Union of Equals?
On Wednesday the Scottish Parliament voted by 92 votes to 29 to refuse legislative consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill currently going through Westminster. The Bill was described by Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, as “uniquely offensive to Scottish democracy”.
Unsurprisingly, the Tories favoured giving consent, but in a manner that prompted Michael Russell, to tweet that he had “never seen such unpleasant gloating from the Tories, revelling in their party’s intention, as the UK Government, to flout Scotland’s democratic will.”
Under devolution legislation, legislative consent is NORMALLY required for issues affecting devolved policy areas, but the UK Government can ignore the devolved legislatures and proceed against the will of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations. As the UK Tory Government doesn’t regard Brexit as NORMAL, it has decided to exercise its ultimate authority over the devolved parliaments. Power devolved is power retained.
Meanwhile the Withdrawal Bill, a piece of legislation that grabs back powers and gives UK Ministers the ability to overrule the Scottish Parliament’s law making powers in numerous areas, was reaching its final stages in the House of Commons where amendments were voted down by the Tory majority much to the chagrin and annoyance of many SNP MPs.
Dr Philippa Whitford ’s amendment was intended to put back the original limits on the sweeping Henry VIII powers the Government are determined to take, and to stop these powers being used to change the Human Rights Act or the Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland Acts. Dr Whitford’s amendment was defeated by the Government by 340 votes to 262, so handing huge, unfettered power to No.10.
This defeat brought assertions from people online that Scotland was being subjected to powers imposed by an absolutist English king who reigned from 1509-47, that these were being forced on Scotland by a party in government that hadn’t won a mandate in Scotland since 1955, and which currently had only six seats in Scotland and a mere 20 seats outwith England. Lots of comments on the flaunting of democracy and the absurdity of the so-called Union of equals.
The majority of MPs also voted against:
- Amendment 4 to Clause 37 – defeated by 348 votes to 252. This amendment would have protected the right for unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their family after Brexit. Christina McKelvie MSP tweeted, “You know for a party (Tories) that claims family values! In what possible way could voting to reunite refugee children with their family be a bad thing? They are the Nasty Party with no compassion!”
- New Clause 10 being read a second time – defeated by 344 votes to 254. This new clause would have required the Government to seek to negotiate continuing full membership of the EU’s Erasmus scheme plus education and youth programmes. Brexit now means no Erasmus exchange students for Scottish Universities or the opportunity for Scots students to study abroad. Even Muriel Gray, staunchly against independence in 2014, was aghast at this decision.
- New Clause 2 being added – defeated by 344 votes to 255. This new clause would have required the Government to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with the EU to protect workers’ rights. This defeat puts at risk your annual leave, working hours, maternity, paternity, sick leave and pay, accessibility and protections against discrimination in the work place, grievance policies and tribunals. These are some of the safeguards the Tory government refers to as “red tape”, and their weakening, or even elimination, is not what the majority of Scots voted for in the 2016 EU referendum, nor was this scenario expected, or anticipated, when many voted No in 2014.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons this afternoon, passed by 330 votes to 231. Labour abstained on the the SNP amendment rejecting the Bill as it encroached on the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and undermined the fundamental principles of the Scotland Act 1998. The Bill will now go to the House of Lords.
SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackfor MP said, “We will have our referendum and Scotland will remain an independent European country”
Hardly surprising that online calls have already ramped up demanding Scottish Government action to get Scotland out of the UK and Westminster control as fast as possible, and a date for indyref2.