THE United Kingdom never has been a particularly democratic country. Whether it’s the unelected monarch, the unelected House of Lords or the first-past-the-post voting system, the democratic deficit has long been cited as one of the main reasons for Scottish independence, and the target of numerous campaigns for reform from UK-wide activists and organisations.

With the crackdown on protests in England and Wales as a result of the deeply authoritarian Public Order Act, we should all be incredibly worried that democracy in the UK is not only deeply insufficient, but that it’s also moving backwards.

Devolution has always provided at least some comfort that here in Scotland, our democracy has been at least stronger than if we were fully subject to the whim of Westminster.

Our Scottish Parliament guarantees us a government that the Scottish people have actually voted for, and better voting systems for Holyrood and local elections ensure stronger, more proportional representation in the Scottish Parliament and in council chambers across the country.

The sad reality though is that with the recent attacks on devolution and Scottish democracy from the Westminster government, the comfort that devolution once provided has quickly vanished.

Devolution has certainly been challenged before, with Section 33 of the Scotland Act allowing the UK Government to determine if a bill passed by the Scottish Parliament falls outwith the limits of its devolved powers – a recent example of this was the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill which was blocked by the Supreme Court on the basis that Holyrood simply didn’t have the appropriate powers to pass it. That was a ruling that I and many others may have disagreed with, but it was a legal ruling rather than a political one.

The recent use of Section 35 – giving Westminster an outright veto – on the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill, and the use of the Internal Markets Act to block the implementation of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) are both much more than just a challenge to devolution. These are blatantly anti-democratic, politically motivated moves to disrupt and undermine the will of Scotland’s democratically elected parliament.

In the case of the GRR Bill, Alister Jack’s reasons for using the unprecedented veto are mired in blatant lies. He suggests that the bill would interfere with reserved powers, but if that were true he would’ve used the Section 33 power to refer it to the Supreme Court to decide instead of the Section 35 power of outright veto.

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Additionally, his refusal to constructively engage with the Scottish Parliament over the use of the veto, as well as his total inability to answer any questions about the bill when challenged by Kirsty Blackman back in January, only further demonstrates his utter contempt for the Scottish people and our democratic will.

The blocking of the DRS from going ahead is perhaps even more sinister, as it uses a power the Tories gave themselves after the passing of the regulations they subsequently blocked. The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations were passed through the Scottish Parliament in May 2020, while the Internal Markets Act was passed by Westminster more than six months later.

The UK Government passed this bill to claw back devolved powers from Holyrood, Stormont and the Senedd following a Brexit that Scotland also didn’t vote for.

This is a government using a sham Brexit to give itself new powers to veto legislation that had already been passed by our democratically elected Scottish Parliament.

It is utterly unforgivable, and a powerful reminder that without independence, Scottish democracy will always be at risk.

These attacks on democracy have wider implications than just on our politicians. Both GRR and DRS are pieces of legislation that came about as a result of grassroots activists and campaigners devoting huge amounts of time and resources to campaign for these simple changes, and speaking as someone who was directly involved in the campaign for the GRR Bill,

I remember how elated and relieved I felt when our hard work finally paid off and the bill overwhelmingly passed through parliament. I also remember how painful it felt when Westminster swooped in and took it away from us.

To build the case for change, to engage with the politicians responsible, and to work constructively to shape the legislation is precisely how grassroots activists can make change happen. It’s democracy in action.

The Scottish electorate voted for both GRR and DRS by electing MSPs standing on manifestos committing to them, and both policies underwent substantial consultation processes.

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In fact, even the Scottish Conservatives previously supported both policies before they realised they could turn them into constitutional culture war ammo, with the Tories under Ruth Davidson committing to gender recognition reform back in 2016, and Tory environment spokesperson Maurice Golden MSP writing in a blog post that it was “common sense” to include glass in the DRS in 2019.

I’m sure it’s also no coincidence that both policies are flagship policies of the Scottish Greens, with GRR being a core pillar of the Bute House Agreement and DRS being delivered by a Green minister. The Scottish Greens being in government in Scotland terrifies the Tories – and rightly so, with the Greens threatening the capitalist status quo the Tories desperately cling to.

I’m usually an optimist in life. I always try to see the opportunities, I always look for the way forward. But I’m afraid with these repeated attacks on our democracy, I find it impossible to see a way forward for devolution.

Where devolution may once have been a comforting cushion between Scotland and Westminster, it’s now an increasingly shoogly peg, with our democracy hanging onto it by a thread. It really couldn’t be clearer that there’s no going back now, the only way to guarantee Scottish democracy is with independence.