Theresa May doesn’t do questions, or answers. Her response to a question is to talk about something else, and if she can she’ll squeeze in an unfunny wee jibe about Jeremy Corbyn. This is what passes for wit and repartee in the House of Commons. When former Tory Home Secretary and Chancellor Kenneth Clarke described May as a difficult woman, what he really meant is that it’s difficult to get her to give a straight answer to a straight question. She’s prone to answering questions with “I’ve been very clear”, which invariably means that she’s been as clear as six inches of thick mud plastered all over your windsreen. You’d get far more clarity and certainty if you nabbed her tea cup after she’d had her tea and innovative jammy dodger and attempted to interpret the patterns of tea leaves.
She insisted she’d been clear previously when she was non-responding to questions and uttering put downs about Jezza during Prime Minister’s Questions, otherwise known as Prime Minister’s Evasions, on Wednesday in the House of Commons. She was asked about the powers over fisheries and agriculture which are currently the preserve of Brussels, and what would happen to those powers after Brexit. Unlike Theresa, the law here is very clear indeed. The Scotland Act is quite explicit about the division of powers between Holyrood and Westminster, and specifies that everything which is not specifically reserved to Westminster is devolved to Holyrood. Under the terms of the Act, agriculture and fisheries are the preserve of the Scottish Parliament. Up until now, that’s only really had theoretical effect, since fisheries and agriculture are subject to EU rules and regulations. That will change after Brexit.
According to the Scotland Act, all powers over agriculture and fisheries which currently reside with Brussels should be repatriated to Holyrood as soon as the UK leaves the EU. The law, if not Theresa, is crystal clear. There should be no question or discussion about what happens to these powers once they are returned to the UK, because the UK government through the Scotland Act, has already agreed that these powers belong to the Scottish Parliament. But that’s not what Theresa thinks. Here are her exact words in response to the question on the devolution of powers which will be returned from the EU after Brexit.
I’ve been very clear, and this was echoed yesterday by my Right Honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, that no powers that are currently devolved are going to be suddenly taken back to the United Kingdom government. What we will be looking at, and what we will be discussing with the devolved administrations, is how we deal with those powers that are currently in Brussels when they come back to the UK. And what we want to ensure is that those powers are dealt with so that we can maintain the important single market of the UK.
They’re going to be “dealt with”, according to Theresa. They’ll kindly and magnanimously pass on any powers from Brussels that they don’t want to keep themselves. Theresa gets first dibs on them and Scotland can have her leftovers. She’s the innovative jammy dodger, dodging questions, dodging responsibility to Scotland. There may be a universe in which the British government doesn’t treat Scotland like a backward child who sticks a fork into a fusebox for fun, but this isn’t that universe. In this universe the British government sticks a fork into the fusebox of the devolution settlement and then acts surprised when sparks fly. But whenever anyone points out that the British government treats the devolution settlement with arrogant contempt, you can hear the Unionists sounding their grievance klaxon. We’re supposed to be ever so ‘umble and grateful for the little crumbs from Theresa’s jammy dodging.
Theresa doesn’t understand the Scotland Act, because if she did she’d know that the powers in question are already devolved. But the truth is that she doesn’t care. She’s a British nationalist who was happy for Scotland to have the pretence of power when those powers were safely in the hands of Brussels, just as she was happy for Scotland to have the pretence of the Sewel Convention being written into law. But the moment there’s the chance that could make a serious difference British nationalists like Theresa aren’t so happy any more.
When Brexit happens there’s the very real likelihood that the British government will unilaterally make substantial changes to the devolution settlement and remove powers from the Scottish Parliament, yet assert loudly that it’s being clear that no existing powers are being taken away. Theresa May has just asserted her right to do so. The provision in the Scotland Bill that all powers are devolved except for those which are specifically reserved is just more meaningless window dressing like the claim that Sewel is enshrined in law, like the claim that the Scottish Parliament is the most powerful devolved parliament in the world, like saying that Scotland is an equal partner in a family of nations when the UK Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland is a region which can be kicked like a can down the street and left in the gutter.
As long as Scotland remains a part of the UK, it will be a subordinate region whose rights are subject to the whim of UK Prime Ministers who don’t need Scottish votes and so have no reason to care what Scotland’s people want or think. You can have your devo window dressing Scotland, but you can’t have any real power. Devolution is like the artificial food in the window of a sushi restaurant. It looks very tasty but you can’t eat it. You can have tax powers that are designed to be unusable. You can have legal clauses with no legal effect. You can have the world’s most powerful devolved parliament as long as it’s in a field of one. You can have all powers devolved except those which are specifically reserved until Westminster decides to claw them back. We love you Scotland, and you can have all the smoke and mirrors that you want.
Audio version of this blog article, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-25th-jan-2017
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