IAN Blackford addressed the House of Commons in a debate on the Claim of Right for Scotland.

The SNP Westminster leader spoke about the ongoing threat to the Scottish Parliament, and the need to recognise the sovereignty of Scotland's people.

Below is a transcript of his full speech.


Ian Blackford MP: "The principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle and has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law".

Mr Speaker, these words are not mine.

These are the words of the Lord President in 1953 during the case of McCormick v The Lord Advocate.

This Parliament, Mr Speaker, I accept has a great deal of power and rightly all of us who are democrats should respect the will of the people.

But if we are to accept and respect that will in this place - then why not in Scotland.

Mr Speaker, why is it that the Tory Government thinks it can do whatever it wants to Scotland and get away with it?

Many in Scotland are outraged that the Conservsative Government, has argued that times are not normal and that allows them to change the devolution settlement in the teeth of opposition from the Scottish Parliament.

The Tories have no mandate for the power grab on the Scottish Parliament.

You see the case is this - in Scotland, it is the Scottish people who are sovereign.

And what more fitting way can we the Scottish National Party use our opposition day today, on the 4th of July, Independence Day - than to defend the interests, the rights and the will of the Scottish people.

The Claim of Right acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and the obligation on elected representatives that in all our actions and deliberations, the interests of the people of Scotland shall be paramount.

The Claim of Right is not simply a historical document but it is a fundamental principle that underpins the democracy and constitutional framework of Scotland.

The 1989 Claim functioned as a declaration of intent on the sovereignty of the Scottish People.

It set the constitutional convention which ten years later saw the people vote in a referendum for the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

A parliament that this UK Government now seeks to undermine and ignore.

Before those on opposite benches start to jeer and snigger - yes it is a fact that Scottish National Party members were not present for the signing and did not take part in the convention - but the SNP did take part in early discussions, but withdrew when it became clear that the convention would not countenance independence.

We believe and continue to believe that ruling out such an option was to deny a key principle of the claim: the right to choose the best form of Government.

But we have always supported the sentiments of the claim of right.

The SNP has committed and recommitted to its principle: we acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.

We have defended this sentiment time and time again - and we are here to do it again today.

Why today some in this chamber might ask?

Well the facts of the matter are this.

Over the past few weeks we have the biggest power grab conducted by this Government since devolution.

We have seen the Tory Government disrespect the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the Scottish people.

The interests and the democratic choices of the people of Scotland have been shoved aside by the UK Government.

Devolution has been downgraded and the authority of our parliament diminished. While the Tory Government in London seeks to destroy our constitutional settlement and undermine the sovereignty of the Scottish people - we in the SNP will not let the people of Scotland be ignored.

We will do all that we can to ensure the wishes of the people of Scotland are respected.

Today, we ask this house to consider the Claim of Right and to recommit itself to the spirit of devolution.

To place the people of Scotland at the heart of decisions not cast them aside.

Only a few weeks ago we witnessed the shameful Tory power-grab.

This house and this Government showed nothing but utter contempt for the devolved administrations as the EU Withdrawal Bill was pushed through without consideration of the views of the devolved institutions.

The Scottish Parliament had voted overwhelmingly, by 93 to 30, to refuse legislative consent for Clause 15 of the EU Withdrawal Bill, and as such it should not have passed through the House of Commons with the Clause intact.

But the Tories decided this was acceptable.

They trotted through the lobbies voting against the will of the Scottish people.

Mr Speaker, we all know that the Sewel Convention established the long-held practice that the UK Government cannot legislate in devolved areas without the consent of the devolved parliament.

Well we at least thought we did.

Now we have reached a dangerous and difficult place thanks to the Tories which has exposed their lack of commitment to the Sewel Convention.

Their Brexit power grab has basically ripped up the Sewel Convention and plunged us into constitutional crisis.

We are in unknown territory.

Only if the UK Government acts to recognise and respect the will of the Scottish Parliament can we repair some of the damage.

Mr Speaker, the house should know that it is not simply the SNP’s view that the Tory power grab has thrown the devolution settlement into crisis.

In Scotland the feeling is apparent everywhere you go – people right across Scotland want power in Scotland’s hands.

Recent polling from Natcen revealed a majority of Scots trust Holyrood to make decisions in areas that the Tories want to grab for Westminster.

Over 60% want fishing decisions in Scotland following Brexit and 59% want farming powers in Scottish hands.

A majority of Scots have lost confidence in the UK’s handling of Brexit – with a full 69% now saying they believe it is being badly handled.

During earlier debates we heard the Tories trying to justify the UK Government’s shoddy power grab by falsely claiming Scotland would not lose powers.

However, the Scottish Government published a list of powers at risk, they include powers over fishing, farming, rail franchises and fracking licences to name a few.

But this Government has shown disrespect to our Parliament more than once.

Its legal challenges to the Scottish Parliament’s Continuity Bill for one clearly shows the arrogance of the Tories when faced with the will of the Scottish People.

The Scottish Parliament voted by 95 votes to 32 to pass the Continuity Bill, aimed at preparing Scotland’s laws for the impact of leaving the EU in light of a refusal to grant an LCM to Westminster’s EU Withdrawal Bill.

The people of Scotland expect the two governments to co-operate on these matters.

They also expect that the decisions and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament be respected.

The decision therefore by the UK Government to attempt to overturn the will of the Scottish Parliament in the courts is unprecedented. Westminster cannot unilaterally re-write the devolution settlement and impose UK-wide frameworks in devolved areas without consent.

The truth of the matter is that, that right from the start of the Brexit process we have seen the UK Government attempt to avoid all attempts at democratic engagement.

It took a decision from the courts to force them to consult parliament over the decision to trigger article 50.

Similarly the UK Government ignored all requests from the devolved administrations to be involved in the process of triggering Article 50 despite Scotland voting overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.

But the Tories haven’t just ignored the will of the Scottish Parliament – they ignore the interests of the Scottish people.

For years now their austerity agenda has punished the people of Scotland.

The Tory obsession with punishing the poor and protecting the rich has seen families struggle in hardship, women denied the right to a fair pension and women who have been victims of rape made to justify the right to child benefit.

The policies of this Tory Government are repugnant.

They have no place in a civilised compassionate Scotland.

On 26 January 2012, Nicola Sturgeon MSP led a debate on the Claim of Right with the motion: ‘That the Parliament acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs and declares and pledges that in all its actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.’ At the Time, 102 MSPs voted for the motion with14 Tories voting against.

You see even then Mr Speaker, the Tories could not stand up for the Scottish people.

The Tories pay lip service to devolution but they do not believe in it.

They do not believe that the Scottish people should have the right to determine the government that best suits their needs.

Mr Speaker what are they afraid of?

Afraid of power being in the hands of the Scottish people?

Surely we are all democrats - surely now even the UK Government must accept that it is the people we serve not them that serve us.

Mr Speaker that is the crux of this debate, with the quote that I began my remarks with - in Scotland things are different because our view of Government is different.

It is not top down it is ground up.

The single job of Government is to serve the interest of our people, it’s to carry out their will and it is to improve their lives.

Something the Tories are yet to learn.

Well today let them learn this – that in Scotland the people of Scotland are sovereign and that Scottish Parliament embodies the sovereignty of the Scottish people.

Next year sees the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

Yet our Scottish Parliament finds itself under threat of a power grab from the very Party which opposed its creation in the first place.

More than two decades after Scotland voted for a Scottish Parliament, the UK government’s Withdrawal Bill constitutes the biggest power grab since devolution.

In particular the conduct of the Secretary of State for Scotland has been beyond contempt.

He has shamefully stood by while the UK Government has enacted a power grab on the Scottish parliament and is not fit to hold his position.

He promised a “powers bonanza” to the Scottish Parliament while his colleague the Defra Secretary even went as far as to suggest immigration powers could be devolved to Scotland.

Despite that promise, the Secretary of State for Scotland consistently failed to name even one power in that bonanza coming back to Scotland.

In December 2017 he promised that amendments would be made to the Withdrawal during Report stage before going back on that promise and allowing amendments to be made only in the unelected House of Lords.

Since then he has been missing in action, refusing to lead on an emergency debate on the Sewell Convention called by the SNP following the refusal to allow time to debate clause 15 once the Withdrawal Bill returned from the Lords.

If members are not convinced of his inadequacy for the job - then hear this, the Secretary of State removed all doubt as to his views when he recently stated that “Scotland is not a partner in the UK”

Not equal.

That is exactly what this Government thinks of the people of Scotland.

And its actions reflect that sentiment.

The Secretary of Sate can’t stand up for Scotland as he does not recognize Scotland as a partner in the United Kingdom, he has unilaterally downgraded our role.

It is little wonder he is without consequence in standing up for Scotland.

Mr Speaker, what a damning indictment of the Tory party.

Truly shameful.

A Party with no mandate to speak for Scotland but thinks it can do whatever they want to Scotland and get away with it.

They opposed devolution in the first place, they’ve consistently voted against Scotland’s interests and now they want to dismantle the rights of our Parliament, downgrading devolution and dismissing the views of the people of Scotland.

Mr Speaker, the people of Scotland asked for none of this.

They voted decisively against leaving the European Union.

Yet now they face socio economic chaos from a hard Tory Brexit.

Before she became Prime Minister, Theresa May, set out her view of a UK “in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England continue to flourish side by side as equal partners”.

Yet the views of the people of Scotland are disregarded.

Instead the Prime Minister has shut out and silenced the people of Scotland from the Brexit debate. The Secretary of State for Scotland wasn’t even invited to the meeting at chequers where thyey discussed Brexit – his views were not called upon. Inconsequential in the process that the UK Government was going through.

While the Scottish parliament is not yet 20 years old, it has made remarkable achievements.

From free education, personal care and prescriptions, world leading climate change targets, the smoking ban, huge strides forward in attitudes towards sectarianism, sexual equality and multiculturalism.

Meanwhile in Westminster, the cruel and callous Tory policies such as the rape clause, the bedroom tax, austerity and of course Brexit stand in stark contrast to our approach.

In Scotland we do things differently and this place needs to recognise that the first step is for Westminster to respect the Will of the Scottish Parliament. Will this place do it? Will this house recognise that the Scottish Government has not given a consent motion to the withdrawal bill? Will this parliament now recant and make sure the powers that have been grabbed are sent back to the Scottish parliament? Because that’s what the people of Scotland expect.

We were promised in 2014 with Gordon Brown saying that a No vote in the independence referendum would lead to changes offering “as close to federalism as possible.”

In the end nothing, close to that was delivered.

And before the Tories leap from the benches opposite – yes we in the SNP respect the will of the Scottish people decided in 2014.

But the Claim of Right is important because it allows for the sovereignty of Scotland to choose and that means if Scotland decides it wants change then it should be respected.

Why should Conservatives stand in the way of the sovereignty and the rights of the Scottish people. And why should Scottish Conservatives allow that to happen… is there responsibility not to stand up for their constituents, their needs, and their wishes?

The Scottish Government was elected in May 2016 on a manifesto which said in relation to independence: “The Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum [...] if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out the EU against our will.”

Mr Speaker, Given events since 2016 there is therefore no question therefore about the legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland to consider the question of independence.

Everything has changed.

Now this Parliament today must show that it understands, recognises and respects the right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs including during this time of significant change.

I urge all members to defend the interests of the people of Scotland and vote to recognize the claim of right of the Scottish people.