The UK government’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma really doesn’t like the idea of explaining his government’s plans to those pesky uppity Scots. He has refused to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution committee to explain the impact of the UK Internal Market Bill on the devolution settlement and on Scotland as a whole. The British Government has now told the important Holyrood committee that Alok Sharma won’t be appearing before it this week, next week, or at any time. He’s too busy being an apologist in Westminster for this law breaking disgrace of a bill that trashes the devolution settlement to be able to schlepp to Edinburgh and be an apologist for it there too.
This is the second time in a month that Alok Sharma has run away and hidden from the Holyrood committee. In August the Conservative Business Secretary told the committee convenor Bruce Crawford just thirty minutes before the committee was due to sit to hear from him that he wouldn’t be attending. It’s one thing for the British Government to present its offence of a bill to a supine media, it’s quite another for it to be dissected by MSPs who actually appreciate the impact that it’s going to have.
Now he’s informed the committee that he’s not going to turn up at all, ever. Scotland, you can read about the impact of Tory legislation on your lives in the pages of the right wing press along with everyone else. Don’t dare imagine that your pretendy little parliament can hold the high and mighty British cabinet to account. There’s that respect agenda that we were promised in 2014. How’s it working out for you?
Not even the Conservative Government’s own chief legal officer in Scotland, Lord Keen, can stomach this travesty of an internal market bill. On Wednesday he tendered his resignation saying that he was finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile the bill with the law. Which is a bit like saying that you find it difficult to reconcile a smash and grab raid with a visit to the ATM to withdraw that tenner that your granny sent you for your birthday. But still, better late than never. This is the guy who was happy to plead Johnson’s case during the case about Johnson’s unlawful prorogation of Parliament last year, the internal market bill is too much even for him to stomach. He’s a lot less keen now.
According to a report in the Guardian last week, a leaked UK Government memo showed that the Advocate General believed that UK government ministers would be breaching the ministerial code if they upheld the Internal Market Bill and defied international law. The ministerial code rules that ministers may not break the law in pursuit of their duties. It does not specify UK law or international law, just “the law”. It used to refer specifically to international law, but the code was changed by the Cameron government. The Attorney General Suella Braverman has argued that this means that the ministerial code only applies to breaches of UK law, but in a ruling in 2018 the Court of Appeal found that the removal of an explicit reference to international law did not relieve ministers of an obligation to abide by it. (See here http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/1855.html)
No doubt the Conservatives will now have to trawl the Faculty of Advocates for someone without scruples or principles. There’s bound to be a Scottish version of Suella Braverman waiting in the wings, some low grade law hack who will happily do as they’re told for the reward of power and position as they flail about hopelessly out of their depth. That’s how the British state has always worked.
However at the time of writing the Advocate General’s resignation has yet to be accepted. The Tories know that should the chief legal officer of the British Government in Scotland resign because he believes that this Internal Markets Bill breaks the law, then all the twittering excuses and asinine apologias of the Scottish Conservatives become shown up for the lies and deceit that they really are. That’s why they’re desperate to hang on to him. The Forres Gimp’s leadership of the branch office has got off to a grand start hasn’t it. Yet even if Lord Keen does somehow stay in office, reassured by a meaningless blandishment from a government of liars and charlatans, he’s going to look pretty foolish now, his reputation and authority diminished.
Trust between the British and Scottish Governments has now effectively broken down entirely. According to the Scottish Government Constitution Secretary Mike Russell, the relationship – which was already strained – has got significantly worse under the Johnson regime. There have been numerous instances of British Government ministers taking decisions which have an impact on Scotland, but the Scottish Government has only found out about it when it was leaked to a friendly journalist in the right wing British press. This has happened repeatedly, to the extent that we can now be certain that it’s deliberate on the part of the British Government and the Conservative party. In their view, Holyrood exists to do as it is told. They do not regard it as embodying a democratic mandate from the people of Scotland in its own right. It’s subordinate, not an alternative source of authority.
We have a Conservative party in power in Westminster, a party which has never won an election in Scotland since 1955, and even though it has a mere six MPs in Scotland it is embarking upon the greatest change to the devolution settlement since 1997. It is unilaterally diminishing the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and giving Conservative ministers the right to intervene on devolved matters. It is doing so entirely without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.
And what is the response of the majority of the Scottish media to this democratic outrage? We get reporters on Reporting Scotchlandshire wittering on about food standards as though this was mere minor tinkering with abstruse regulations which the majority of us need not worry our little heads about. We get British nationalists insisting that it’s all manufactured grievance even as their own Advocate General tenders his resignation because he cannot justify the unlawful acts that this Tory Government is hell bent on committing. We get a BBC that caves in to the manufactured grievances of British nationalist politicians who demand that the Scottish people be deprived of vital public health information because they’re afraid that it’s making people more confident in the abilities of the Scottish Government.
Meanwhile the possibility of a no deal Brexit at the end of the transitional period grows daily. The UK is going to get rinsed. All trust between Holyrood and Westminster has disappeared due to the bad faith and deceit of the Conservatives. What the Conservatives don’t appreciate, or what they choose to ignore, is that where there is no trust there is no belief, and they want Scotland to believe in their precioussss union. And all this as British nationalism in Scotland is facing a demographic time bomb as younger generations in Scotland overwhelmingly support independence and we are experiencing the longest period of consistent support for independence that Scotland has ever seen. It’s only going to grow. We are living in the end days of British rule in Scotland.
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