SCOTLAND’S NHS could be sold off as a result of the current “power grab” by the UK Government, a constitutional expert has warned.

John Drummond, founder of the Constitutional Commission and a Sunday National columnist, believes the UK Government’s Internal Markets Bill, which has its first reading tomorrow, aims to “effectively centralise” power at Westminster – making the Scottish Parliament redundant.

“It’s exceptionally bad because what it means is that you can talk all you like in Edinburgh about the NHS and other devolved areas but a minister in London would decide what happens,” said Drummond.

“It would mean a minister in Westminster, if asked by someone if they could buy the NHS, could immediately agree without consultation.

‘‘That is what this legislation is. It gives authority to a minister, any minister, in Westminster complete authority over devolved areas.

“It is cataclysmic as it is the biggest, most enormous move to gross centralisation that one could ever conceive of.”

Drummond said the bill covered all the areas of devolved authority.

“This is just a way to say that Holyrood will effectively cease to exist in the present form.

‘‘It is rolling back decades of devolution – that is not an overstatement, that is a fact.”

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Drummond said, if passed, the bill could actually be a breach of the Act of Union and was likely to lead to “enormous divisions” within the Scottish Tory Party.

“There are clear indications that over the last few months a number of Tories have become very unsettled in the way this is all moving and I sincerely believe this will be far too much for any of them to stomach,” he said. “What this Internal Market Bill will do is force the pace of this. They will have to choose who is going to cut and run first.

“If there is a strong likelihood – and there is now a greater likelihood – of an independent Scotland, then it will be a race to decide who is going to head up the new Conservative party.

‘‘If you are slow out of the traps then that will not be you so it will place an enormous inducement upon some people in the Tory party in Scotland to say ‘look, we now espouse independence’.

“If you look back through history what tends to happen is that if something looks inevitable the smart people jump.”

Drummond said that if passed in its present form, the bill was likely to accelerate the push towards independence because those currently unsure would be left with no middle ground.

“Where independence movements are in play there is usually a third of the population who are content with the status quo and will never change their minds, there is one-third who want constitutional change and there are the folks in the middle and the way they move decides the final result,” he said.

“It is the folk in the middle who will be deeply upset and influenced by this change so therefore they are much more likely to listen to arguments for independence after this legislation is introduced than before, because they will see it as a clear threat to standards in the NHS, the advantages in education and all the areas where the Scottish Government has made progress.

“This is a clear threat to all of those and that will have a huge impact on undecided voters.

Drummond said Scottish voters were wary of centralisation both within Scotland and at Westminster.

“I suspect the effect will be to drive people from that so-called middle position into the Yes camp.

“They will still have reservations about independence but they will have greater reservations about centralisation.”

He said that if it went through, the bill would be a “huge” argument for independence as that would be the only way any autonomy in Scotland could be preserved.

“The only thing people can do about it is vote for independence,” said Drummond. “There is nothing else. The status quo is now eradicated forever as an option as there is no middle ground any more. This effectively rubs out the middle ground and erases it forever.”

While Drummond said he was not confident Boris Johnson would remain as Prime Minister, a takeover by Michael Gove would only intensify the centralisation process, which would in turn produce a “bigger dividend” for the independence movement.

WRITER and journalist Neal Ascherson told the Sunday National that even though the bill could lead to greater support for independence, it was important to fight against it as devolution had to be protected for “the sake of ordinary folk and their lives”.

“Crippling devolution will devastate their health, education, happiness etc, so devolution must be defended,” he said. “This UK Government is like the May one but much more strongly hates the idea of alternative power centres. Devolution has to be pruned back, therefore. One way is to retain the powers repatriated from Brussels. Another is the plan to enforce common standards throughout UK – in effect, giving Westminster/England the control of environmental, food safety and heaven knows what else, which the devolved administrations have at present. Chlorinated chicken for all, so that Boris can make his shabby trade deal with Trump.”

He said a third way would be to bleed the influence and power from the agencies of devolved governments by setting up “central” programmes alongside them. This would mean that Scottish road-building, health and other areas would be partly carried out and financed by new UK agencies established in Scotland, answering to a beefed-up Scotland Office rather than Holyrood.

“‘Strengthening’ the Union means tightening it, to this London Government,” said Ascherson. “Their contempt for laws they have agreed to internationally tells you what they can do much more easily to the Scotland and Wales Acts, and Northern Ireland: cut them back, without requiring agreement from Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast.”

Nicola Sturgeon has also said that only independence can protect the powers of the Scottish Parliament. She described Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill as “an abomination” which will “cripple devolution”.

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The First Minister said her administration would challenge the legislation – which the UK Government confirmed would breach international law by over-riding parts of the EU Withdrawal Agreement – “at every turn.

‘‘The UK Government are not only set to break international law – it is clear they are now set to break devolution,” said Sturgeon. “The Tories’ proposed bill for a so-called UK Internal Market is an abomination.

“It is a naked power grab which would cripple devolution.

“The plan for mutual recognition of standards in reality means a race to the bottom when it comes to things like food standards and environmental protections.

“It would prevent the Scottish Parliament from effectively legislating in a whole range of areas, including laws covering the food people put on their tables, which is currently produced to high EU animal welfare and food safety standards.

“That could be undermined by Scotland having to accept lower standards set by a UK Government in pursuit of a US or other trade deals – and could see us forced to accept chlorinated chicken.

“And their plans to trample over devolved spending powers in Scotland and directly fund their own projects could see projects like Boris Johnson’s bridge to Northern Ireland being funded instead of schools and hospitals – no matter what people in Scotland choose.

She added: “Under this bill, the Scottish Parliament would not have been able to pass its world-leading legislation on minimum unit pricing of alcohol – a fact which will deeply concern the broad coalition of Scottish civic society which backed this vital public health measure.

“We will fight tooth and nail against this shameless bid to reverse the devolution of power which was so overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Scotland in the referendum of 1997.

“It is also now clearer than ever that the only way to defend the powers of the Scottish Parliament is with independence.”

Welsh Conservative David Melding has resigned from his front bench role in the Welsh Government on the grounds that the bill would undermine devolution in Wales.

The Sunday National asked every one of the Tory MSPs, as well as the new Scots Tory leader, for their response to the bill, but none replied.