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By Jason Michael
Westminster’s Brexit power grab is not simply the deprivation of “more powers.” It is a death blow to the entire devolution settlement. Killing devolution is London’s new priority. Direct rule is a central feature of its plan to save the union.
Completely ignoring the concerns raised by the Scottish and Welsh governments the London government has pressed ahead with the Repeal Bill, moving it to the second reading and so undermining the entire project of devolution. At the core of the devolution settlement is the assumption that all power save for that explicitly reserved to Westminster is devolved to the national parliaments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In legislating to seize all powers repatriated to the UK after Brexit Westminster is turning this settlement on its head.
As the 1998 settlement grants all but reserved powers to the Scottish parliament, the Scottish government’s Brexit minister Michael Russell has stated that Westminster will be robbing Scotland of 111 powers. The loss of these powers; most in the key areas of justice, education, the environment, fisheries, and farming, will significantly reduce the power of Holyrood to govern Scotland in Scotland and for Scotland, critically undermining even the necessity of a devolved parliament in Scotland.
Edinburgh East SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, ahead of the Commons vote on September 11, spelt out the reality of the Repeal Bill for Scotland when he said he had no intention of trusting the British government. He said that he believed it had never been the intention of London to return any of these powers to the devolved administrations. London has absolutely no intention of returning any of these powers to Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. This is a power grab, and the intention is clear: Devolution has become the locus of the growing independence movements that threaten now to break up the United Kingdom. Whatever the plans for Brexit are south of the border, it will be used by Westminster as a weapon to both check Scotland and disembowel its parliament.
It is extremely frightening to me that Scots are only now awakening to this threat in significant numbers. It is frustrating that the Scottish National Party has been so reserved. There is a time and a place for sober, calm reflection. But this isn’t such a time. Now is the time for action. Ruth Davidson, leader of the British nationalist Scottish Conservatives – a party now openly supportive of right-wing racists, has said herself that by keeping repatriated powers to itself Westminster will be inflicting serious damage on the Scottish parliament. What more do we need to hear?
In Scotland both the SNP and Labour are prepared to defend Holyrood. When Labour – a party consistent in abandoning its principles to oppose the SNP – stands with the National Party, we know that this is serious. Both the Scottish and the Labour-led Welsh governments are preparing to refuse legislative consent unless the British return to the table. They will not.
Refusing legislative consent – like refusing to support the decision to trigger Article 50 – is one thing, but neither the Scottish parliament nor the Welsh assembly have the power to veto anything – not a single thing that is decided for us – in Westminster. What this exposes is the real nature of the power deficit between Edinburgh and London. The Scottish parliament is completely powerless to protect the interests of this country. London, without even the pretence of negotiation, will decide for Scotland, and when it comes to leaving the European Union that will most definitely be to the harm of Scotland and Scottish people.
It strikes me that this is a critical moment in the life of Scottish democracy and the nation’s independence movement, and the present calm disposition of our Edinburgh government frightens me. One of two things is going to happen. Either the negotiations will continue without the consent of Scotland and Wales, or the British government will crash out of the talks altogether without a deal. Right now, as the Treasury has confirmed, the latter appears to be the most likely. There is no circumstance now in which Brexit – with or without a deal – will not prepare the way for the execution of the devolved parliaments.
Brexit is an existential threat to Scotland. The “wait and see” philosophy of those who would rather wait until the terms are clearer or until we have left the EU and the consequences have hit the tarmac has run its course. We may not know the exact terms of the Brexit deal or the true significance of a British walkout, but it’s all academic. We know exactly where this is heading – and we had better not still have our head on the block when the axe falls.
Now – not in a few weeks or months – is the time to act. The Scottish government represents the will of the Scottish people, but every now and then the people must take the initiative and lead its government in the direction it wishes to travel. Now is such a time. How many people would it take to blockade the BBC propaganda headquarters at Pacific Quay? What strikes can be organised to halt the export of our resources to England and English ports? Can we throw a spanner in the works of our own subjugation? What can we the people of Scotland do to send Westminster an unmistakable message and thus signal to our own government that it’s time to follow and so to lead?
Unless I see otherwise and soon, I am not persuaded our government is doing enough to protect Scotland. I am convinced beyond doubt that Brexit foreshadows the fatal weakening and death of devolved democracy in our country. Time is not a luxury we have. There must be something we can do, and my suggestion is that we put our heads together and begin the work of agitation. It will be far easier to do this now than to begin once this nightmarish process has been concluded – when we have already lost everything worth protecting.
Scotland on the losing side?
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