The Brexit debate picked up pace during the last two weeks, mainly around the Parliamentary processes and procedures that should be followed to begin negotiations for the UK to leave the European Union – the so-called triggering of Article 50 by the UK Government.
Theresa May’s government was forced by a UK Supreme Court decision to allow the UK Parliament a say in the triggering of Article 50. In the course of the same decision the Court accepted the UK Government argument that, even though Brexit will have significant implications on matters and laws devolved to the Scottish Parliament, it did not need Scottish Parliament consent to proceed with Article 50.
Of course, this flies in the face of what is known as the Sewell Convention. This is an agreement between the Scottish and UK governments named after Lord Sewel, who was the Scotland Office minister in the Lords responsible for implementing the original Scottish Devolution bill in 1998. It provides that the UK Parliament may not legislate for devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish parliament.
Following the Smith Commission report, published after the 2014 Independence Referendum, the UK government agreed to put this “convention” on a statutory footing by incorporating it into the 2016 Scotland Act, which devolved some further powers to the Scottish Parliament.
It was implicit that this would apply to constitutional changes which might impact the legislative powers of the Scottish Parliament, which Brexit will certainly do.
However, at the first test of these assurances, the recent Supreme Court case, the UK government’s dishonesty on this was laid bare as they effectively argued that the Sewell Convention wasn’t really worth the paper it was written on and they had no need to give the Scottish parliament a say on the Brexit process, regardless of any impact on devolved areas.
So, despite Scotland voting overwhelmingly to remain, it is to be dragged out of the EU against its will with no say in the process, the direction of travel or, indeed, the outcome of any negotiations.
As if to underline the disrespect with which Scotland is being treated by Theresa May and her rabidly right wing Tory Ministers, absolutely no serious consideration has, or will, be given to the plan put forward by the Scottish Government to at least protect Scotland’s place in the European Single Market, which would protect our economy, jobs and workers’ rights.
There is also a concerted effort by the Establishment to effectively shut down and shut out Scottish input on this issue, as witnessed by the disgraceful scenes in the House of Commons during the Article 50 debates. Not one SNP amendment was accepted.
On the Second Reading of the Article 50 debate, contributions from the SNP, the third largest Party in the UK, were not taken until nearly seven hours into the debate and, even then the few who did get to speak had their time curtailed or, in the case of Joanna Cherry MP, abruptly and rudely cut off by the Chair.
When they did get to speak they faced a barrage of noise and jeering from the Tory and, sometimes, Labour benches. This included a Tory Knight of the Realm making barking noises at a female SNP MP.
It is astonishing that Scotland’s representatives at Westminster have to endure this level of bile and misogyny. It is to their credit that, despite the venomous atmosphere, they turn up in numbers to fight Scotland’s corner day and night.
By contrast, when the Scottish Parliament also considered the triggering of Article 50 last week, whilst the debate was robust, it was markedly more respectful. Yes, the Tories at Holyrood were, quite rightly, taken to task by all the other Parties for bringing Scotland to a situation that is not of our making.
Labour and the Lib Dems had a go at the SNP Government for keeping the option of Independence on the table whilst, at the same time, trying to get the UK Government to take seriously our compromise position of keeping Scotland in the single market and the UK.
Strong sentiments were voiced on all sides of the debate but there was no constant barrage of noise to contend with and certainly no animal noises directed at members who were speaking.
The Scottish Parliament voted by 90 votes to 34 against the UK Government triggering Article 50 until a UK wide approach is agreed. This acknowledges that, having voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU, Scotland’s voice must be represented in any negotiations and our position within the single market protected.
Significantly all but 3 Labour MSPs voted for the Scottish Government Motion, putting Scottish Labour at odds with the UK Labour Party who shamefully voted with the UK Government to trigger Article 50, despite amendments to protect the rights of EU residents and to safeguard the principles of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland being voted down by the Tories.
So, the clock is ticking down on the UK Government as they prepare to fire the starting gun on formal negotiations for the UK to leave the EU. Will there be an “agreed UK approach,” as promised by Theresa May? Will she seriously consider the compromise plan put forward by the Scottish Government to protect Scotland’s needs and interests in the UK Brexit process?
If, as is likely, the answer to both these questions is no, then time will have run out for the UK Government to make meaningful concessions and the people of Scotland will, once again, have the right to choose their future