It’s been a good week for the Scottish independence movement. The British nationalist parties have proven beyond any shadow of doubt that they fail even on their own terms and are incapable of defending Scottish interests within the context of the UK. The SNP has, at last, finally found some bottle and is no longer going to play like good little girls and boys according to the rules of a game which is stacked against Scotland. The grassroots indy movement is reengerised and enthused and thousands of people have signed up to the SNP and many more are getting involved in the local independence groups which are reorganising and reestablishing themselves across the length and breadth of Scotland.
Meanwhile, lost amongst the fire and fury of the SNP walkout. Ewok Mundell has announced in the Commons that according to the British Government’s understanding of the Sewel Convention, the British government can unilaterally take action to change, reduce, or alter the powers of the Scottish parliament when no agreement can be reached with Holyrood. Which as James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop points out shows that Mundell has just rewritten the bloodied and tattered remnants of the Sewel Convention to mean that instead of consent “normally” being required from the Scottish Parliament before Westminster can alter devolved powers, now consent only needs to be sought. That in turn means that the British government can propose any such changes or alterations to devolved powers as it pleases, and if the Scottish government doesn’t agree then the British government can go ahead anyway. In fact according to Mundell, the British government is required to act under such circumstances. Not so much a Sewel Convention then, as a Sewer Convention allowing Scottish powers to be flushed away at will.
In effect, the Sewer Convention means that Westminster can dispose of devolved powers as it likes and the consent of the Scottish parliament is not required. That’s a huge difference from the previous understanding of the Sewel Convention and on the face of it is a massive reinterpretation from what was previously understood as the position. There are only two possible explanations for this apparent change.
Firstly it could be that Mundell’s declaration has been the intent of the British Government all along. This would not be surprising, amongst other developments this week we’ve seen Remainer Conservative MPs complaining that their own government has been dishonest and disingenuous in the supposed guarantees it gave to them to stave off a parliamentary rebellion earlier in the week. If this Conservative government isn’t even prepared to deal honestly with its own MPs, then uppity Scots have got nae chance at all. It is entirely plausible that when the Conservatives signed up to the Smith Commission and agreed to enshrine the permanence of the Scottish parliament in law and to give the Sewel Convention legal force, they never had the slightest intention of abiding by it. That’s why they framed it in such a manner so as to give themselves a get-out clause as wide and broad as the gap between Ross Thomson’s ears.
If that’s true, then all by itself it counts as a change in material circumstances and gives a justification for a second independence referendum, because it means that the Conservatives have acted on bad faith and never had any intention of respecting the result of that referendum that they keep telling everyone else to respect. The result of the independence referendum wasn’t just that Scotland voted No, it was that Scotland voted No on certain conditions. One of those conditions was a legally binding guarantee of the permanence of the Scottish parliament and its powers. As I’ve pointed out on this blog before, the people who need to be held to account for the outcome of a vote aren’t the people who lost it, it’s the people who won it.
Certainly subsequent developments, with the legal ruling in the Supreme Court that the Sewel Convention had no legal force, and the shameful way in which the British Government rammed through the changes to devolved powers in the EU Exit Bill without even permitting Scottish MPs to debate the matter, demonstrate that the fundamental basis of the devolution settlement has been traduced and destroyed. That’s a very far cry from the stronger and more entrenched devolution that we were promised in 2014. The fact that former Daily Record editor Murray Foote, the architect of the infamous Vow, now tells us that Ruth Davidson was furious about proposals to strengthen the powers of Holyrood in an attempt to win a No vote strongly suggests that the Conservatives were always going to seek a way to renege on their commitments to the people of Scotland.
The second possibility is that Mundell doesn’t understand the Sewel Convention. Which means that the man who is entrusted with defending the devolution settlement in the British cabinet doesn’t understand the devolution settlement. If that’s not proof that Scotland’s interests can’t be protected within the context of the UK, then nothing is. If Mundell is not sacked forthwith, then all by itself that’s a constitutional crisis which warrants another independence referendum because it means that the very person encharged with defending the devolution settlement is actively undermining it.
Meanwhile, in a major coup for the independence cause, the self-same Murray Foote has now come out in favour of independence. You might not have been happy with his role in support of the Better Together campaign. You might be deeply upset by the way in which British nationalists pulled the Vow out of a hat in the last weeks of the campaign when postal votes had already begun. However the more prominent that a convert to independence was within the anti-independence campaign last time, then the more powerful an ally to our cause that person is this time. So let’s not begrudge or complain about Murray Foote’s conversion. We need people who voted No last time to come over to our side if we’re going to win this time, and if those people are not made to feel welcome and accepted then they’re going to think twice about making the leap. So get over your grudges, smile sweetly and save your harrumphage for private.
The power of Murray Foote’s conversion to yes lies precisely in his role in creating the Vow. Ever since 2014 we’ve had a succession of British nationalist politicians smugly tell us that the Vow has been fulfilled when the evidence is very much to the contrary. But now whenever one of them tells us that the Vow has been fulfilled, all we need to do is to reply that the very man who wrote it disagrees with them. The Vow is now dead. It’s been killed off by the person who created it.
Tomorrow the decidedly very much alive dug and I will be at Inch Park in Edinburgh speaking at a rally there organised by the Yes Hub in Edinburgh. It’s going to be the first of many events over the coming months. The momentum is on our side, but we have a lot of work to do. Let’s get working. Let’s block the Sewer Convention and ensure that it’s the British nationalists who are left covered in their own constitutional crap.
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