Yes, the UK Internal Market Bill is charging down a path that will take the UK from being a former EU member state, but one that people would largely want to do business with, to one that nobody can reasonably trust.
However, to Scotland and our ability to make our own decisions, this bill does something far worse.
In 1997, the people of Scotland voted by 74% for a Scottish Parliament, and the principles of devolution which said that unless an area was specifically reserved to Westminster, then it would be a matter for Scotland’s democratic authorities to make decisions.
I campaigned in the 1999 Scottish election, seeing a number of SNP colleagues elected, including Bruce Crawford, with whom I now jointly represent the Stirling area, albeit in very different parliaments. There was an excitement to the election; it was the dawning of a new era of democracy for Scotland and for Scots. It has meant that, despite Scotland rarely getting the government it voted for in London, we still had some limited powers over our own affairs in Edinburgh – even though we had nowhere near full influence over the economy and public spending limits.
“One hundred new powers” we’re told, as they reject the charge that they’re exercising the biggest power grab over our country since devolution began.
However, during the debate this week, Tory MPs were very quiet indeed. “Name one power Scotland is losing,” they would normally chant en masse, but not this time. Not this time because they know the answer; they know the influence their Government is imposing upon Scotland’s democracy through this bill, entirely without Scotland’s consent.
As I said in my contribution to the debate: this is a wholesale, calculated, and deliberate reversal of the devolution principle.
Clause 46 of the bill assumes budgetary power over a range of areas in Scotland, including: water infrastructure; roads and other transport facilities; health, education, culture and sports facilities; court and prison facilities; and housing. All of these areas are devolved, all operating successfully.
Indeed, Scotland’s health service is the best performing in the UK and that’s thanks to record investment from the SNP Scottish Government and despite cuts to Scotland’s block grant set by Westminster.
Clause 48 of the bill assumes powers over subsidies, undermining the work done by public agencies here in Scotland in providing financial support to businesses and organisations – an ability that has been crucial to communities
over the past few months as we’ve faced some of the most serious economic and health challenges in most of our lifetimes.
However, perhaps the most stark example of a power grab in this draft legislation is in Part 4 of the bill, Independent Advice and Monitoring of the UK Internal Market.
THIS sets out plans to form a Competition and Markets Authority – a death panel, politically appointed by UK Government Ministers. With no democratic accountability to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, or the people of Scotland, this panel will exercise authority over every single public organisation in Scotland. They will have the power to deny or contradict budgets and decisions relating to these organisations, no matter if they are devolved or reserved.
This is entirely without consent, and it is not in Scotland’s name.
Under the Sewel convention, where the Westminster Parliament attempts to legislate in an area which is devolved, UK Ministers ask the Scottish Parliament for its consent. This is through a Legislative Consent Motion.
Many people are familiar with LCMs, as we’ve seen a few controversial ones come before Holyrood during the Brexit process. Theresa May’s Government was the first to ignore the rejection of an LCM by Holyrood and proceed with plans to undermine devolution anyway.
And that’s the problem with the system: we have the power to say no, but only to say it. If we disagree with something, there is no way to stop it. The ability to consider an LCM becomes not much more than a token gesture when you have a UK Government so intent on ignoring Scotland entirely.
I raise this point because, exactly as we have seen before, we will likely see the Scottish Parliament yet again refuse the UK Government permission to meddle in Scotland’s devolved affairs. And, yet again, we will likely see the UK Government push forward with its original plans, undermining democracy here in Scotland.
Our current position is one that no nation would put up with. It is not with Scotland’s consent that the UK Government exercises its control here. Its behaviour and attitude towards Scotland in recent years is summed up by what it is attempting to do now. For a party that claim to pride themselves on their Unionist credentials, the Conservatives have done a lot to promote the benefits of independence to Scotland.
We are now a little over six months away from the Scottish Parliament election next year. A lot has been said about this being the most important election in Scotland’s devolved history, and it is.
However, sitting in the House of Commons chamber this week and witnessing the governing party of the UK gleefully vote to break international law and undermine devolved democracy all in one go really hammered home just what’s on the ballot next May.
But through all the doom and gloom, it is equally important to remind ourselves that our best days are ahead of us. Scotland can and will do so much better, but we need to work hard right now to continue to win the hearts and minds of the people around us.