According to our Unionist media, the big news of this week is not that Westminster is attempting the greatest power grab since Henry VIII changed England’s religion so that he could get his end away with Anne Boleyn after ransacking some monasteries. It’s not that Theresa May has been saying for months that she would listen to and consult the devolved administrations, but it now transpires that her listening consists of her sticking her fingers in her ears and repeating Brexit means Brexit and clicking her kitten heels together as she sets off down the yellow brick road that ends in a plummet off a cliff.
It’s not even that the devolution settlement is about to be blatantly trashed by a Westminster that’s taking devolved powers back to itself and placing restrictions on what Holyrood and Cardiff can do, and only then deciding what if anything it’s disposed to give back again. It’s not that the Sewell Convention saying that Westminster will not change the powers of Holyrood without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament, a Convention that was supposedly enshrined in law, has now been proven to have less practical use than a Klingon dictionary on a foreign holiday. It’s none of these things. According to the Unionist press the big news this week is that our governor general David Mundell has warned Nicola Sturgeon not to hijack Brexit.
Even if this was indeed the most salient point to have come out of this week’s Westminster train wreck, the hypocrisy from the Tories is on a par with Henry VIII’s insistence that finding a legal justification for his screwing opportunities was the path to eternal salvation for an entire nation. And in fact, it’s worse, because in this instance the Tories are insistent on screwing an entire nation and the only salvation on offer is the salvation of the careers of Conservative politicians.
The Tories are the ones who have hijacked Brexit, taking the most narrow Leave vote and choosing to interpret it in the manner that’s most beneficial to the right wing of the Conservative party and to hell with the rest of us. They’re using Brexit as a chance to impose a far right vision of a deregulated, neo-conservative low wage low tax economy that will benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. They’re using Brexit to shred social protections and allow big businesses unfettered power to screw as much money out of the country as possible. Then they greet like weans at anyone who resists them, anyone who dares to point out that what is good for Michael Gove’s career opportunities isn’t likely to be especially good for anyone else.
David Mundell is the governor general who for the past year has been insisting that Scotland stands to gain significant extra powers from the Brexit process. This week we discovered, predictably, that Mundell’s promises are worthless. There are no extra powers for Scotland in Westminster’s bill to leave the EU. If you’re surprised by that revelation you will probably be surprised to discover that the big wig wearing contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race are in fact men. In Scotland we ought to be used to Westminster politicians promising all sorts of innovative jam for us, only to discover that not only is the jar empty, but we’re still expected to pay for it. That doesn’t stop our Unionist media trumpeting every hollow promise made by Westminster as though it was a lottery win, and then when the promise fails to materialise it’s independence supporting parties who get blamed for pointing it out.
Instead, and entirely predictably, there’s a Westminster which is taking back powers which were previously devolved. With its Great Repeal Bill, Westminster has unilaterally, and without consultation with Holyrood or Cardiff, destroyed the key principle of devolution, and it has done so for the party political interests of the Conservative party. This is an even greater assault on democracy since Margaret Thatcher abolished Greater London Council because she was annoyed with Ken Livingstone.
The underlying assumption of the Scotland Act upon which devolution rests is that all powers are devolved except those which are specifically reserved to Westminster. The updated and improved – no laughing at the back there – version of the Scotland Act passed after the referendum of 2014 supposedly enshrined in law the principle that no changes could be made to devolved powers without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Those foundations have now been proven to be as worthless as Theresa May’s tears. The UK government, not even the UK parliament, has taken it upon itself to decide what is or is not devolved. They’re giving themselves the right to do this not merely without consulting with Holyrood or seeking its approval, but the right to do so without consulting with or seeking the approval of Westminster MPs. What was that about taking back control? This bill is a direct assault on devolution and the Scottish parliament. Brexit will result in a Scottish parliament that’s under greater constraints and has fewer powers than before. Another Unionist promise broken. If Unionist broken promises were piled up in a bonfire, it would be higher than any found in Belfast in July.
It would be bad enough if it was just the devolution settlement that was being ripped up by the UK Government’s Brexit bill. It’s far worse than that. The bill is supposed to transfer EU law into UK law following Brexit, but it won’t include the EU Charter of fundamental rights. This is a charter which underpins human rights and employment rights – such as the right to data privacy, the protection of children’s rights, the right to equality. We’ve already seen that this Conservative government has a poor record on these. It’s happy to separate children from their parents if one of the parents is a non-European citizen and the family doesn’t have a certain level of income. It’s happy to bring in a snooper’s charter. It’s happy to drive about vans telling migrants to “go home”. The Charter of fundamental rights covers rights not fully covered by the European Convention of Human Rights, and we’re about to lose them, surrendering them to the interpretation of people who have demonstrated that they regard Brexit as an opportunity for the advancement of their own sectional interests. We live in a country without a written constitution, and without a clear and unambiguous statement of citizens’ rights, and we’re expected to trust Theresa May, Michael Gove, and Liam Fox with the interpretation of human rights.
The Scottish Parliament will have to vote on this bill because key aspects of EU law are enshrined in the Scotland Act. Holyrood can refuse to give its consent to the bill, that won’t prevent Theresa May’s constitutional vandals from progressing with it, but it will make explicit that Westminster will ride roughshod over the Scottish Parliament, and will demonstrate that the wishes of the Scottish people are ignored and traduced by a British government that doesn’t wish to listen. They might not choose to listen, but we can still make our voices heard. All this Great Repeal Bill will achieve is to hasten the eventual repeal of the United Kingdom.
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