United Kingdom Internal Market

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 18th August 2020.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I will support the Government’s motion and the Labour amendment. Obviously, I will oppose the Conservative amendment. I am afraid that the Liberal Democrat amendment places just a little too much confidence in the idea that shared decision making will, in fact, protect the people of Scotland; I am not at all convinced that it will.

I suppose that it was pretty much inevitable that today’s debate would involve at least one or two rants about separatists. That name is thrown across the chamber by people who support the Brexit project. Apparently, they call us separatists without either self-awareness or irony. It is pretty clear that supporters of independence are the true internationalists in the chamber, and we will continue to make that case.

It is clear that a number of members across the chamber share the central concern that there is a mechanism for an internal market but no principles for how it should operate. That is what is being proposed. Whether we are talking about subsidiarity, proportionality, sustainability or any of the other principles from the whole host that we could be debating, they are not defined in the UK Government’s proposals. That is why it was a little strange to hear some members—perhaps unconsciously—use the phrases “internal market” and “single market” interchangeably. The EU single market is clearly defined according to certain principles. The UK proposals for its internal market are not defined. We have evidence from a number of respected bodies that the very term is contested, so it is clear that it is premature to legislate on it in those circumstances.

Another slip of the tongue was made by a few members, including some in the SNP, who, instead of talking about the single market or the internal market, accidentally talked about the free market. Those are fundamentally different ideas. Whether one is a hard-right libertarian who gives guest lectures with the Cato Institute or a social democrat who believes that market activity needs to be regulated well and effectively in the interests of the public, there is an argument for having a single market and a wide area that complies with, broadly speaking, the same rules and conditions. A single market or an internal market does not determine whether we should be running a free or a regulated market.

A phrase that has been used a few times relates to what would be “bad for business”. The minister talked about not wanting to do things that are “bad for business”. Sometimes, we need to do some things that are bad for business. If Governments through the ages had taken that view and had never been willing to do things that were bad for business, never mind minimum unit pricing, we would not have paid holidays, we would not have abolished child labour and we would not have a minimum wage.

The Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee did not say that there should never be any barriers, either. We said:

The Committee recognises the economic benefits to businesses across the four nations ... of having a set of rules which ensures there are no barriers ... Equally we recognise the benefit to society of effective regulation of market activity, and the role of all parliaments including the Scottish Parliament in deciding how best to strike the balance”.

That is the important point. There are obviously those who would like to take power away, not only from the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved nations but from democratically accountable institutions, and give it to the market, and there are those of us who believe that the whole economy ought to be democratically accountable. However, it is for elected Parliaments to decide how best to strike that balance. The UK Government’s proposals will remove the ability not only of the Scottish Parliament but of others to decide how best to strike that balance.

The Scottish Government says that there would be no barriers to trade under its preferred option of common frameworks. I agree that it is unlikely that there would be significant barriers to trade. However, the principle is that this Parliament and the other Parliaments must be free to act and to judge whether those actions, and any consequences for trade, are proportionate, and we can be held democratically accountable for those decisions.

Mr Lockhart tried to persuade us that the common frameworks—not the UK internal market proposals—will deliver new powers. What nonsense. In any policy area that is wholly reserved, common frameworks do not even arise; they arise in debating measures that cover existing areas of devolved competence. Common frameworks are not about devolving new areas of competence—they are an invitation to align, and agree how we co-ordinate, in areas that are already devolved.

I think that Adam Tomkins recognises my central concern that we have the design of a mechanism for an internal market without the appropriate principles being attached, and I hope that he will vote accordingly. I hope that if the UK Government continues with its current proposals unchanged, he will oppose them.

Some Tory members were laughing at the suggestion that the Thatcher Government was one of the drivers of the movement for devolution, but I think that it is clear that that was the case. If the Tories cannot now bring themselves to defend devolution and Scotland’s democracy, which we chose more than 20 years ago, and if they insist on cutting the powers of Scotland’s Parliament without the permission of Scotland’s people in the interests of a free-market extremist ideology, they will drive ever more people to one inescapable conclusion: that Scotland can, must and will govern itself.