DOUGLAS Ross and Michael Russell have clashed at a Westminster committee after the Scottish Tory leader tried to push the SNP minister into agreeing that the Internal Market Bill is not a "power grab".

The Conservative MP had to be reprimanded by the committee chair after he insisted on asking the same question six times, despite Russell making his position clear on the first answer.

Questioning Russell as a witness on the subject of the UK Internal Market Bill, Ross took an aggressive position from the outset.

He started by asking the SNP minister to confirm he had been “nodding in agreement” when Professor Michael Keating, a political expert and another witness at the committee hearing, said the Internal Market Bill “is not about Westminster trying to grab powers back”.

Ross did not give the context of Keating’s statement. The professor had said that “Westminster still has the power to override” any devolved government decisions and the Internal Market Bill was not going to change that.

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“The position of successive UK governments is, ‘if there’s ever going to be a problem, about anything, we must give ourselves the power unilaterally to resolve that’. This is not about Westminster trying to grab powers back,” he said.

Keating had previously told the committee that he found the bill “problematic on two accounts, one practical and one constitutional”.

The University of Aberdeen professor said that practically, there was no real need for the wide-ranging powers which the bill gives to UK ministers. While he accepted there was a need to legislate for a UK internal market after Brexit, he said this was “too drastic a solution for the extent of the problem”.

Constitutionally, he said the problem was that the bill introduced new provisions into the devolution settlement without safeguards. Keating outlined the safeguards that currently exist in the European single market, such as proportionality, subsidiarity, and qualified majority voting, adding: “None of that is present here.”

It is unclear when during Keating’s contributions Michael Russell was “nodding in agreement” as Douglas Ross claimed, as the parliamentary committee digital feed only showed one person at a time.

However, the Scottish Tory leader determined that Russell had been in agreement with Keating’s statement that the Internal Market Bill “is not about Westminster trying to grab powers back”, and asked the SNP MSP no less than seven times to confirm as much.

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All seven times, Russell gave a close approximation of the same answer, saying: “What I indicated was an agreement that this is not a crude power grab. I actually paid tribute to the drafters of the bill. I think it is a very subtle power grab.”

On the question’s sixth asking Pete Wishart, the committee chair, was forced to interrupt.

Ross continued with his confrontational tone throughout, despite Russell reaching for a conciliatory one, telling the MP they were not "at war" and that they were "in agreement" on certain things. 

The Moray MP later asked Russell to name his biggest failure in negotiations with Westminster and the Tories during the passage of the bill.

Russell answered: “Perhaps my biggest failure to date is to underestimate the extraordinary hostility which is being shown to the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, and Scottish people by the current UK Government and perhaps some of those who are part of it.”

He finished by pointing Ross to a Gaelic proverb which says: “It is at the end of the day that the fisherman tells of his fishing.”

Wishart said there would be time “in the future” to look at “Russell’s political epitaph”.