IN just a few weeks, the UK Government will publish proposed legislation which is expected to drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement.

Tory ministers hope to rush the UK Internal Market Bill through Westminster in the autumn, giving them the “legal basis” to negotiate post-Brexit trade agreements which do not respect the devolved policies and powers of Scotland and Wales.

This could impact across a range of public health and agricultural areas including chlorinated chicken, hormone-treated beef, genetically modified crops, safe levels of pesticide residues and minimum alcohol pricing.

At present these areas of public health, agriculture and the environment all fall within the responsibilities of the devolved administrations, with common high standards across the European Union. For some time, Brexiteers have been keen to repatriate powers from Brussels and impose their priorities on the rest of the UK.

Finally the penny has dropped amongst political watchers at Westminster that this is going to be a hugely controversial issue.

Earlier this week, the Financial Times ran a high-profile report headlined “Edinburgh threatens to defy London on post-Brexit legislation”.

You can be certain that the coverage caught the attention of readers in London’s SW1, with Scotland’s Constitutional Affairs Secretary Michael Russell confirming the Scottish Government is prepared to fight the UK Government’s plans to operate unilateral control over the “UK internal market”.

Having acted in good faith to develop “common frameworks” across the governments of the UK, the Holyrood administration will not accept a UK statutory framework that will impose measures regardless of views in Edinburgh or Cardiff.

According to a trade expert familiar with the UK bill who was quoted by the Financial Times: “The net effect is that whatever – and that means whatever – happens to food standards as a result of signing (free trade agreements), the Scots and Welsh will have to accept those lower standard products on to their market”. Disquiet in the Scottish Government is shared by the Welsh Government, with a senior figure in the Cardiff administration criticising the plans by London ministers.

One senior Welsh Government figure said: “Their mindset is that they want to police divergence by the devolved governments but it is more likely to be English divergence that causes difficulty,”

Using primary legislation with mutual recognition is a sledgehammer that operates in only one direction.

The timing of the legislation and its political fallout couldn’t come at a worse time for the Westminster Government – as the UK heads to towards the end of the Brexit transition period without an agreement with Brussels and opinion polls show the Scottish National Party and support for Scottish independence riding high.

Getting his excuses in early was the Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw, who said he thinks the power-grab plans by his London Tory colleagues are the “right thing to do”. Carlaw was, of course, one of the leading campaigners against devolution in the first place, and is now going back on the commitments made by Brexit campaigners that powers would come directly from Brussels to Holyrood.

Instead of standing up for Scottish democracy, democratic institutions and policies passed by the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Tories are showing their true face.

Carlaw will feel as uncomfortable on this question in the months ahead as he looked when he was put on the spot this week about the Scottish handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. When confronted by Sky TV host Adam Boulton, he found himself incoherently contradicting his own arguments.

No wonder the Tories are in such a poor state in Scotland. The latest Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times saw them drop four points to 20%, a remarkable 25% behind the SNP.

On such a poor showing the Tories would lose seven seats, including the constituencies of Edinburgh Central, West Aberdeenshire, Dumfriesshire, Galloway and West Dumfries, Ayr and Jackson Carlaw’s own seat

of Eastwood.

As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, other issues are beginning to come out from beneath its shadow. The Tories at Westminster have decided they plan to undermine the devolution settlement and overrule the democratically elected governments and parliaments in the UK nations.

This is going to become a huge issue in the months ahead, as will the end of the Brexit transition deadline at the turn of the year.

The run-up to the 2021 Scottish Parliament election is going to be dominated by a straight choice between supporting the SNP, who will defend the priorities of voters in Scotland, and the Scottish Tories who will instead defend the interests of their bosses in Westminster and their damaging policies.