THE ENDGAME LOOMS....

When the late Donald Dewar and his team were drafting the original Scotland Act they came up with a formula for which powers would reside where which had an elegant simplicity: whatever powers were not specifically reserved to Westminster would be administered by Holyrood.  It's an arrangement which seems to have caused some of the Twitterati to fall victim to selective amnesia.  But it is at the very heart of what has been termed the "Westminster power grab" as the UK legislature attempts to take back control of various departmental fiefdoms from Brussells post Brexit and then devolve those which it sees fit - including some already previously devolved to Holyrood when it opened its doors in 1999.

All this was bad enough, but the stakes were raised further  when two other moves on the Brexit chessboard were made by Westminster.  Firstly they indicated that if no deal were done between themselves and Holyrood then they would take the latter to court to try and render invalid the recently passed Continuity Bill.  The latter was designed specifically to ensure that Holyrood's existing powers would continue post Brexit. So a piece of legislation passed by a democratically elected chamber in Scotland would be challenged  in the Supreme Court.

Worse was to come.  When the small print was revealed on Westminster's latest interpretation of the negotiations, it became clear that whether or not agreement was reached with the Scottish Government the UK variety would have the right to proceed in any case. Their way or the highway. And whatever they decreed would hold good for at least 7 years.

This was published just as the Welsh administration, which had been working alongside the Scottish one, suddenly caved in and agreed to sign up to the Withdrawal Bill, even though the contentious clause about clawing back devolved powers remained.  I have no inside track on this, but I'm assuming  the fact that the Labour leader of the Cardiff government simultaneusly stepped down was not co-incidental. Was he acting under orders from Labour bosses in London?  I just don't know.  But few other explanations make any kind of sense after the stand he had taken until now, including insisting that the Welsh  Continuity Bill was within his government's competence.

Scottish Labour greeted this news by suggesting that Brexit Secretary Michael Russell would also have signed up  but was stopped from doing so by Nicola Sturgeon. Even David Mundell did not endorse this version when questioned about it at the Scottish Select Committee in the Commons. But in any case, is that really the most salient point of all this?  As the always honourable Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm has pointed out, his party ought to be in the business of protecting the arrangment designed by their own colleagues in the run up to the first Labour/Lib Dem coalition 20 years ago.

There are several truths we should hold to be self evident. The most important is that Holyrood and every democrat within it should be ensuring that the parliament, and the people it serves, should not be shorn of its basic powers, especially by a UK administration which has proved serially inept, not to say mendacious. Further, they should remind themselves that the Scottish people voted Remain by a considerably greater margin than the Brexiteers managed UK wide.  The current Scottish government has a manifesto commitment to hold another referendum if circumstances materially alter "such as the Scottish people being taken out of Europe against their will."  

There are competing views about the timing and the wisdom of this. Mine is that we cannot afford to wait until the combined "talents" of Davis, Fox, Rees Mogg and co. wreck the economy. It also seems to me axiomatic that Brexit and the proposed annexation of Holyrood powers provide the maximum impetus to consult the Scottish people. Some argue that this is too risky - that a second No vote would kill off any future prospects. However,  having been around a wee whiley, I would remind folk of the hesitant persuasion that the same lack of sufficient positivity in 1979 left us waiting two decades for another chance. The real gamble with our future is to lie down and be rolled over by an increasingly desperate Westmininster which has spent 22 months getting precisely no Brexit ducks in a row.

Our parliament now has almost 20 years under its belt.  It is far from perfect, and it houses some members who are not the sharpest tools in the box. A sentence which could, however,  equally be written about the rather more venerable House of Commons, currently being given lessons in basic democracy by an unelected House of Lords.

But successive governments in Scotland have forged a very different path from London administrations. For all their faults, our health and education systems have not been blown off course by marketisation, privatisation and the whims of successive Secretaries of State. The current administration has just brought forward social security legislation which could not be more different from the punitive variety as practised by the DWP in England. And, before that, has had to shell out eye watering sums to try and mitigate the effects of outrages like the bedroom tax. ( We might add into the charge sheet the appearance in Holyrood of a Tory minister who explained that the obnoxious rape clause in new child benefit rules would provide a wonderful opportunity for victims of sexual assault to unburden themselves to benefit officials. Jeez!)

Unable to make our own decisions on immigration, we have had to watch the iniquitous practice of the UK Border Agency lock up families in former Scottish prisons, or forcing them on to planes. We have offered an unconditional welcome to our migrants from Europe and elsewhere, but have been powerless to prevent UK diktats which have seen the brightest and best would be graduates choose  America or Australia in ever greater numbers rather than endure an uncertain welcome and future in Britain. With  our limited powers we are unable to give guarantees to the migrants we need in all manner of industries from farming to bio-technology and tourism.

But we are at least trying to create a society which values social justice and inclusion rather than one which, as the Windrush scandal underlines, prefers to pander to the baser instincts of the more rabid tabloids.  Despite what my regular trollers seem to believe I am neither a member of a political party nor an apologist for one. I am, however, unapologetically persuaded that the only logical future for this nation is to shape its own future, and to de-couple itself from an increasingly nasty Westminster government where the official opposition seems to be going backwards in the polls despite the manifest ineptitude of the people on the other side of the dispatch box.

Carpe diem, whilst we still can.