Tories are now using post-Brexit legislation as a Trojan horse against devolution - Angus Robertson
Sadly both Labour and the Lib Dems in Scotland have been largely silent on the issue. Both parties prefer to attack both the Tories in Westminster and the SNP in Scotland whilst ignoring the evidence that real damage is being done to the devolution settlement by the UK government. By contrast Labour’s Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is outspoken in his criticism.
Devolution was famously described by former Scottish Labour First Minister Donald Dewar as the “settled will” of the Scottish people. Having opposed Scottish self-government from the start, the Tories are now using post-Brexit legislation as a trojan horse against devolution. Having “taken back control” from the European Union the Conservatives are now trying to take back control from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
When the Boris Johnson government passed the Internal Market Act in 2020 there was strong opposition from the devolved nations about its likely impact. In fact, no devolved legislature gave consent to the Act, with both the Senedd in Wales and the Scottish Parliament voting to withhold consent on grounds the Act undermined devolution.
The legislation formally aims at preventing internal trade barriers among the UK’s four constituent countries, but it also gives UK ministers new powers to spend directly in wholly devolved policy areas; gives UK ministers unilateral power to alter what policy areas fall within scope of the Act, reserves subsidy control and effectively gives a massive right of veto to the UK government over the devolved institutions.
That is what we have seen with the UK approach to the Deposit Return Scheme, where both the Scottish and Welsh governments wanted to include glass in the scheme but UK ministers do not. Instead of using Common Frameworks where co-operation is key, the UK government is now using the Internal Market Act and other legislation to increasingly block democratic decisions by the Scottish Parliament. Meanwhile, they are disregarding the principle of legislative consent from Holyrood, with ten breaches to the Sewal Convention recorded so far.
These trojan horse attacks on devolution are ironically from the same Brexiteers who once warned against similar powers being used by the European Union. For years when I sat on the Westminster European Scrutiny Committee I had to listen to Tory MPs (falsely) bang on about Article 308 of the EC Treaty, which they suggested used the operation of the European common market as a way to attack British democracy.
As we know in Scotland, because of the successful introduction of minimum alcohol unit pricing while we were in the EU, our devolved powers were not actually undermined. Sadly, today we would probably see the UK government block such a progressive policy using the Internal Market Act.
Westminster is stepping up its campaign to thwart devolution. Some like Lord Frost want to turn back the clock, while others like UK Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack just want to turn the nut and make life difficult for decision-makers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is just the start.
Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary