LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday he would consider handing over more power to Scotland, but stopped short of agreeing to demands from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to grant the territory full fiscal autonomy.
Cameron and Sturgeon met in Edinburgh for their first talks since Britain’s national election last week, in which Sturgeon’s pro-independence Scottish National Party gained unprecedented national influence.
Sturgeon called the talks “constructive,” and said the two agreed that previously drawn up plans to transfer greater governing powers from London to Scotland should be implemented as soon as possible. But she said she and Cameron disagreed on whether Scotland should control all of its tax and spending policies.
Scotland has its own parliament and government, which decide policies on topics including health care, justice and education, but it must defer to the central U.K. government in London on broader issues such as defense, immigration and fiscal policies. The two share the same currency — the pound.
Cameron has pledged to introduce legal changes that would allow the Scottish government to control some policies including the rates of income tax in Scotland and some welfare spending.
That does not go far enough for Sturgeon, however. She says Scots want to take more substantial control over their economy, including the right to decide their own minimum wage, employment laws and business taxes.
Sturgeon’s party upended Britain’s political landscape last week when it swept 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the 650-seat U.K. Parliament. That surge made the SNP the third-largest bloc in the House of Commons — after Cameron’s Conservatives and the Labour Party — a force that Cameron cannot ignore.
The prime minister said he remained committed to delivering a stronger Scottish parliament, and would consider “sensible suggestions.” But he also pledged to keep the four regions that make up the U.K. — Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland — together in one united nation.
“I’m a great believer that in our United Kingdom we want a strong Scottish parliament. But we also want the solidarity between the different parts of the U.K. and I don’t want to lose that,” he said.
The SNP failed to realize its dream of making Scotland an independent country last year, when Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent to remain inside the U.K. in a historic referendum. But since then the party’s popularity has surged, not diminished, and Sturgeon argues that support clearly shows Scots want a sea change in British politics that listens to their aspirations.
Sturgeon said Friday that Cameron had a choice to make about how he responds to the strong vote for her party.
“He can act as if it is business as usual and nothing has changed, and people will draw their own conclusions from that,” she said. “They will think that Westminster isn’t capable of listening or responding.”