Consent, Lord Hope and Charity
Today, Lord Hope of Craighead, will table an amendment to clause 11 of the EU(Withdrawal) Bill.
He hopes that this amendment will end the deadlock between the UK and Scottish Governments over the repatriation of EU powers.
The current standoff revolves around the issue of consent.
Currently, some laws that should return from the EU to Scotland are being taken to Westminster. These are mainly laws which impact the so-called UK Internal Market. The UK Government doesn’t want the Scottish Government to change laws in these areas unilaterally because they feel that this would damage this internal market. The Scottish Government is concerned about the impact on Scotland of the UK tinkering with these laws at UK level without the say-so of the Scottish Parliament.
However, the current drafting of the proposed bill uses the term consent very loosely indeed.
Under the current proposals, Scotland will be deemed to have given consent to the UK if it agrees with its actions, consent if it doesn’t and consent if it isn’t bothered either way.
It’s the kind of understanding of consent that could land you in jail if applied in many interactions. Labour, the architects of devolution, seem to have forgotten that consent is a fundamental keystone of what they created. They have capitulated to the UK Government in Wales and they are being very mealy-mouthed about the issue here in Scotland. We will see in the coming days if the Scottish branch is willing to stand up and defend their own achievement. Or will they roll-over, like the Welsh branch, and not fight a clause that essentially allows the UK Government to ride roughshod over currently devolved powers?
Lord Hope thinks that his amendment today will solve this crisis. He hasn’t announced what the plan is yet but it is rumoured to be some sort of firm guarantee that the UK will not alter Scottish laws unless it is absolutely essential. Maybe his intervention will be enough to persuade the Scottish Government to end the dispute, maybe it won’t.
Regardless, I can’t be alone at despairing of the current situation Scotland faces.
It is easy to lose the bigger picture amidst the narrative of two governments trying to navigate out of an impasse. Even if an agreement is reached, and the principle of devolution is protected, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the Scottish Government.
A victory that won’t change the fact that they will be agreeing to a bill which drags the country out of the EU despite the fact the people who live here voted strongly to stay. A deal which is reliant on the goodwill of unelected peers who are answerable to nobody in Scotland. A deal that every sane person knows will hurt Scotland economically and culturally.
And if the Scottish Government fails to agree to whatever Lord Hope comes up with there is a sting in the tail. In that scenario, the UK Government is poised to take Holyrood to court for having the temerity to produce its own Withdrawal Bill. A bill that is actually focussed on the fundamental principle of protecting the devolution settlement.