The one time Holyrood said no to Westminster
Today in the Scottish Parliament, MSPs will debate the Finance Committee report which recommended withholding consent for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in its current form.
If not altered, the EU(Withdrawal) Bill is set to take powers from Holyrood that should default there automatically as we leave the EU. This has been described as a power-grab by some on all sides of the political divide. There is a consensus that the bill shows a lack of respect for the devolution settlement.
Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter what the Scottish Parliament thinks.
One of the things that was clarified by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the Brexit decision, is that in the eyes of the law, the consent of the Scottish Parliament isn’t required by the UK to pass laws that impact devolved areas. It’s just a convention to ask but the convention has no legal standing.
Still, it is likely that the Bill will be amended to make it less controversial in order to avoid legal wranglings and a potential constitutional crisis. As the UK Government failed to make the required changes when the Bill was passing through the House Of Commons, that responsibility will fall to the unelected and unaccountable peers in the House of Lords.
While reading about the debate earlier, I learned that there has only been one other time that the Scottish Parliament refused to give consent to a Legislative Consent Motion.
This was in relation to the Welfare Reform Bill of 2011. The Bill that gave us Universal Credit, which has led to rent arrears (leading to a dramatic rise in evictions), hunger (food banks in universal credit areas report striking increases in referrals), use of expensive credit, and mental distress. It also led to changes in how disabled people are treated by the Welfare System, leading to an epidemic of misery that the United Nations has described as a grave violation of human rights and a human catastrophe.
At the time the Scottish Parliament refused to give consent to the Welfare Reform Act, Tory MSP, Jackson Carlow was reported by the BBC as saying the creation of Universal Credit would:
transform the lives of millions for the better,
Nothing we do today will alter the course of the UK Welfare Reform Bill, and to suggest otherwise is to deceive those affected and to give quite false expectations to those whose circumstances will change.
Which I think I might get on a t-shirt as it sums wonderfully the case for independence.
The Scottish Parliament was against the change because they argued that it would inflict terrible suffering on the most vulnerable in society. The Tories reassured us it would be brilliant and reminded Holyrood that they can’t do anything about it anyway. We got the welfare reforms regardless and it turns out the Scottish Parliament was correct all along.
The parallels between that and the current situation are striking.
Scotland voted against Brexit but we are getting it anyway, the Brexit Bill will be subjected on Scotland regardless of whether the Scottish Parliament consents although it may be made a bit more palatable by some Lords nobody voted for. If not, tough luck, eat your cereal.
Don’t worry about the democratic deficit though, as I’m sure Jackson Carlaw thinks that there is nothing to worry about.
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