Let me take you back to last year in the House of Commons, to one of the first pieces of legislation that was discussed in the new Parliamentary term. To the debate on the still then Scotland Bill. Remember, the newly installed Secretary of State proudly telling us about this ‘historic’ piece of legislation? We listened in awe about the ‘permanence’ of the Scottish Parliament and how the Sewel Convention would be ‘enshrined’ in law in the making of this, the most ‘powerful devolved Parliament in the world’.
We now know of course that this Scotland Act isn’t worth the vellum its written on and that this ‘most powerful Parliament’ can be simply done away with on a Westminster whim.
Letting the ermine clad cat out of the bag, Lord Keen, the Tory Government’s top Scottish legal officer at Westminster, helpfully clarified the situation for Scotland, when he said – ”the correct legal position is that Westminster is sovereign, and may legislate at any time on any matter.” In a piece of unusual candour and honesty from the Tories it was a case of you’ll have had your ‘most powerful devolved Parliament in the world’ then.
The Tories petrified that Scotland might have some sort of legal entitlement and say in their cluelesss Brexit were obliged to dispense with the myth of permanence, statutory footings and respect for our national Parliament. On ‘serious’ issues such as Brexit where large swathes of Scots law is impacted we are simply subordinate, as we are in every aspect of our relationship with Westminster. Keeping us out of any Brexit say was worth dispensing with the veneer of constitutional equality and respect.
Just to make sure that we fully knew our place, there was more from the noble Lord. Legislative Consent Motions, where Holyrood has to give permission for Westminster to legislate on its behalf, are simply “a self-denying ordinance, a political restriction upon Parliament’s ability to act, no more and no less than that” and “in no sense any qualification or inhibition upon parliamentary sovereignty.”
Ensuring that there was no dubiety the Secretary of State for Scotland confirmed that this was indeed the case to the Scottish Affairs Committee telling us that we should have been paying more attention to what was being debated in the House of Lords….
I’m pretty sure in the next few years there will be another Scotland Bill. Perhaps when it kicks off we can just gently inquire ‘what’s the point? There is, though, serious issues about where powers lie when, and if, Brexit is concluded. The Scotland Act is unusual that all powers are considered devolved unless they are listed. Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act provides that list and big EU powers like agriculture and fisheries are not there. There is a sense in the clear ‘know your place, Scotland’ statement from the Tories that we are being softened up to be disappointed in the repatriation of those powers.
But that’s all for the future because road signs are now fully devolved. Just make sure that we don’t have one directing us towards a Scotland in the EU, because, who knows, Lord Keen and the Westminster Tories might just be back with a road closed sign and all traffic redirected to Westminster.