Scottish Devolution and Article 50

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:45 pm on 15th March 2017.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development) 4:45 pm, 15th March 2017

My apologies, Mr Gray; nevertheless, the pleasure remains. As my hon. Friend Deidre Brock said, the circumstances in which we are having the debate have changed somewhat, following the First Minister’s announcement on Monday about the Scottish Government’s decision to seek a section 30 order. I pay tribute to the ever-ready House of Commons Library, which nevertheless managed to capture that announcement in its briefing note just before it went to press.

I will look briefly at the principles behind the debate and some of the practical implications for us in the House and beyond. For me, there are two key principles behind the devolution settlement. The first is the claim of right for Scotland, which we have discussed in this Chamber before. It is the concept of popular sovereignty. The 1989 claim of right was the basis of the constitutional convention and the current devolution settlement. It said:

“We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs”.

That claim still stands today, and it was asserted on 23 June 2016, when the people of Scotland said that they wanted to remain in the European Union. That claim was passed by the constitutional convention in 1989 and was again agreed by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, but is the principle of the claim now under threat from the Conservative Government? The Tories have never been clear about whether they endorsed that principle in the first place, and it appears even more under threat now, especially if the Prime Minister tries to block or delay the requested potential independence referendum in Scotland.

The second key principle, enshrined in the Scotland Act 1998, is that whatever is not reserved is devolved. As we all know, schedule 5 to the Act is clear about what is reserved: defence, foreign affairs, social security and aspects of trade and energy. There have been some derogations in those areas over the years, but anything that is not mentioned in schedule 5 to the 1998 Act is therefore devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Climate change is a very good precedent for that. When the UK Parliament decided it wanted to legislate on climate change emissions, responsibility fell to the Scottish Parliament to make legislative provision in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament took it upon itself in 2009 to pass some world-leading climate change legislation, which was some of the most ambitious anywhere in the world. It seems now that the principle of what is not reserved being therefore devolved is also under threat. We have certainly had ambiguous answers from Ministers to date.