LIKE many people, I’ve been keeping an eye on the Supreme Court’s deliberations on whether the UK Government needs to consult the UK Parliament on invoking Article 50 in order to leave the European Union. However, what has proven instructive to me isn’t the issue of the procedures around Article 50, but instead it has been the UK Government’s attitude about Scotland’s place within the Union.
During the Independence Referendum in 2014, we were told that Scotland was an important part of the UK and that our voice was stronger as part of the UK. However, that is not what the UK Government’s legal team was saying when laying out their case to the Supreme Court. In trying to build a case for ignoring the UK Parliament over Brexit, the UK’s lawyers have laid bare their contempt for devolution and for the role of Scotland within the UK.
Since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 the Sewel Convention has recognised that the Westminster Parliament would not legislate for devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. There is no doubt that Brexit would impact heavily on a wide range of matters currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so you would expect a Sewel motion to be applied to ensure that our Parliament would have its say on this issue. Not so, say the UK Government’s lawyers. The Sewel Convention, which was meant to be given a stronger status after the referendum, is now simply a ‘self-denying ordinance’. It doesn’t have any legal force at all, and it can and will be ignored by the UK Government as and when it wishes.
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So much for respecting Scotland’s position in the UK. If it looks as if the Scottish Parliament won’t follow the lead of the UK Government, then they’ll simply change the rules and cut it out of any involvement.
This isn’t an argument about semantics or constitutional opinion, this highlights exactly what the UK establishment thinks of Scotland’s status within the Union. They will offer us crumbs of comfort when it looks like we might walk away (with our oil and other resources) and then ignore us when we get in their way.
So much for the claims of the Prime Minister and David Davis that they would be listening to the views of Scotland where 62 per cent voted to remain in the EU.
So much for the infamous Vow and the claims that the Scottish Parliament would be made permanent in UK legislation and that the Sewel Convention would be put on a statutory footing.
Also, let’s not forget that the Act of Union gave the power to change laws in Scotland to Parliament not the Crown – and the use of the Royal Prerogative as proposed by the Tory Government.
Of course, while everyone else is focused on the discussions at the Supreme Court, up pops Labour in Scotland’s leader Kezia Dugdale with yet another grand plan to try obtain any significance in Scottish politics. Reverting to Labour’s default position when they can’t think of anything else to say, Dugdale calls for a constitutional convention.
She claims that the component parts of the UK should take more responsibility for what happens in their communities – and then mentions the English regions as part of this. Is she unaware that the Act of Union was between the nations of Scotland and England, not Scotland and Yorkshire, Lancashire, or any other region. In that one comment, she has reduced Scotland’s status as an equal partner in the Act of Union to the equivalent of an English region.
This is mere distraction from a Labour Party which has lost is way in Scotland and a leader who, after taking her party to third place, has no clearer idea of the way forward than she did when she was first elected leader. It also helps to disguise her constant flip-flopping on policies such as the recent u-turn on a special deal to keep Scotland in the EU. Quite simply, this is Labour reverting to their default position when they haven’t a clue what to do next. With splits growing in the Labour Party in Scotland, with a clear divergence between Dugdale and her deputy, as well as a split between Labour in Scotland and the Labour leadership in London, Dugdale calls on a constitutional convention to plaster over the wounds of a split and failing party.
Even a cursory glance at the proposal put forward by Dugdale sees her asking for the very powers – such as over the minimum wage – which she fought against during the Smith Commission deliberations.
You would also have to question how likely is it that Dugdale can deliver on this new devolved settlement when former Prime Minister Gordon Brown already promised us federalism within two years of the referendum if we voted No. Well, the No vote won the referendum and we’re past the two-year mark but still no sign of the federalism promised by Gordon Brown.
There is however one part of Kezia Dugdale’s plan that I do agree with. Let’s scrap the Act of Union. But instead of trying to formulate a new union, let’s have an independent Scottish Parliament which can work for the interests of Scotland. Let’s plan for a future where the decisions about our country are taken by those who live and work here.
The legal arguments over Brexit at the Supreme Court have shown how flimsy the Better Together promises were of entrenching the powers or the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. If the Sewel Convention and the Act of Union can be ignored at any time, then it is clear from the Supreme Court discussions that Scotland could find itself losing its Parliament at the whim of any future UK Government.