay the price of Tory policies. Cuts to tax credits will affect women far more than men, because more of women’s income is dependent on benefits and child tax credits.

“50,000 Scottish households are expected to be affected by the cuts to child tax credits that will take effect by 2021. New families applying for tax credits could lose £545 a year.”

The First Minister added: “Let’s be clear, the answer to Tory cuts cannot simply be for the Scottish Government to get out the sticking plasters and patch up the Tories’ mess - using money intended for public services, while the UK Government pockets the savings from their cuts.”

Sturgeon then added: “Of course, if the Tories do want Scotland to take on the responsibility then let’s see all social security powers, and all of the funding used to pay for it, transferred to the Scottish Parliament — that way we can deliver a fair and balanced social security system across the board instead of just trying to clear up the mess.”

Labour’s Kezia Dugdale also attacked the policy.

Speaking ahead of her party’s local election campaign launch, Dugdale said the “abhorrent” rape clause was an example of the sort of policy brought in by the “ruthless” Tories.

“Ruth Davidson - who we were told was a different type of Tory - stood up and took a stand... not against poverty or injustice or the mistreatment of someone, but to justify the abhorrent rape clause,” she said.

“That should tell you everything you need to know about the Tories: not modern; not forward looking; not compassionate; and desperate to hide their true colours.”