Will MSPs vote away pow­ers? Would tur­keys vote for Christ­mas?

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - THE ISSUES - By Mandy Rhodes

Next year the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment will be 20 years old.

It has had its ups and downs, but it has grown.

It has passed some his­toric leg­is­la­tion – the smok­ing ban, min­i­mum unit pric­ing on al­co­hol and equal mar­riage. And it has tack­led taboos on gen­der, race and in­equal­ity.

How much more fun­da­men­tal than want­ing to erad­i­cate pe­riod poverty can pol­i­tics get?

In terms of what de­vo­lu­tion was meant to be, it has been a suc­cess and, for a gen­er­a­tion of Scot­tish vot­ers, Holy­rood is where power lies.

But de­vo­lu­tion is, we are told, un­der threat. While many Scots, scun­nered by an on­go­ing con­sti­tu­tional de­bate, have not yet been en­er­gised by the idea that amid Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions pow­ers of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment could be di­min­ished, the threat is real.

Next week, MSPs will vote on whether to give their con­sent to the UK’s Euro­pean With­drawal Bill. It is un­likely they will.

And while, in truth, that will make no real dif­fer­ence to West­min­ster as that con­sent is more about cour­tesy than ne­ces­sity, it will am­plify a mes­sage that has al­ways run counter to the de­vo­lu­tion ex­per­i­ment, which is that the will of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment can be over­ruled by West­min­ster.

What is in dis­pute here is Clause 11 of that UK bill which ba­si­cally gives the right to the UK Gov­ern­ment to over­rule Holy­rood and make changes to ar­eas of law and pol­icy de­volved to Scot­land, even if the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment ex­plic­itly re­jects them, post Brexit.

This has been car­i­ca­tured as part of the SNP’s griev­ance agenda, with Mike Rus­sell MSP, who is lead­ing Brexit talks with West­min­ster, ac­cused of fu­elling false fears but that is un­fair.

In­deed, it is the Scot­tish Tories that now stand in iso­la­tion. All three of the other op­po­si­tion party lead­ers told a com­mit­tee of MPs they will not ac­cept the con­tro­ver­sial clause.

And last week a cross­party Holy­rood com­mit­tee rec­om­mended re­ject­ing it to pre­vent a West­min­ster “power grab”.

Far from this be­ing a Scot­tish na­tion­al­ist ar­gu­ment, it is the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives that ap­pear as the more ex­treme na­tion­al­ists – al­beit Bri­tish na­tion­al­ists – in this fight.

The SNP, Labour and Greens all want the UK and Scot­tish Gov­ern­ments to be given equal power in de­cid­ing “com­mon frame­works” fol­low­ing Brexit in 24 ar­eas. These in­clude farm pay­ments, food stan­dards and an­i­mal wel­fare.

And while it is fair to ar­gue cit­i­zens north and south of Hadrian’s Wall live by the same ap­proach to life, so there would be no di­ver­gence in ap­proach to safety and stan­dards, that premise rests on trust.

At the heart of this de­bate is a UK gov­ern­ment that says MSPs should ac­cept the clause and trust them to do the right thing.

But how can you con­fer trust over de­vo­lu­tion on a gov­ern­ment that was so illinformed about Scot­tish af­fairs it didn’t seem to know that Scot­land has a sep­a­rate le­gal sys­tem?

On Tues­day, MSPs will make an his­tor­i­cal de­ci­sion when they de­cline to give their con­sent to West­min­ster over a bill they be­lieve threat­ens the very prin­ci­ple of de­vo­lu­tion.

To do oth­er­wise would be like tur­keys vot­ing for Christ­mas.

Mike Rus­sell, the SNP’s Brexit chief

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