In response to Mr Chapman, I say that what is astonishing at this time of great economic uncertainty, in the midst of a global pandemic, is that the UK Tory Government wishes to take us over a cliff edge in just over four months.
The consultation paper had just four weeks for comments and was published on 16 July, so I would argue that it was sneaked out during the summer holiday period. It was quite clear why the UK Government would seek to sneak it out, because the propositions in the white paper represent the biggest threat to our reconvened Scottish Parliament that we have ever seen.
I will start with the UK Government’s desire to legislate for what it terms the “UK Internal Market”. That there is already a market across these isles is beyond doubt. The 31 December Brexit shambles date looms ever larger for Scotland, when we will be dragged out of the EU against our will by the UK Tory Government and the EU single market rules will thereafter have no direct effect in Scots law. The UK Tory Government proposes to take all powers in those areas for itself, even those devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The UK Government is proposing to do that without any mechanism for agreement with Scotland or the other devolved nations as to the rules going forward and with no fair and effective mechanism for dispute resolution built in that would give individual remedies to citizens, businesses and so on.
The UK Government talks of the principle of non-discrimination, which is odd because it is a legal term of art that normally refers to relations with independent third countries. However, the UK Government refers to that principle and the principle of proportionality as underpinning its approach. I will just pause here to compare and contrast that with the status quo. In fact, the EU single market is based on international agreement among equal nations that all sit at the top table and have a vote in determining the rules. The proposed UK internal market legislation, on the other hand, is based solely on London determining the rules.
The EU single market provides for a minimum harmonisation of standards, set at a high bar, that must then be mutually recognised by all member states. The proposed UK internal market legislation, on the other hand, assumes a race to the bottom in terms of standards and proposes, in effect, a one-way system of mutual recognition—London’s way or the highway.
The EU single market allows member states to invoke exceptions in certain circumstances—for example, public policy and public health protection—and, in the event of a dispute, they can be tested in the courts with the European Court of Justice as referee. The proposals in the UK white paper, on the other hand, are based on London removing Scotland’s right to invoke legitimate protections and removing the referee.
From Scotland’s perspective, what on earth is there to like about these proposals? It is as if the Tories hope that, by bulldozing them through, they can pretend that devolution never happened, that the people of Scotland never voted in significant numbers for more control over their own affairs and that our Scottish Parliament was not, in fact, reconvened by my mother, Winnie Ewing, who famously said at the time:
“The Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened.”—[
, 12 May 1999; c 5.]
With a nod to the words of the late, great Canon Kenyon Wright, I say that we are the people and we say no, for the UK Government’s proposals are unconstitutional, incoherent as a matter of law and anti-democratic. More insidiously, perhaps, they reflect an increasingly hostile environment for Scotland within the union. What happened to the no campaign refrain of 2014 “Lead us, don’t leave us”? What happened to “We love you, Scotland”? This is a very strange kind of love. Of course, the biggest lie of all was “Vote no to protect Scotland’s place in the EU”—I will just leave that one there.
Patience in Scotland for the UK Tory Government is running out across all parts and all sectors of Scotland. Indeed, what right-minded person would put their trust in senior UK Government Tory ministers such as Mr Michael Gove, who believes that it is wise to drive around for 30 minutes to test your eyesight, with a young child in the back of your car? We are all fed up with this nonsense. We do not want to see chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef here; we do not want our environmental and public health protection standards lowered; and we certainly do not want to see Mr Matt Hancock, the hapless UK Tory health secretary, having anything to do with our national health service or see salami-slicing privatisations through the back door.
In the short term, the solution is for the UK Government to withdraw these proposals and put them in the bin. Beyond that, the solution remains for Scotland to take control over her own affairs, determine her own future and take a better path.