THE Scottish Labour politicians who forged the devolution settlement would be “horrified” to hear their party’s position on the constitution today, former deputy first minister John Swinney has said.

The SNP MSP told Labour’s constitution spokesperson, Sarah Boyack, that the party’s former “commitment to the concept of self-government in Scotland [was] being shredded in front of our eyes” during a debate in Holyrood.

Keith Brown, the SNP’s depute leader, had tabled a motion calling on the Scottish Parliament to express “alarm at what it sees as the UK Government’s escalating disrespect for the devolved settlement”.

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Brown’s motion listed a raft of examples of bills which he asked parliament to note were “proceeding without heed to the devolved legislatures”, including the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, and the Elections Act 2022.

It also specifically noted the Sewel Convention, saying that it “is now regularly breached by the UK Government”. This convention says that the Westminster government will “not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.

Speaking in the debate, former deputy first minister Swinney said there had been talk of cementing the convention in law, but instead “we got some token words that Westminster wouldn’t normally legislate over the heads of the Scottish parliament in the 2016 Scotland Act”.

“But look what’s happened since,” Swinney went on.

“It is now commonplace for this parliament’s views to be ignored by the United Kingdom government. That is not the settlement that was crafted in 1998.

“If we do not wake up to the threat that is coming our way as a consequence of all of this, then we will be witnessing the dismantling of the effective competence of this parliament.”

Swinney recalled having been a member of the House of Commons from 1997 to 2001 and helping to legislate for the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

He mentioned Donald Dewar, Scotland’s first first minister, and Henry McLeish, who he said had done the “heavy lifting”, adding: “I think they would be horrified by what has now become the Labour Party’s opinion in Scotland.”

Swinney said he had previously heard a “commitment to the concept of self-government in Scotland, and that is being shredded in front of our eyes”.

The National:

Boyack, Scottish Labour’s constitution spokesperson, accepted part of Brown’s motion, telling Holyrood: “The Tories have put massive pressure on the devolution settlement, particularly following Brexit.”

But she argued that the Scottish and UK governments were not working well together and that was the true issue at play.

Meanwhile, Boyack claimed Labour was focused on “rebuilding our relations with our European neighbours”.

The Scottish Tories’ constitution spokesperson, Donald Cameron, also accepted there was an issue with the Sewel Convention, but did not expand on his reasoning.

“I have no doubt that Sewell is under strain and needs rethinking,” he said.

Instead, the Tory MSP took aim at what he called “loose talk about a full-frontal attack” on devolution from pro-independence politicians.

“This is all they have left,” Cameron said. “The sound you hear is the noise of empty, empty rhetoric. The resounding gong and clanging symbol of nationalist grievance.”

Closing the debate, Independence Minister Jamie Hepburn said that the Sewel Convention was ignored by the UK Government as soon as it was “convenient”.

He also took aim at Labour, telling MSPs: “We have the absurdity of a Labour First Minister of Wales standing up for Scottish devolution more than the Scottish Labour party are prepared to do.”

Putting forward his motion, Brown said it was not just "bolshie Jock grievance mongers, as people like Jacob Rees-Mogg might describe us" that were raising concerns about the undermining of devolution. 

"For example, former Labour first minister Henry McLeish, who I think would be appalled by at the absences on the Labour benches tonight, branded Tory moves to curtail Scottish ministerial engagement abroad as an attack on devolution."

Brown called on “all those who believed in devolution from the start and still do to unite and repatriate the power that’s been stolen from this parliament and the people of Scotland”.

In full, the motion read:

Protecting Devolution and the Scottish Parliament.

That the Parliament expresses alarm at what it sees as the UK Government’s escalating disrespect for the devolved settlement; highlights the report of the Parliament's Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, The Impact of Brexit on Devolution, which identified "increased tension within the devolution settlement" since the UK’s departure from the EU; believes that the Sewel Convention is now regularly breached by the UK Government; underlines that legislative consent was withheld by the Scottish Parliament in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, the Environment Act 2021, the Subsidy Control Act 2022, the Elections Act 2022, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Act 2023; considers that the Procurement Bill, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill are all proceeding without heed to the devolved legislatures; expresses profound disappointment in the use of an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 to, it considers, veto devolved legislation; expresses alarm at what it sees as the Secretary of State for Scotland's apparent unilateral rewriting of the agreed rules regarding requests for exemptions from the market access principles contained in the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020; considers all of these actions to be part of a pattern of undemocratic behaviour of attacks on the devolution settlement and the Scottish Parliament, and believes that these actions demonstrate the vulnerability of the Scottish Parliament while constituencies like Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, and Scotland as a whole, are under what it sees as UK Government control.