The Tories talk a lot about how Brexit means taking back control. Except for viewers in Scotland. For Scotland Brexit does also mean taking back control, it’s just that the control is being taken back by Westminster. The devolution settlement has taken years, indeed decades, to thrash out, yet this Conservative government has unilaterally trashed it in just a few minutes.
Today in the Commons we had Prime Minister’s Questions, a chance to ask Theresa May directly about her government’s shameful treatment of the devolution process and its repeated failure to allow any debate or discussion in the Commons. Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t really interested. So no surprise there then. It fell to the SNP.
After attempts during PMQs to raise the lack of democratic accountability, the lack of a voice for Scotland in the House of Commons during yesterday’s proceedings, the SNP’s Westminster leader was offered an immediate vote on the matter by the Speaker, who then backtracked and repeatedly told Ian Blackford to sit down, and then ordered him to leave.
Faced with this blatant rewriting of the rules to save the Speaker’s face at Scotland’s expense, Ian Blackford led a walkout of all SNP MPs. After all, if they are not going to be allowed to speak, if the House of Commons won’t permit Scotland’s issues to be debated and discussed, then there is no point on them being there. Then the Speaker muttered about how regrettable it was that Scotland’s MPs weren’t going to have the opportunity to speak, as though the travesty of putting a couple of questions to a Theresa May who wasn’t going to answer them anyway somehow made up for the travesty of democracy of Tuesday.
Theresa May said in the Commons on Wednesday that she won’t allow Parliament to overturn the will of the British people, but she’s perfectly happy to allow it to overturn the will of the Scottish people. Devolution only exists because of a referendum in which the people of Scotland voted by a huge majority in favour of the devolution settlement. That settlement was supposed to have been strengthened and entrenched in the offer made to the people of Scotland by all the main UK parties during the 2014 independence referendum. But here we are.
Only some referendum results need to be respected in the British state, and they sure as hell aren’t Scottish ones. Yet these are the same people who repeatedly demand that the SNP respects the outcome of the 2014 referendum, people who have no intention of respecting the promises and commitments that they made to win it. Ruth Davidson, that darling of the Scottish press, sneered that attempts to highlight the democratic deficit were nothing more than “Grievomax”. Ruth is sure as hell not going to stand up for Scotland within her precious union. If Ruth isn’t going to respect the result of the referendum, why should we?
In Dante’s vision of Hell, the hypocrites are consigned to the Sixth Circle of Hell, weighed down by their gilden monks’ robes of lead, moving with slow and sluggish indolence as they are condemned forever to walk in circles. That’s where the Scottish Conservatives and their Labour and Lib Dem enablers belong. That’s the vision that they have for Scotland within the UK, weighted down and condemned forever to go round in circles. It’s the Sixth Circle of Devolution Hell, the shackled monks of Britishness led by Ruth Davidson ringing a bell and chanting We Don’t Want Another Referendum as they go round and round in circles for all eternity, lost in the dark void and achieving nothing. Today the SNP marched out of it. When the rules of the game are stacked against you, play a different game.
As far as Scotland is concerned, the House of Commons is a democracy in the exact same way that candy floss is a nutritionally important major food group. The SNP were quite right to walk out. It might have been a stunt, but it was a stunt that succeeded in getting the issue of the treament of the devolution settlement and the Westminster power grab to the top of the media agenda, a media which has until now ignored it. Because it’s only Scottish and so isn’t really that important.
You might think that this massive assault on devolution, what was always touted as the great British alternative to Scottish independence, might have merited some cries of outrage from that Scottish press that had bigged it up in the first place. You know, like that newspaper that gave us the Vow. Yet from the British nationalist media in Scotland – which is the vast bulk of it – there’s a collective shrug of the shoulders and a “meh”. As I pointed out in yesterday’s blog piece, they are failing Scotland on their own terms. They are not standing up for their own vision of Scotland within the UK and are consenting to the destruction of a devolution settlement which they sold to the people of Scotland as the safe and secure alternative to independence. By failing to stand up for devolution, they anti-independence parties and the British nationalist media in Scotland have only make the case for independence unanswerable.
Yesterday’s farce of democracy in the Commons, when the Conservatives refused to allow a Scottish MP to speak on the subject of devolution, refused to allow any amendments, and refused to concede more than a few minutes for debate, was covered by the BBC Scotland news this morning in a mere 16 seconds. More importance was given to the English fitba team and to efforts to protect endangered bats. Efforts to protect endangered Scottish democracy, not so much. And yet meagre and trivial as it was, BBC Scotland news gave the issue better coverage than the front pages of Scotland’s anti-independence newspapers.
The devolved powers are only being retained by Westminster for seven years, they claim. If you believe that you probably also believe that the Ewok Mundell is an effective voice for Scotland within the UK cabinet. It’s not that the Fluffy one doesn’t speak in the British cabinet, it’s just like one of the BBC’s beloved bats his utterances are too high pitched for human ears to detect. On Wednesday during an interview with Sky News the Fluffy one said that he was disappointed that there hadn’t been a debate the previous day but that there were lots of technical and boring things being voted on and they didn’t need to bother their pretty little heads with Scottish stuff too. There’s that strong voice for Scotland in the British cabinet, telling us how disappointed he was that he couldn’t be arsed to do his job. However he did concede that tomorrow there would be an opportunity to debate the impact of the Brexit bill on devolved powers.
The walkout has been effective. Devolution is not going to be ignored. It’s not going to be ignored because some Scottish MPs stood up for it, literally. There will be time in the Commons tomorrow to debate the effects of Brexit on the devolution settlement, although one thing is certain and that’s that it won’t make any difference to the final outcome. The Conservative Government will ram it through and Scotland will be left with nothing. Scotland will get what Conservative MPs from outwith Scotland tell us we’re getting. What Scotland wants, what Scotland voted for, doesn’t figure in their considerations.
If this doesn’t count as a material change of circumstances, then nothing does. Home rule is dead. The devolution settlement is dead. The results of Scottish constitutional referendums are null and void. The great constitutional alternative to Scottish independence has been killed off by those who claim to love the UK. It’s time for all of Scotland to walk out of the Sixth Circle of Hell of this unitary British state which masquerades as a union. Let’s play a different game. Let’s play independently.
Mapa Gàidhlig na h-Alba / Gaelic Map of Scotland
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