THE key significance of the Brexit Bill row is that it underlines in the most striking terms a fundamental weakness in how the UK state is organised – and the lack of democracy at its heart.

Under the current constitutional set-up, the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must give their consent for Westminster to legislate in devolved areas.

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The Sewel Convention, which is enshrined in the devolution legislation, states Westminster “would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.

Because the EU Withdrawal Bill covers areas such as the environment, fishing and farming, which are devolved to Scotland and Wales, the parliaments in Edinburgh and Cardiff are required to vote on this. However, even when Holyrood votes to refuse consent, Westminster can impose the legislation anyway – overturning the will of the Scottish Parliament.

That is why that at the close of yesterday’s debate in the Scottish Parliament, and after a vote of 93 to 30 rejecting the bill, Bruce Crawford, the SNP MSP and convener of the finance and constitution committee, made clear to the presiding officer he wanted to make sure Westminster knew how Holyrood had voted.

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“This is a historic and significant moment,” he told Ken Macintosh. “Will you now write to the [UK Parliament] to inform them of our decision?”

Macintosh said he would, but minutes after Crawford had made his plea, Scottish Secretary David Mundell indicated the UK Government would proceed with the legislation as drafted.

It is the first time since devolution in 1999 that Westminster is poised to impose a law on Scotland that the Parliament in Edinburgh has explicitly rejected. Holyrood withheld consent for the UK’s welfare reform legislation in 2011, but ministers in London adjusted the bill to take account of MSPs’ concern.