United Kingdom Internal Market

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

The message that is coming out loud and clear from the debate is that the devolution process must be respected, and that the majority of parties in this Parliament will reject the attempt by the UK Tory Government, supported by those on the Tory benches in this chamber, to trample all over the devolution settlement and treat the devolution process with utter contempt and disrespect. That will be rejected—quite rightly—when we come to decision time tonight.

There have been three themes running through the debate: concern around the process that is being used; the negative impact of the proposals; and how we resolve disputes. With regard to the process, the Green amendment covers the concerns well. Patrick Harvie spoke at length about the process in his opening speech, and Jackie Baillie also discussed it.

It is absolutely absurd that there was only a four-week consultation process for such important proposals and such an important piece of legislation, and that the proposals were sneaked out during the summer recess, thereby undermining the ability for proper scrutiny to take place. That is something that people really regret.

The same contempt was shown by Alok Sharma in his refusal to give evidence to the Finance and Constitution Committee. As Patrick Harvie rightly pointed out, Mr Sharma was able to visit Glasgow, but he was not able to take part in a Zoom call for an hour and a half to discuss the proposals with a Parliament committee. That was totally unacceptable, and it shows that at the heart of all this is an attempt to sneak through and impose the proposals without any proper discussion and debate.

Looking at the impact that some of the proposals would have, I can perhaps understand why the UK Government does not want too much scrutiny of them. Claudia Beamish got to the heart of the matter when she spoke about how the proposals would undermine the environmental and sustainability principles that have been so important to the Scottish Parliament. The UK Government’s proposals are no way to go about trying to protect those important principles.

In the same vein, Joan McAlpine made an important contribution on the importance of including state aid in the devolution proposals. She was right to point out that Donald Dewar very much had in mind the impact of the Thatcher Government’s decisions on communities in Scotland.

I am old enough to remember the closure of the steelworks in Cambuslang, which were near to where I grew up, where I still stay and which I now represent. I remember the absolutely devastating impact that such closures had, not only in Cambuslang but in communities throughout Scotland. It was that experience of some of the decisions of the Thatcher Government, which destroyed the manufacturing base in Scotland and had a devastating effect on communities, that led to the decision to include state aid in the devolution process. We need that protection.

Another key theme running through the debate has been how we resolve disputes. That has been part of the problem, in that it has taken so long: we still do not have the answer when it comes to how we resolve issues around the UK internal market. There has been continued controversy about the disputes process. Adam Tomkins referred to it, and Willie Rennie covered it at length in his opening speech. It also features in the Liberal Democrat amendment.

If the arrangements are going to work in future, we need a mechanism to resolve disputes. That cannot be done by one Parliament imposing its view on another or one Parliament having a veto to take something out of an agreement; it has to be done through consensus and co-operation.

I find the Tory approach to the debate quite bizarre in a lot of ways. Alex Rowley underlined that, saying that, in effect, the Tories are undermining the devolution process that has been in place for 21 years. The Tories obviously opposed it in the original referendum, and it is interesting how things have now come full circle with what they are arguing for today. They are also undermining the case for staying in the United Kingdom. For those of us who support that case and who genuinely believe that it is best for the United Kingdom, I say genuinely to Tory members that they need to change their attitude and their approach.

The way forward here is to take the current proposals off the table. I agree with Jackie Baillie that it is important to have a proper mechanism for how the UK internal market works, but the way to achieve that is through dialogue and proper use of the intergovernmental machinery, finding solutions that all four nations can approach.

Scottish Labour will oppose the Tory amendment, we will support the Government motion, we will obviously support our own amendment, and we will support the Liberal Democrat and Green amendments. The bulk of parties in this Parliament will stand against the Tory Government proposals. Let us have proper consensus and an approach that suits all four nations.