IF you voted Leave on the promise of more powers for Holyrood and a stronger Scottish Parliament, I’m sorry to say you’ve been had.
As I write this, I find myself deflated by a vote in the House of Commons. You’d think I would know better by now. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill has been in principle agreed by the House of Commons, and now moves on to the detailed consideration in the Commons and Lords. This despite a clear majority of Scots rejecting Brexit across every local authority in the land, and an even clearer majority of Scotland’s representatives in the Mother of Parliaments rejecting it too.
First published in The National, 13 September 2017
I remember well during the EU referendum campaign the argument from some quarters that, given the structure of the Scotland Act, “everything” presently pooled with the rest of EU would be a Scottish competence. It was presented as a statement of fact, of absolute certainty. Except as we now know, the Scotland Act is not going to stay the same. The Scotland Act, designed by the Constitutional Convention and Donald Dewar under principles endorsed by the people of Scotland in the 1997 referendum, is going to be ripped up and rewritten. Rewritten by the Tories, propped up by the DUP who are so attached to devolution they have just this week called for the resumption of direct rule for Northern Ireland.
There will be plenty of time to chew over the Bill line by line, but it was the debate itself that I inflicted on myself from Strasbourg that was instructive.
I’m an out and proud Nat, but I’m an English qualified lawyer to trade, although I have been off the tools for a good while, and how the law and human rights protect our liberties is close to my heart. I think Scotland can do better independent, but I don’t want to see the UK have a bad time. The Bill approved in the early hours of yesterday morning is offensive to me in almost every possible way.
I’m biased, so my assessment of the debate is too, but I found myself impressed by speeches from all sides, and despairing at speeches from all sides too. The SNP fought the good fight, but there was no appetite for consensus – the tribalism was there for all to see. Each well argued, genuine point was dismissed with “well you would say that wouldn’t you?” The Tory and Labour born-again Brexiteers, so keen to demonstrate their ideological purity, overlooked every flaw in their own argument. We have always been at war with East Asia, we can make a success of Brexit, the people have spoken.
What was especially apparent from the self-styled Scottish Tories is that few had much of an idea of what the Bill actually entails and were just regurgitating attack lines on the SNP. For a few it just seemed to be a game, clever-clever debating society nonsense. They can, by both their words and their actions, be judged. They’re not Scotland’s representatives at Westminster, they’re the smirking face of London rule. They’ll throw in industrial scale whataboutery to distract from the only points we all need to remember – Brexit is a disaster Scotland voted against, and Scotland has other choices.
For a lot of people Brexit isn’t real yet, so a lot of people are uneasy and disquieted, but not sure what will be best for the future. Well the implications of this Bill will be felt in the real world soon enough. The devolved powers of the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish governments are going to be comprehensively rewritten, our laws are going to be changed by junior ministers with less scrutiny than a mediaeval monarch. And the Tories want us to just shut up, get to the back of the bus and let them get on with it.
Well this ain’t over. They can, just, win votes in the House of Commons but the world outside the Palace of Westminster is a different thing entirely. There remains an argument to be won about EU membership, and I’m publishing “Scotland in Europe” at the SNP conference to inform the debate. As people realise in their own lives, in loss of freedoms and in pounds and pence, the significance of what is going on, I remain confident that the mood will turn and opinions will crystallise that independence in Europe is the only durable way out of this mess.