Apparently the reason that there is unemployment in Scotland has nothing to do with the economic policies of Westminster governments in general or Conservative governments in particular, oh no, we have an ‘ethnic problem’ rooted in the deep seated cultural practices and expectations of Scottish and Irish people. So it’s not a Westminster problem at all, oh no. It’s a Gaelic one. Professor Tyler Cowan, a senior economist at George Mason University in the US, made the outrageous suggestion at a conference organised by a right-wing think tank, one of those free market fundamentalist think tanks responsible for Liz Truss’s abomination of a mini-budget which cost the public purse some £30 billion. You might think that certain right wing think tanks would do better to shut up and do more thinking and less tanking.
These are the same people who blamed the lower productivity in the UK on a ‘lazy’ British workforce. The short-termism and profiteering of British management and its decades long systematic under-investment in industry has nothing to do with it in their eyes. Poverty is the fault of the poor, unemployment is the fault of the unemployed, low productivity is the fault of the workers. There’s a definite theme here. Right wing think tanks seem to exist primarily in order to absolve the rich and powerful from any blame or responsibility for anything that ails society.
Meanwhile news has broken of yet another Westminster power grab aiming to by-pass and undermine the devolution settlement. It’s yet another example of the Conservatives using Brexit, which Scotland voted against in a referendum, to attack the devolution settlement, which Scotland voted in favour of in a referendum. What was that again about the Tories harping on about the need to respect the outcome of the referendum? Oh? Not *those* outcomes you say? Those are outcomes which don’t suit the Conservative party, so they don’t count.
The Retained EU Law Bill which is being put before the Commons by our unelected Prime Minister could give UK minister far reaching powers to scrap those European Union laws which remain on the statute book after Brexit, including those in devolved areas. The aim of the bill is to revoke over 2400 pieces of EU legislation that still remained a part of the UK legislation at the end of the Brexit transition period. These include laws which affect competencies devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. Hitherto Westminster has needed legislative consent from Edinburgh and Cardiff in order to make changes in these areas. This bill proposes to do away with that, Westminster would be giving itself the power to act unilaterally, in effect neutering key provisions of the devolution settlement.
Naturally the anti-independence Scottish press will be up in arms about this all-out assault on the ‘best of both worlds’ that was promised to Scotland in order to keep this country a part of the UK, and which underpins the guarantees that Scotland will be respected and listened to as the equal partner in a loving family of nations. Oh. No. Sorry. They’re banging on about the ferries again.
This is of course not the first time that the Conservatives have used Brexit as an excuse to attack the devolution settlement. Under Theresa May the Conservatives introduced their UK Internal Market Act, which was passed into law under Boris Johnson. The Act allowed the Conservative Government at Westminster to unilaterally change certain laws and regulations which came under the remit of the devolved parliaments, this was in direct contradiction to the Vow sworn by then Conservative leader David Cameron in 2014 that no Westminster Government would ever alter the devolution settlement or the powers of Holyrood without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament. Despite this, May went so far as to obtain a UK Supreme Court ruling that the Sewel Convention stating this principle, and which had been written into the Scotland Act as a consequence of that infamous Vow, had no legal force.
The Scottish media responded to this gross breach of trust by waving it off as minor tinkering with agricultural standards and food labelling rules, ignoring entirely the fact that it represented a clear breaking of the promises made to Scotland in order to secure a No vote in 2014 and thus constituted an unarguable instance of failure to respect the referendum. But the British nationalists can disrespect the commitments they made to win the referendum as much as they like, it’s only the losing side that must be bound by its rhetoric for all eternity.
The next Conservative back door attack on devolution came with the Levelling Up Bill, which gave Westminster the power to spend on devolved competencies in Scotland, by-passing Holyrood entirely. Michael Gove denied that the Bill undermined the devolution settlement, well he would, wouldn’t he. Gove asserted that the bill ‘augmented’ devolution. It ‘augmented’ devolution in the exact same way that smashing up your car and rendering it inoperable ‘augments’ your transport options by forcing you to get the bus.
However this new assault on devolution seems to be the most wide-ranging yet, and the Conservatives have undoubtedly been emboldened by the fact that they realise the craven Scottish media will do its utmost to minimise the impact that this bill has on the devolution settlement for fear of stoking up support for independence. Devolution was sold to Scotland as the great unionist alternative to independence, but the anti-independence media is failing to protect it. That failure contains the seeds of their own undoing.
The laws and regulations which the Conservatives seek to abolish in this new bill are not the amorphous and abstract ‘red tape’ which the Brexit supporting press likes to make out it is. They are not minor tinkering with food labelling. These are regulations and rules which go a long way toward guaranteeing our workplace and consumer rights and protections. The Conservatives most certainly did not take the UK out of the European Union because they wanted to give us all better and stronger employment and consumer rights and protections.
These are, let us not forget, the same people who blame low British productivity on lazy workers and unemployment on some sort of atavistic work-shy Gaelic culture and who rely on right wing think tanks that give them a fig leaf of intellectual justification for institutionalised cruelty, private greed and the destruction of public services.
This will not be the last Conservative attack on either the devolution settlement or our employment or consumer rights.
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