Pages tagged with "devolution"

Media Watch - Unionists announce attack on Scotland’s Parliament

Those who have been warning that the UK government is planning to undermine and attack the powers of the Scottish Parliament got further confirmation this week from “lord” David Frost in a column in the Daily Telegraph.

Frost is an unelected member of the Westminster Parliament who has held several ministerial posts including that of Brexit Minister. Writing in the Telegraph, he said the time has come to “reverse” the process of devolution.

Scotland cannot protect its Parliament without independence

Despite never being elected, Frost has more power as a member of the UK Government to decide Scotland’s affairs than Scotland’s democratic representatives. 

There is nothing Scotland can do to protect the power of the Parliament without independence. 

Some democratic mandates are more equal than others

Frost and other Westminster Parliamentarians -  including members of the Labour Party - often trumpet their belief that a narrow victory in the Brexit referendum in England was a mandate for forcing a damaging hard Brexit on Scotland and the UK.

Yet, they do not acknowledge that devolution was brought into being by a huge majority at the referendum of 1997, when an astonishing 75% of voters voted “Yes” to the creation of a Scottish Parliament.

Holyrood is important to Scotland. Polling analysed by Professor John Curtice on “What Scotland Thinks” shows that a consistent 75% of Scots want Holyrood to control how Scotland is run. Only 14% think Westminster - where many more members are unelected than are elected - should control how Scotland is run. 

“It’s time to reverse the process [of devolution]”

Writing in the Telegraph, Frost said that the issues facing the SNP were an opportunity to roll back devolution. He added that he believes Labour leader Keir Starmer basically agrees with him, and will likely ignore Gordon Brown’s suggestions for greater devolution for Scotland. 

Frost wrote: "Not only must no more powers be devolved to Scotland, it’s time to reverse the process... Ministers should make clear that, if re-elected, they will review and roll back some currently devolved powers. In particular, Scotland does not need to be an independent actor on the world stage; it should not be able to legislate to disrupt free trade within the UK; and it does not need to have most tax-raising powers currently available to it."

Frost also praised Scottish Secretary Alister Jack for using a Section 35 order to clamp down on devolved powers - and said the UK government must be more 'assertive' in its attacks on devolution, arguing the UK Internal Markets Act "has not been used assertively as it should".

The Scottish Government is being stripped of even its limited autonomy

The Scottish Parliament is already under attack - the Internal Markets Act strips it of powers in even minor areas. For example, Holyrood can’t ban single-use wet wipes despite their environmental damage; it can’t put a deposit on bottles; it may well be prevented from raising the minimum unit price on alcohol despite evidence that this reduces alcohol deaths.

Before Brexit, the Scottish Parliament had a great deal of say over how restructuring funds from the EU were spent. Since then, the UK government decides how to spend that money. It has also reneged on its promise to replace that money, providing less than half. 

The UK government is coming in to fund projects as it sees fit without consultation - such as funding a bridge in Douglas Ross’ constituency. But how can Scotland develop a more coherent transport strategy - which is supposed to be entirely devolved -  if Westminster is funding projects in Scotland based on its own, different, criteria?

The Scottish Parliament has also already been prevented from fully implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - essentially because the UK Government doesn’t want refugee children to have the same human rights as others. 

The UK does not recognise any sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament or people

The Supreme Court has ruled that in the UK, all sovereignty resides at Westminster - contradicting Scotland’s long and proud tradition that sovereignty rests ultimately with the people. 

They think that it does not matter that the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly to have a Scottish Parliament after long years of campaigning and struggle. It has no legal sovereignty - Westminster has only lent it powers that it can take back at any time. 

Given that Frost and other members of the UK Parliament believe that unelected “peers” have the right to overrule the Scottish Parliament’s elected representatives, their commitment to democracy is questionable. 

The choice is simple: independence protects Scottish democracy while remaining in this failing union will diminish our abilities to make decisions for the benefit of Scotland.  


Westminster's Section 35 block on Scottish law fundamentally undermines UK democracy

The UK Government has decided to block the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, despite the legislation falling under devolved competence. A move which Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said will almost certainly end up in court.  As we have been predicting, this is a worrying intensification of Westminster’s efforts to undermine devolution and reduce Scotland’s political autonomy.

Make no mistake: this is a political crisis for the UK and it’s one of Westminster's own making because no Westminster party has ever truly been committed to making devolution work.  Of course, they defined devolution working as stopping the inevitable rise in support for Scottish independence and in those terms, it has been an abject failure for the Union.  Devolution has been immensely popular with voters and where devolution has worked is in the Scottish Government's acting to mitigate some of the worst impacts of Westminster austerity, spending more of its budget on social care and Scotland’s NHS (roughly £100 per head) and the abolition of student fees. Where it has been a failure for Scotland is the fact that devolution within the UK comes with the continued failed economic mantra of Laissez-faire capitalism, the recent watering down of anti-casino-banking rules, political corruption and of course, being able to do nothing about the unmitigated disaster that Brexit represents. 

Devolution may have opened the door for the SNP to prove that they are able to run a country differently and with more soul and care for the people. Now that they are supported by the Greens in a majority Scottish Government, they have an unanswerable mandate for change and that is infuriating Wesminsters failing self appointed elites.  In 2017, when giving evidence to the Westminster trade Committee, I (GMK) explained that ‘Devolution was incompatible with Brexit’. I have been proven right many times over and now as both the Tories and Labour have lurched to the right to fight over the xenophobic Brexit vote the Union has become incompatible with Scotland, incompatible with democracy and incompatible with the values of the ordinary Scottish people.

Whether you like it or not, a majority Scottish Government has the mandated right to call an independence referendum; whether you like it or not, it has a mandated right to pass its Gender Recognition Reform legislation. Blocking these moves amounts to nothing more than an assault on democratic principles.  

Westminster enacted Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, a previously unused mechanic which has been described by political commentators as the ‘nuclear option’. Section 35 allows the Scottish Secretary of the UK Government to intervene with the passing of a devolved bill if it is believed to adversely affect the operation of reserved matters, that is, areas outside the remit of the devolved government. Despite having years to make amendments and consult with the Scottish Government, the current Conservative Scottish Secretary Alister Jack instead used Section 35 to block the GRR Bill. Translated - essentially, the UK Government is blocking this bill because they don’t like it, which sets a dangerously antidemocratic precedent.

This ruling comes hard on the heels of the UK Supreme Court’s recent move to block a second Scottish independence referendum, as well as an extension to challenges to devolved legislation such as the Rights of the Child Convention. Today the UK Government will push ahead with its regressive Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill which will remove all the mostly eminently sensible EU-derived legislation from the statute book by the end of the year. It's almost as if they thought Brexit isn't going as well as it should because there were still too many protections for exporters and that the food and drink industry needed a harder Brexit.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the first use of Section 35 is to limit a bill which had caused division in both the pro-independence camps. It is a clear divide and rule tactic with Westminster hoping for a muted response due to the nature of the policy involved. Regardless, the bill was approved by two-thirds of MSPs gaining votes from five different political parties. This included the current leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar and former leader Richard Leonard, as well as the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Jackson Carlaw.

This move sets a worrying precedent for how Westminster responds to bills passed by Holyrood in the future. We have to ask what else a UK Government which is politically opposed, hostile even, to the majority elected current Scottish Government might also move to restrict. This does not just undermine devolution but also threatens the tenets of Scottish democracy. 

Finally, regardless of anyone’s opinion of the GRR Bill, it is important to ask: will the UK Government really stop here? What happens if Wesminster blocks legislation on devolved healthcare? On education? On the environment? This ruling exposes a fundamental flaw of devolution as an expression of self-determination - one where it can be overridden when the central government feels like it, especially when they diverge from the devolved government. 

Until Scotland is fully independent, its political autonomy will always be under threat. New Labour are back: Starmer has moved the UK party to the right of Thatcher and is big into Brexit and refuses to defend the blocking of a bill that was supported by 18 out of his party’s 22 elected representatives in the Scottish Parliament. He offers no alternative even for voters of Labour in Scotland. Independence is normal and completely compatible with democracy and the clear desire of the Scottish people to rejoin the EU.

The UK Gov's Crime Against Democracy - suppressing Scottish votes

As the candidates for the next Prime Minister continue to voice more and more extreme right-wing priorities thats are out of step with the vast majority of Scottish voters, speculation rises that there could be a general election within the next few months. But if that were to happen, almost one in ten voters could be stopped from casting their ballots.

The UK Government’s own research suggests 9% voters don’t have suitable id - that is much higher than was previously thought. Previous estimates were about 2.5%.  Low-income and marginal groups are more likely to be affected. 

This situation could significantly damage the cause of Scottish independence by unfairly suppressing the vote from areas and groups of people who are more likely to support independence. It could also hand a massive electoral advantage to the Conservatives. 

The UK Government forced through the Electoral Act requiring people to present photo id at the polling booth, ignoring the fact the Scottish Parliament did not consent to it and that many experts said it could damage democracy in the UK.

Government phone survey finds 9% without acceptable photo ID

The Cabinet Office commissioned a survey earlier this year that found only 85% of people in the UK have multiple forms of ID. While 91% of respondents said they have a passport, the surveying company pointed out that a phone survey struggles to reach underrepresented groups such as the homeless and even this could be an underestimate. 

Voter ID card legislation three months late

Most countries where photo id is demanded at the voting booth also issue free ID cards. The UK does not. The Act said that voting cards would be created and made freely available - but the legislation to create them has been delayed. It is three months behind schedule.

A spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up said : ‘It is the government’s expectation that all the measures in the Elections Act will be implemented during the lifetime of this parliament. The Voter Card system will be in operation in good time ahead of voter identification being required at polls.” He cited earlier research from the survey above, which he claimed showed only 2% of voters without ID. 

The Electoral Commission is toothless

The Electoral Commission has written to the new Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Greg Clarke, requesting an urgent meeting. It pointed out that the delay in creating voter ID cards was a cause for concern. But there is nothing the Electoral Commission can do to ensure that the UK’s elections are free and fair. 

A spokesperson said: “The Electoral Commission is responsible for enforcing the law, but not for making it”.  A report said the Act risks damaging trust in the UK’s electoral system, instead of protecting it. 

The Electoral Commission no longer has the power to enforce election law

The Elections Bill also removed the power to prosecute people who break electoral law from the Commission. In future, it will be up to the various police services to decide if a breach of electoral law should be prosecuted. The law also does not allow EU citizens who settled in the UK before Brexit to have a vote in general elections. 

The Scottish Parliament is powerless to create voter ID cards

Arrangements for general elections come under the rule of Westminster and so these rules will apply to Scottish voters when they vote on MPs. 

The Scottish Government could issue its own cards - but they won’t be recognised at polling stations unless the law says they should be and that power rests with the UK Government, as far as general elections go. 

Research shows onerous registration puts voters off

Even if the UK Government does pass the required legislation to create voter ID cards, if people have to go through a bureaucratic process with their local authority, research shows it will put them off voting and reduce turn out. 

Over 60s bus passes acceptable - but not matriculation cards

The new law has been criticised for other kinds of unfairness - it accepts over 60s bus passes - but not student id cards or young person railcards or bus passes. Over 60s are significantly more likely to vote against independence and for right wing candidates.

The Wikipedia entry on the Act reads: "The act was criticised for permitting as acceptable voter identification "an Older Person’s Bus Pass, an Oyster 60+ Card, a Freedom Pass", while not allowing 18+ student Oyster cards, national railcards, or student ID cards. An amendment in the House of Lords to list these as accepted forms of voter identification was rejected by the Conservative government.” Legislation to create free voter id cards has been delayed.

There was no significant electoral fraud in the UK

What were the motives for passing this law? Protecting democracy against fraud was given as a reason - but that does not stand up to scrutiny. There is little evidence of serious voter fraud in UK elections. Between 2015 to 2019, during which three general elections were held and 153 million in-person votes cast, only 88 allegations were made of voter fraud. Between 2010 and 2018, there were just two convictions for voter fraud.

A few percentage points can swing a seat

Just a couple of percentage points can make a difference  - for example in Moray and in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine the majority for the Conservatives in the 2019 election was under 1,000 votes and in Dumfries and Galloway, Alister Jack's majority was less than 2,000. According to recent polling by Electoral Calculus, all the Conservative MPs Scottish seats are at risk, with the potential for them all to be lost.

In addition, it is likely that the next general election will be fought in Scotland on the single issue of independence. Disenfranchising large swathes of voters could make a significant difference in vote share.

Conclusion - a crime against democracy

It seems clear that the the new Elections Act risks disenfranchising many, many people. If voter ID cards are not made available  soon, that number will be even higher.  There is a question mark over the reasons for forcing through the elections act. There is no evidence of significant fraud. The Electoral Commission has also been weakened and has no power to enforce rules or to ensure elections are free and fair. Being careless with the votes of the electorate - or deliberately suppressing them is a crime against democracy. 

Ten ways the UK Government is undermining Scotland’s devolution

Since the Brexit vote, Westminster has been determined to take back control - of Scotland. It wants to go back to an old version of the power relationship that predates the era of both countries joining the EU. It is tearing up the agreed legal framework that was established on the basis of the 1997 referendum where devolution was supported by 75% of voters

Without consultation or consent, the UK Government is making highly political and ideological changes. Instead of standing by the convention that it should not interfere in devolved areas, the Westminster government sees itself as the owner of Scotland’s sovereignty - and it regards the Scottish Parliament as having none. Therefore it can do whatever it pleases to Scotland.

Ten ways the UK Government is undermining devolution

#1 A hard Brexit was forced on Scotland without consent

The referendum on EU membership delivered an incredibly strong Remain result (62%) in Scotland. The four governments in the UK initially agreed a process that committed them to working together in EU negotiations. This could have provided an opportunity for the views of the Scottish electorate to be taken into account and for consideration of a compromise proposal, something like the Northern Ireland protocol.  In practice, however, the form of Brexit – with the UK leaving the European Single Market and Customs Union as well as the European Union – reflected solely the views of a hardline group of English MPs, the ERG who lead the UK Government. 

#2 The UK Government’s “Brexit Freedoms Bill” - means the freedom of Westminster to do whatever it wants to Scotland

Many of the laws we take for granted, from workers' rights to consumer protection are written into UK law as part of EU laws. The Brexit Freedoms Bill will tear those up - it will effectively give the UK Government so-called Henry the Eighth powers to amend these at will without the usual Parliamentary process for making new laws. It means there could be a race to the bottom with a bonfire, not of red tape, but of citizens’ rights. 

#3 The Internal Markets Act was forced on Scotland

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 made it illegal for any divergence between the different nations of the UK when it comes to trade. That means that even a small change by the Scottish Government - like putting a 10p deposit on glass bottles is automatically deemed illegal. It would require a specific exemption in the UK act for Holyrood to do that. The Act had to be amended last month to allow Scotland to ban cotton buds, which can end up in the ocean. That is a big change from the previous devolution settlement. Holyrood did not consent to this Act but it was pushed through anyway. 

#4 The UK’s increasingly-lax environmental standards and rights will be forced on Scotland

One example is the UK government is already planning to water down the regulatory requirements on key chemicals, and experts say the UK’s rules are now trailing the EU. One example is glyphosate - Roundup - which research suggests disrupts the immune systems of honeybees making them more vulnerable to colony collapse. It is likely to be banned in the EU but remain legal in the UK. Because of the Internal Markets Act, it would require a specific legal exemption by Westminster for Scotland to effectively ban toxic chemicals from being sold north of the border. 

#5 The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was partly struck down

Another example is the incorporation of the UN Rights of the Child into Scottish law. This was passed unanimously by Holyrood. England doesn’t recognise these rights - in part because they would apply to child refugees. As a result, it took the Scottish Government to court and struck out several provisions of this internationally agreed convention. In the course of this case, the UK Supreme Court ruled that all of the sovereignty of UK democracy rests with Westminster - the Scottish Parliament has effectively no protection in the courts - despite the massive majority of Scottish people who voted ‘Yes’ to devolution. 

#6 “Leveling up” means avoiding the scrutiny of Scotland’s elected representatives

The UK Government has defined a series of “leveling up missions” covering devolved matters – such as education, health and justice -  without the agreement of the devolved governments and has indicated it does not intend to seek consent, or even consult them over its plans.  

The UK Government also took on new powers to spend money in devolved areas that had been removed from them in 1999. Scotland has received just 3.5% of all Leveling Up funding, despite having 8.2% of the population”. The leveling up funding being distributed by the UK Government fall far short of the funding streams Scotland received from the EU, for infrastructure, remote area support,  investment in science research and more. 

This is underlined by a “UK Infrastructure Bank”, being set up to bypass the devolution settlement

The UK Government’s legislative programme announced in May 2022 includes Bills for a UK Infrastructure Bank with powers to spend directly in devolved areas, without even checking  these decisions respect the priorities of the Scottish Parliament in areas for which it is responsible.   

#7 If the UK Government secures a trade deal with the US that may impact the NHS in Scotland

Ongoing trade talks between the UK and the US include access to health data. There have also been fears that US pharmaceutical companies are seeking access to the NHS in any deal. That could impact prices for new and old drugs. Holyrood would not have the power to say no to such deals and the gradual privatisation of the NHS will impact negatively on Scotland's health budget.

The UK Government has made it clear it will not hesitate to override devolution within the context of international trade deals. A clause protecting the NHS from being on the table in trade negotiations was removed from the Trade Act.

#8 Lack of protection for Scotland’s iconic food and drink brands in the UK government’s negotiated trade deals. 

The UK Government does not consult Scotland over the impact of trade deals on Scotland, even though Scotland is responsible for a third of the UK’s food and drink exports.  The EU recognises 15 protected geographic indicators for food and drink from Scotland - they are special food categories that belong to all the producers in a specific area - like “Shetland lamb” or “Scottish salmon”. Australia does not have these for food, though it has some for wine. Other legal ways to protect iconic brands, like Scotch whisky are expensive and complicated. The document produced by the UK Government on the Australia deal makes clear there is no current protection for Scotland’s food PGIs. This template will be rolled over to other countries such as the USA and represents a problem for Scotland’s high-quality food producers, who could be undercut by people piggybacking on the brand and any promotion. 

#9 The Elections Act 2022 demanding photo id to vote is being forced on Scotland 

The Scottish Parliament refused to consent to the Elections Act but nevertheless, it will cover the general election rules. The UK government's own research suggests that 9% of voters do not have eligible identification. It disproportionately affects those on low incomes. A report said the Act risks damaging trust in the UK’s electoral system, instead of protecting it. Legislation to create free voter id cards has been delayed.

The Wikipedia entry on the Act reads:

"The act was criticised for permitting as acceptable voter identification "an Older Person’s Bus Pass, an Oyster 60+ Card, a Freedom Pass", while not allowing 18+ student Oyster cards, national railcards, or student ID cards. An amendment in the House of Lords to list these as accepted forms of voter identification was rejected by the Conservative government.”


#10 The Vow to maintain the Barnett Formula is being broken

In 2014, the “Vow” that contributed to winning the referendum for the Union included an express commitment to maintaining the Barnett formula. Over time, Barnett gradually reduces Scotland’s budget share anyway. It is based on a per head population count and does not recognise the huge assets Scotland shares with the UK in terms of food and energy production, or the different costs of a more dispersed population in a large area, or the issue of peripherality for the Highlands and Islands, as the EU does.  But even that promise is being broken - the Scottish Parliament’s budget is being cut. Money such as the Leveling Up money is being unfairly distributed - Scotland’s share of that should be handed over to Holyrood. The Scottish Fiscal Commission confirmed in December that: “Overall the Scottish Budget in 2022-23 is 2.6 percent lower than in 2021-22. After accounting for inflation the reduction is 5.2 percent.”  That number will be significantly higher now. 


Far from the promises of the 2014 referendum campaign of ‘lead us don’t leave us’, the UK Government has embarked on a a very different course. Rather than consulting with Scotland’s elected representatives - be they in Westminster or Holyrood, the UK Government treats them with growing contempt. It does not recognise any sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament. Despite the fact it has a handful of MPs and relies on proportional representation to get less than a quarter of the seats at Holyrood, the UK Government intends to bend Scotland to its will.