UNISON conference this week debates many issues. A motion from Scotland on Exiting the EU and Devolution is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday afternoon. This is a contribution to the discussion.
The decision to leave the EU is the most important decision the people of the UK have ever made. Well 51% of the people. And 2 of the nations of the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.
Some would argue, of course, the most important decision the people of Scotland have made was to stay in the UK. Well 55% of us.
In both referenda, on Europe and Independence, the respective electorates were divided. In both cases majority rule and the decision is made.
However the government entrusted with implementing these decisions has to respect the views not just of the majority but take on board the concerns of the substantial minority.
When Scotland voted No to independence it was on the basis of promises – a much trumpeted Vow in fact, signed by the leaders of the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem parties, often referred to as the Unionist parties, that said that the Scottish Parliament could not be weakened, that the devolution settlement was irreversible, that more powers would come to the Scottish Parliament to make it the most powerful devolved legislature in the world.
Scotland was told that we were equal partners in the UK.
After the indy referendum legislation was passed to indeed increase the powers of the Parliament, including greater tax raising powers, powers to create a Scottish social security system, and more. UNISON Scotland argued for more powers but there was a substantial shift.
In spirit and in practise, respecting the promises to the 55% and the 45%.
We were also promised that by voting to remain in the UK was the only way for Scotland to stay in Europe!
However the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU. And this result was based on a number of promises – many of which we know are not going to be delivered.
However one of these was to take power to make decisions back to Parliament.
What this government is doing is in contempt of this promise. Far from powers being restored to Parliament they are being given to the Executive – a power grab from Parliament to the Government.
And a power-grab from the devolved national parliaments to Westminster.
We see this in relation to Northern Ireland and how the small matter of the Good Friday agreement, is treated, well as a small matter. A matter, in truth, that those in support of Brexit never gave a thought to during the referendum campaign.
In Scottish terms, a power-grab that is a complete reversal from the Vow which promised and delivered more powers to Scotland. Instead we see Westminster, and by that I mean the Executive, taking devolved powers away from Scotland, and Wales and Northern Ireland, for up to 7 years.
Suddenly devolution, we are learning, is reversible.
There is a case for ensuring that in the UK, outside of Europe, that we avoid causing barriers within the new single UK market, that different laws passed in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast don’t create the need for border controls within the UK.
Everyone gets that. That was always an issue within the devolved nature of UK governance.
However a fundamental to the ‘equal partnership within the UK’ principle was that CONSENT would be sought and agreed on such issues. That where the House of Commons needed to make decisions that impacted on devolved powers that this was done by consent, that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish bodies would consent to Westminster legislating in these circumstances.
This is not about devolved powers being taken back to London. It is Parliaments agreeing where it was appropriate to allow Westminster to legislate.
Powers that are being repatriated from Europe in areas that are devolved should go to the devolved parliaments and then agreements between parliaments reached to resolve the issues that this may create.
The government of Theresa May has thrown this whole issue of consent, of the relationship between parliaments, and the people they represent, out of the window.
The Scottish Parliament, all the parties represented there with the exception of the Tories, refused to give consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill. It was debated for a long time in Scotland.
It was agreed by a large majority that the power-grab that the EU Withdrawal Bill represented was not acceptable and that consent would not be given.
A position supported by UNISON Scotland, the STUC and most people in Scotland, both pro and anti-independence.
The decision of the Tories to not even allow a debate on this in Parliament, 15 minutes was given to this part of the Bill and no Scottish MP was able to speak on it, demonstrated nothing but further contempt for parliamentary democracy, the devolution settlement and the people of Scotland.
David Mundell, the Tory Scottish Secretary, who has no real reason to exist, said this week that Scotland is not a partner of the UK Parliament we are merely a part of the UK. Various commentators have wondered why Scotland thinks it is any different from the likes of Manchester.
Manchester is a great city but it is not a nation and devo-Manc is not a devolved parliament and the most powerful devolved legislature in the world. And if people in power don’t get that then Indy ref 2 will be hastened along sooner than most of us think.
If you are one of the 45% of Scots who voted for independence this just confirms your view that the Westminster parliament is corrupt.
If you are one of the 55% who voted to stay in the UK then this substantially shakes the democratic premise on which you voted to do so.
No matter what you think of the SNP MPs walking out of Parliament, genuine protest at undemocratic actions by government or self-publicity stunt, the actions of the Tories in railroading this issue through parliament are of concern to all those who worry that the Brexit future we are facing is one that is based on a diminishing of devolution, and democracy itself.
We as a union must stand up against this.
Please support the motion.