Internal Market

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th September 2020.

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Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Russell on the internal market update. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which was published yesterday, represents the biggest threat to devolution that Scotland has seen since this Parliament was reconvened in 1999, after 292 years of adjournment.

The threat comes from a gang of hard-right-wing, anti-devolution Tory Brexiteers, who said during the Brexit referendum—in which the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union—that they wanted to take back control. Now we know what they wanted to control: us, our country of Scotland and our right to make our own decisions and choose our own future. They are trying to do so by removing from the people of Scotland and this Parliament the powers that were given to us 23 years ago this coming week by an overwhelming vote of our fellow citizens. That popular mandate means that it is the duty of every member who is elected by Scotland to stop them.

That is not just the view of the Scottish National Party Government. Here is what the Welsh Labour Government has said about the bill:

“the UK Government plans to sacrifice the future of the union by stealing powers from devolved administrations. This bill is an attack on democracy and an affront to the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who have voted in favour of devolution on numerous occasions.”

Last month, the Scottish Parliament considered the original proposals that were set out in the UK Government white paper on the internal market, and it voted by 92 votes to 31 to reject them. Now we know precisely what the proposals are in legislative terms and what they actually mean for businesses, for jobs, for the lives of the ordinary citizens of Scotland and for their Parliament.

The bill has also had something added to it that was not in the consultation—brief as it was. On Monday, it was merely a press rumour, but now we know that the UK ministers intend to unilaterally alter and override solemn and binding commitments in an international treaty that was agreed by the House of Commons only in January this year.

On Tuesday, we witnessed something that I do not think that anyone in this chamber would have thought possible: a UK secretary of state, standing at the Westminster dispatch box, calmly informing the House of Commons that the Government intends to break international law with the bill. The rule of law is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Without it, a state is nothing but a collection of desperadoes, set on whatever aim they choose, without restraint and no matter the consequences.

Moreover, as the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Declan Morgan, pointed out yesterday, such actions also undermine the domestic legal scene. As he put it,

“where there is an indication that a state intends to break international law ... it may have a domestic effect on the confidence the public has in the legal system generally.”

Johnson’s reckless actions are now aimed not just at us; they will also trash the UK’s already tarnished international standing, put at grave risk sustainable and beneficial trading and economic relationships with most of our international partners and weaken the legal basis of all our lives. All that is happening while he and his irresponsible and reckless Government are hurtling, in the midst of a pandemic and the worst global recession in many generations, towards a hard European Union transition deadline entirely of that Government’s own choosing of 31 December, with only two bad options left—a disastrous no deal or an almost equally damaging low deal—and armed only with blockheaded arrogance, a false sense of exceptionalism and this entirely unnecessary and deeply damaging bill, which will actually make every problem worse.

The UK Government has not only signalled its intention to break international law; it is also signalling its intention to break domestic law—to break the devolution settlement, which was once described as

“the settled will of the Scottish people.”

Let me now turn to the detail of the bill. There is much in it that repays study, if only to reveal how contemptuous the Tories are of this place and of the people we represent. At clauses 2 to 9, there are sweeping powers to compel Scotland to accept lower standards set elsewhere in the UK on animal welfare, food safety, environmental protections and a host of other areas. Those powers would radically undermine the ability of this Parliament to serve the people who elected it.

At clause 46, powers are given to UK Government ministers to design and impose replacements for EU spending programmes in devolved areas such as infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport and education and training, or possibly more general public spending in those areas. Bypassing democratically elected MSPs and ministers in Scotland, those provisions jeopardise current Barnett funding levels and will inevitably lead to policy confusion.

Worse, given the centralising ambitions of the UK Government, no one should be surprised if, in the future, the UK Government diverts money that should be under the control of this Parliament for Scotland’s schools and Scotland’s hospitals to pay for what appears to be its priority of union-jack-badged projects. It is already limbering up, as we saw on Twitter last night, to spend money taken from other Scottish budgets on its own pet projects in the very few Tory constituencies left in Scotland.

Part 4 of the bill establishes a new unelected monitoring body called the office of the internal market, which will have the power to pass judgment on devolved laws and will invite businesses with deep pockets to challenge the democratic decisions of this Parliament.

Clause 48 reserves state aid, which is, indisputably and without any pretence to the contrary, a blatant power grab. As a result of a decision sneaked out yesterday in the midst of the bill chaos, we know that the state aid provisions will merely mirror those of the World Trade Organization, making a deal with the EU even more difficult, and will provide little or no scrutiny or rigour.

The UK Government says that the bill will guarantee that companies can trade unhindered in every part of the UK, but that is not what the bill is about. There is no threat to such trade and never has been. This Government endorses the need for such trade and will always do so. What the UK Government wants is something different. In order to deliver bad trade deals, which is all that it can expect from its weakened state, it wants private health companies to have a guaranteed right to trade unhindered in Scotland, weakening and undermining the Scottish national health service. It wants private water companies to be given a guaranteed right to trade unhindered in Scotland, undermining standards and raising prices. It wants—once its hooks are in—to be able to alter anything that we do with just a flourish of a UK minister’s pen.

Although the bill says that there may be exclusions from the principles of non-discrimination, the explanatory notes state:

“The Bill will provide the BEIS Secretary of State with a power to alter these exclusions to retain flexibility for the internal market system in response to changes in market conditions.”

In other words, the UK Government can alter whatever we do, whenever it likes, regardless of the views of the people of Scotland. That is the open door to the kind of creeping privatisation and rampant deregulation that we have already seen south of the border. Yet all the while, the UK Government behaves as if our heads button up the back, insulting our intelligence with the claim that that is in fact a “power surge.” That is only true in the sense that power surges destroy everything that they touch. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. Every one of the powers that the UK Government trumpets is already devolved and is already exercised in the context of a coherent set of agreed EU laws and institutions that guarantee flexibility and local autonomy. Contrast that with the system that the bill wishes to put in place—a system in which the UK Government can unilaterally and arbitrarily impose its rules on Scotland, regardless of the wishes of the Scottish Parliament.

In the face of widespread stakeholder concern about the proposals, UK ministers have resorted to the familiar tactic of ignoring, or blatantly misrepresenting, the facts—but, as Robert Burns observed,

“facts are chiels that winna ding”.

Organisations and farming, business, public health, environmental and many other sectors across Scotland and the UK are deeply concerned about the proposals. Widely and correctly, they are seen as being incompatible with devolution, bad for businesses and consumers, dangerous for the environment and an impediment to necessary and effective devolved public health measures.

The proposals threaten to undermine the good progress that has been made on common frameworks—the preferred, proportionate and agreed means of managing policy difference across the UK when EU rules no longer apply. It is late in the day for sense to prevail in the Johnson Government, but there is still just enough time if it commits to that agreed process now. For my part, I repeat the undertaking that I made in the Parliament on 18 August: we will not diverge in any frameworks area, existing or new, while those are finalised. I urge the UK Government to do the same.

The bill is a shabby blueprint for a much weakened constitutional settlement that would leave Scotland defenceless. As the First Minister said yesterday, it is an “assault on devolution”, the like of which we have not experienced since the Scottish Parliament was established. We cannot and will not allow that to happen.

The UK Government has now asked the Scottish Parliament to give legislative consent for the bill. In addition to the damage that the bill will do, which is reason enough to refuse consent, it surely cannot be right that we are expected to agree to something that is, in the admission of the proposers themselves, against international law. Therefore, the Scottish Government will bring to the Scottish Parliament a motion to refuse consent. We will also publish a full rebuttal of the bill, which we will distribute nationally and internationally, and we will take whatever other steps are necessary to defend what we have and what we need to retain in order to build for the future.

It will be no surprise to anyone that the Scottish Government remains of the firm belief that the people of Scotland have the right to choose their own future. We are determined to make that happen. After the events of this week, that resolve is steadier than ever. That is why, before the end of this session of Parliament, we will set out the terms of a future referendum clearly and unambiguously to the people of Scotland in a draft bill.

However, even if, after all that, they do not believe that our interests as a nation would be better served as a full, normal EU member state, no member of this Parliament of any constitutional or political persuasion will, I hope, consent to a bill that offends international law while also breaking and discarding the established constitutional settlement. If any member votes for that, they are voting not just for Tory illegality but, in fact, for the end of devolution. That is what is at stake and what we must all defend with every skill that we have, with every ounce of determination that we can summon and with a steely resolve to never, never be defeated.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The cabinet secretary will take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move to the next item of business. Members who wish to ask a question should press their request-to-speak buttons.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I simply do not have enough time to address the political bluster that was the cabinet secretary’s statement. In the middle of the current health and economic crisis, the absolute priority of the Scottish Government must be to protect jobs and livelihoods. The cabinet secretary is well aware, but will not acknowledge, that more than half a million jobs in Scotland and more than 60 per cent of our trade depend on free access to the UK internal market. Jobs and livelihoods must be the absolute priority, not another constitutional stand-off contrived by the SNP.

The cabinet secretary claims that the internal market proposals undermine devolution, but in reality over 100 new powers are coming to the Scottish Parliament, which will make it more powerful than ever. I have three questions for the cabinet secretary. First, is it SNP policy to hand back every one of those additional powers to the EU? Secondly, is it SNP policy to blindly keep pace with future EU law without having any influence whatsoever on those provisions, bypassing this Parliament and turning it into a passive rule taker? Thirdly, is it SNP policy to return Scotland’s fisheries to the common fisheries policy? Is that the reason that the Scottish Government interfered in the Brexit negotiations, thereby undermining the best outcome for our fishing communities?

Those questions are more important than ever, because it is now clear that the SNP wants to take a wrecking ball to the UK internal market, regardless of how many jobs will be lost. It is, after all, a market that the SNP wants to separate from. The SNP wants to hand back powers to Brussels and, in doing so, damage Scotland’s farming and fishing communities and any prospect of a full economic recovery.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

For a Tory—this week of any week—to talk about constitutional abstraction is ludicrous.

I will give three simple answers to the three questions that Dean Lockhart poses. The answer to the first question is no, the answer to the second is no and the answer to the third is that we have never supported an unreformed common fisheries policy, unlike the Conservatives, who not only supported such a policy but implemented one.

I will now address three points that Dean Lockhart would not make. There is no threat to the internal market—none at all. That threat is manufactured as a constitutional abstraction—the member’s own words—to damage the Scottish Parliament. I will ask him two questions. First, as a member of this Parliament, is he going to vote for its destruction? If he is, let the Tory voters note that. My second question is much more direct: as a lawyer, is he prepared to recommend that this Parliament supports a flagrant breach of law? If he is, he stands with a number of other Tory lawyers, but he stands in contradiction to his profession and his oath.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

I have had regular contact with the cabinet secretary over the Covid period and have thought to myself that he is putting in a hard shift. It is rather ironic, therefore, that what brings us to the chamber today is Boris Johnson’s less hard-working approach, which sees him playing fast and loose with the UK union. It is difficult to believe that the Scottish Tories in this Parliament are willing to put Johnson and his interests before the interests of the people of Scotland.

My view is that, by working together, the devolved Governments must now show that Boris Johnson and his Tory cabal cannot bypass the agreed devolution settlements. We should also link up with the English regions to build that campaign.

What representations on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has the Scottish Government made with the other devolved Administrations of the UK? Is the Scottish Government willing to hold further discussions with the devolved Administrations to show a united front against the bill and to build a united campaign against this unacceptable behaviour, which threatens—not just undermines—devolution?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I am of course willing to make common cause with anybody who is opposed to the bill. As I think that Alex Rowley knows, I keep in close touch with the Labour Administration in Wales. Indeed, I have been in touch today with Jeremy Miles, my opposite number there, and I will speak to him again tomorrow morning. I note the comments of Mark Drakeford, who was Jeremy Miles’s predecessor—we worked closely together on these issues.

Alex Rowley makes a good point about the need for solidarity. I am glad to say that nobody is outwith redemption; for example, the shadow Counsel General in Wales has resigned from the Tory front bench because he cannot stomach the illegality of the bill. Today, the former Tory MEP Struan Stevenson—a man of principle—expressed his concern that this is taking place. It is pretty shameful that there is not a single Tory in this chamber who will rise to their feet to say, “We will not have this illegality.” That is the problem with the Scottish Tories, and the voters will tell them that next year.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

The bill poses the most substantial threat to devolution since 1999, in centralising control to the UK Government and to the hands of the UK Parliament, and cutting across devolved powers by imposing new domestic constraints. People in Scotland voted decisively, by 74 per cent, for those powers to come to Scotland and to this Parliament.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in progressing with the bill, the UK Government is rolling back on devolution, without the consent of the people of Scotland?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

There can be no other conclusion in reading the bill. That is entirely what the UK Government intends to do.

I do not claim to be greatly prescient in politics but, more than a year ago, when we withdrew from the discussions on the single market, as the United Kingdom Government was calling it at that stage, we knew that it was inevitable—that this was where it was going. We needed to mark that, by saying that we were not going with the UK Government on that matter.

I regard it as very strange that the UK Government, in the midst of a pandemic, in the worst recession in certainly 100 years and probably more, and having refused the extension that it was offered to the current negotiations, should still be bringing this forward. It can only be monumental stupidity, or a monumental dislike—bordering on hatred—of the existence of devolution.

Brexiteers who regard Westminster as sovereign—under that mediaeval concept that is still clung to by the Tories, among others—must thoroughly dislike the devolved Administrations and the devolved Parliaments, and want to get rid of them.

That is the agenda, I have to say, and it will be resisted, I hope, by every member of the Scottish Parliament who is thinking of their constituents.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

I recognise that the SNP Government is nationalist and populist, but does the cabinet secretary think that the use of hyperbole and threatening behaviour, including a reference to the “ragman roll”, is representative of a modern and progressive Government?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

To correct Maurice Golden, the Government is not “populist”, it is popular. [Interruption.] In that, it is substantially different from the Tories.

I have made it absolutely clear that, on occasion, on Twitter, we all say a bit more than we should. At the time, I said that, although my knowledge of history was such—as Mr Golden’s is not—that there was hope for those on the ragman roll, some of whom changed their position, I thought that it was inappropriate, and I said so at the time.

However, it is even more inappropriate for the party of which Mr Golden is a member to accuse me this week of “treachery”. In fact, not one member of that party demurred from that word.

I will take no lessons from Conservative members about the use of language; I will take lessons from myself and my own conscience. When I do not do things as well as I might have done, I say so. I wish that the Tories would do the same.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you very much.

I remind all members of the need for the debate to be heard by Official Report staff, and recorded. Therefore, while it is inevitable on such an issue that tempers will rise, please stay within the bounds of Parliamentary rules.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Scottish Environment LINK has warned that UK Government plans could

“force Scotland to follow the lowest common denominator, especially where countries negotiating ... trade deals with the UK demand lower standards”.

Does the cabinet secretary share its concern that that could undermine

“efforts to combat climate change and biodiversity decline”?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I noticed the comments of Scottish Environment LINK in response to the original consultation, which was only one month long. I think that it continues to be right about those matters.

Dean Lockhart upbraided me for wishing to keep pace with European regulation. Many organisations in Scotland, such as Scottish Environment LINK, are very glad that the Government is prepared to look at the high standards of environmental regulation in the European Union, and is determined to be part of them.

Unfortunately, we know precisely what will happen with the Tory commitment to high standards: it will evaporate the moment that they have the power to move onwards without restriction. As I said in my statement, those desperadoes will do it.

We are in a climate emergency. We need to stand up for the type of regulation that we need—for even stronger regulation—and to reject those who are against it.

I do not trust a word that the Tories say on anything, but, at this stage, least of all on the environment. I believe that Scottish Environment LINK is right, and we will work with it to make sure that we can keep pace.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the bill not only breaches international law, by allowing for the contravention of article 4 of the UK Government’s own withdrawal agreement, but lays the groundwork for more extensive breaches of international law and tries to insulate the UK Government’s ministers from judicial scrutiny? Does he also agree that this isolationist bill is embarrassing for the UK internationally? Will he accept, from me, that we—Scottish Labour is not nationalist, which he knows—will stand with the nationalists and anybody else who wants to defend the devolution settlement against the incredulous position of the Scottish Tories, who do not seem at any point to want to defend the devolution settlement in the chamber?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I accept that Pauline McNeill is not a nationalist—she has brought that point home to me on many occasions since we both entered this Parliament in 1999. I know that she is committed to devolution and was before this Parliament even existed. We will work with Pauline McNeill, the Labour Party and any other party or individual who wishes to defend devolution.

I am not a devolutionist; I wish to move on, but the reason that I and the Scottish Government have been able to work so constructively with the Welsh Labour Government is that we recognise our differences. We recognise that we have different final destinations, but we know that all those destinations lie through our respective Parliaments and the work that they do, including for the people of Scotland. That is what these Parliaments are about. This Parliament is about working for the people of Scotland in areas such as health and education.

It is absolutely astonishing that the Scottish Conservatives wish to conspire with those—indeed, they wish to be among those—who want to see the Scottish Parliament done down, and not for its own sake. They want to see the Parliament done down in a way that will damage the people of Scotland. I will not let that happen, and I know that Pauline McNeill will not either.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is not statecraft—it is state-sponsored vandalism. In rejecting the race to the bottom in standards while strengthening the case for independence, the Scottish Government must be consistent. The race to establish free ports in Dundee and Rosyth, which is being championed by SNP councils and MPs, is part of the same deregulatory agenda to cut rights and standards for workers and the environment that is in the bill. Will the Scottish Government rule out free ports and rule in regional green new deals that can deliver the right opportunities for trade and investment?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

[Inaudible.]—exist across the EU, and that is the point that I would make. As far as I can see, nothing that the UK Government is offering is not already available in the EU, and that should be regulated. I can certainly support the member by making the point that I want to see any development in Scotland take place on the basis of an absolute commitment to the principles of ensuring a sustainable environmental future for the country. We can make common cause on that, because I know that the Green Party will campaign vigorously alongside the rest of us to make sure that the UK Government proposals do not succeed.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

The scandal of the Northern Ireland situation has already been condemned by two of the past four Conservative Prime Ministers. The bill risks food safety across the UK and it is financially wasteful in the way that it allows contradictory Government investment in infrastructure. It even risks harming the ability to have warmer homes in Scotland by removing separate building regulations. I want to see changes that involve the four Governments of the UK working together. The Scottish ministers have been reluctant to sign up to ideas that are federal in nature, because they are as reluctant to share decision making as the UK is. Would the cabinet secretary join a revised process with all four Administrations to oversee the internal market?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Each Administration has the right to pass legislation of its own. That is why, I suggest to Mr Cole-Hamilton, he is in this Parliament—because he has the right to do that.

I am happy to work with the other Administrations on the basis of equality. He might think that federalism is that basis; I think that the basis is independence. However, I am prepared to commit myself to the equality of the four Parliaments. Unfortunately, the one party in this Parliament—I do not think that the Liberals are in this position—that is not prepared to commit itself to the equality of those Parliaments is the Conservative Party. If all the other parties can commit themselves strongly and publicly to that principle of equality and equity, we will be able to work together to defeat the proposals.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

I took a breath when I heard Dean Lockhart use the phrase “wrecking ball”, because yesterday, The Guardian editorial described the internal market bill as

“a wrecking ball, swinging wildly into EU negotiations” as well as our

“international reputation and the union.”

The appearance of the bill has prompted many to warn that it will encourage a race to the bottom on environmental protections, food standards and animal welfare. Does the cabinet secretary believe that enacting the bill could leave Scottish farmers at a financial disadvantage, as they rightly try to maintain the high standards in food production that have led to Scottish food’s excellent international reputation? In short, is the “wrecking ball” that is called the internal market bill about to devastate Scottish agriculture?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

It is significant that in the consultation on the internal market, NFU Scotland indicated very clearly in its submission—so clearly that Peter Chapman could not stomach it and denounced it—that it wanted to see the common frameworks and devolution succeed. Neither of those things have been respected by the UK Government in the bill.

Scottish farmers are right to be concerned. If the bill is passed, they will find that a whole era of unfair competition lies ahead, as well as a dumbing down of standards in a way that will be very damaging to the high standards of what they produce.

That applies right across the board. In every area of Scottish life, there will be unfair competition as a result of the bill, which will be brought in by the Tories. The devastation of Scottish business, which they will be responsible for—partly through Brexit and certainly through the bill—will lie at their door. If the bill passes, much of that devastation will be felt before next May, and the Tories will pay a heavy price for it. None of them should think that they are coming back, because most of them are not coming back.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

Unlike Mike Russell, I will leave it up to my voters to decide whether I am coming back. Does he agree that it is a bit ironic to stand up in this Parliament and say that he is not a devolutionist and, at the same time, tell us with a straight face that a bill that is designed to protect our United Kingdom represents the biggest threat to devolution? Has he forgotten that his party attempted to end devolution for ever in 2014?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Mr Mundell’s father and I were founding members of this Parliament. Although we did not have the same view on many things, I think that we had the same view on one thing, which was that this Parliament was an important next step for the people of Scotland. Some people believe that it was the final step, but not even the founders of devolution believed that it was the final step. At the beginning, Donald Dewar described it as a process, not an event. Maybe the Tories regarded it as the final step, but there was an agreement that allowed Scotland to come together and vote for the establishment of this Parliament—[Interruption.] Mr Mundell wants to go on asking the question, even when he is getting the answer. That is somewhat perverse.

The reality of the situation is that I believe that devolution can be built on and developed so that, when the Scottish people choose to do so, they will choose independence. What I do not believe is that this Parliament should be damaged and destroyed at the whim of a Government and a party that it did not elect. Mr Mundell represents part of the south of Scotland. He should endeavour to emulate the good folk of Dumfries, who, in 1706, decided that they did not want the union to take place. As Mr Smyth knows, because I see him acknowledging it, they burned the articles of union at the market cross and sent their representative to vote against the union. If only they had a representative like that now.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary explain something that I am a little puzzled about? I thought that we were working on common frameworks and that there was negotiation and possibly compromise between the four Governments. Will he update us on what has happened to that process and why this bill is necessary?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I would have to delve into the mind of Michael Gove for that, which is not a task that I wish ever to undertake. The reality of the situation is that considerable work has gone into establishing the frameworks. The work has been completed on seven frameworks, six of which apply to Scotland, but we could finish the rest of it very quickly.

I said in my statement that we should be ready to commit ourselves to those frameworks even without completing that work. However, it has been claimed recently by the selfsame Michael Gove that the framework programme that he previously thought was the bee’s knees apparently has things missing. If there are things missing, he should tell us what those things are and we will make sure that the frameworks go into place.

It is one of the great tragedies of this situation that, after all that work has been done, it has been thrown away by Michael Gove. I am not in favour of Brexit, but we were willing to work with others to make sure that frameworks were in place that could provide the scaffolding to allow the countries to continue to work together. We were keen to see that happen. I had hoped that the members of this Parliament from the Tory party would say that, surely, at this late stage, we could get back to discussing and putting in place the frameworks and abandon what is force majeure against not just this Parliament but the people of Scotland.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

There can be no denying that this bill is a power grab. Is the cabinet secretary concerned by the UK Government’s plans to provide powers to UK ministers to spend directly in our devolved areas?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

If the UK Government was to come along and say, “Here is some extra money. We would like to spend it. How shall we spend it?” and if we were to sit down and say, “Well, there is this priority and that priority,” that would be the mature and sensible thing to do. However, for some reason, Alister Jack—he is the Secretary of State for Scotland, in case people did not know—wants to spend money in Scotland without consulting anybody else.

There are a number of problems with that. The first is policy confusion. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the Tories wish to privatise the national health service, which they do. Under this bill, they could spend money on that no matter what the Scottish Government said.

There is another problem, too. I noticed last night a lot of tweeting by Douglas Ross—he is the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, in case people did not know—and the selfsame Alister Jack, much of which was about replacing the A75. I know that there are members in the chamber who want to see the A75 renewed—Emma Harper is one of them—but, of course, the A75 runs solely through—[Interruption.] Presiding Officer, I will not be shouted down. [Interruption.] I have a loud enough voice not to be shouted down; that is a lesson for the Tories. The A75 runs entirely through Tory constituencies, so what is that about? It is about the Tories spending money on their own constituencies and trying to bypass the elected representatives of the Scottish people. That will not happen.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

What an interesting afternoon. The cabinet secretary was just talking about burning documents and books. I wonder whether he would like to burn copies of his past writings in “Grasping the Thistle”, in which he advocated the privatisation of the national health service and the civil service and advocated a new union. [Interruption.]

I ask the cabinet secretary whether the Lord Advocate will be making a statement on the legal implications of this move by Boris Johnson’s useless, incompetent and increasingly corrupt Government. Dennis Skinner once said that Boris Johnson was “educated beyond his intelligence”. Was he not right about that, and is it not a shame that not a single Tory has the principle or decency to stand up and condemn this utter stupidity?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I suppose that it was too much to think that I would get solidarity from Comrade Findlay. At the end of the day, that was not going to happen. I should probably say to him, in the words of a previous generation of British generals, there—I am gesturing at the Conservative members—is the enemy, not here. [Interruption.] He does not seem to know that.

Let me show a generosity that was not shown by Comrade Findlay. The legal implications of the bill are clear. We will bring forward those legal implications at the appropriate time and we will certainly deal with them when we consider the legislative consent motion.

As I have said to Mr Findlay on innumerable occasions in the chamber, page 5 of the introduction explains what the book is about. I am surprised that Mr Findlay has read it all but has deliberately ignored page 5. He does things in a very backward fashion.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in clauses 2 to 9, there is a grave risk of the baseline being far too low, in view of Scotland’s good environmental record and specifically in respect of the four EU environmental principles as well as the agriculture and food standards that members have highlighted? Does he agree that that is totally unacceptable and against our interests in trade, business and human health?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I know that Claudia Beamish takes a particularly strong interest in these matters. She is aware that if, for example, the Tory hostility to the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill was successful, those environmental principles would be out the window. The Tories do not wish the bill to pass for a variety of reasons, one of which is those environmental principles, to which this Government is committed.

I would gently disagree with her, however, as I do not think that the baseline is too low—there is no baseline. The moment that the bill is on the statute book, the power that I referred to will be given to the various secretaries of state to make any decisions that they want. It does not matter what is in the bill. It is like the illegality of the international part of it: it will all be swept away in the interests of Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party. That is another reason why we should resist the bill utterly and completely.

I am grateful for the member’s support. I will call her “Comrade Beamish” for that.