Once upon a different time I had this notice tacked to my office door: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” The government in London would have you believe that Scottish concerns about emasculating Holyrood is no more than tartan paranoia. Merely “confecting” another political grievance.
Let us examine this “grievance”. The plans are to make a UK internal market a legal entity post Brexit, when we are all finally dragged out of the European single market. Under which new law any legislation Holyrood intended to pass would be subject to a test as to its impact on the UK market. And, just in case you miss the point about whose market is it anyway, there will be an unelected, oversight body to get us telt what we can and can’t legislate for.
A parliament that can’t pass its own laws, a parliament which is subject to unsolicited external scrutiny, is no longer a parliament. Which is, of course, the point of all this. The architect of this smash and grab is one, Michael Gove, a nominal Scot for whom the term sleekit might have been invented.
The direction of current polling, not just in terms of the increasing appetite for independence, but in the widening gulf between how electors view the FM and the PM, has got not a few Tories a mite rattled. They console themselves with the thought that an 80 strong majority and a four year stretch till the next UK election gives them ample time to rid themselves of this troublesome parliament.
If anything has been “confected” of late it’s the nonsensical suggestion about there being no Scotland/England border. You might have thought this a typically blustering throwaway line from a Prime Minister increasingly drowning not waving at his weekly question time. Then along came the ever more ludicrous Rees Mogg to repeat the calumny and, as the yanks say, double down on it.
Now JR-M knows a fair bit about borders. He knows that if you move operations from London to Dublin you get to stay in the EU with all the fiscal benefits thereof. He knows if you also headquarter offshore, his very tidy profits are outwith the grasp of the UK taxman. The Leader of the House wouldn’t recognise a scruple if it leapt up and bit him on his pinstriped bum.
So all this border brouhaha is merely a prelude to dismantling the powers of any legislature liable to interfere with whatever shoddy trade deal Westminster cooks up from next January. Imagine, if you will, pinning your hopes on doing a profitable deal with The Donald, a man with a whim of iron.
Or let’s suppose the USA has a late attack of common sense and chucks him out.
Do not think for a nano second that Uncle Jo Biden will be a septuagenarian pushover. The powerful farming and pharmaceutical lobbies, to name but two, have already cast greedy eyes across the pond. We hear a lot about the dangers of chlorinated chicken, hormone boosted beef etc. Let’s not forget that behind those dubious products – which cause massively more sickness – lie the kind of appalling animal welfare standards which the EU fought so hard against.
We don’t want or need to revert to battery hens, jumbo indoor cattle factory “farms”, crated calves, and imprisoned pigs. Yet if we allow unfettered access to our marketplace from the US not only will it impact on human and animal wellbeing, but it will undercut our own farmers.
In a post Brexit, post Corvid economic landscape too many consumers will be in no position to be fussy if the price is right. Meanwhile big Pharma has made no bones about wanting to get its mitts on NHS contracts, thus inflating the price our already strapped health care sector pays for essential drugs.
Make no mistake, this is crunch time for our 21 year old parliament. If we cannot protect it from this naked attempt to put it out of any meaningful business, then the game is well and truly a bogey.
So what to do? For starters we have to nail the lie that Scotland is not a sovereign nation in its own right. People are wont to point to the original Scotland Act as evidence that the constitutional buck stops in Westminster. The bit of that early legislation about which they have selective amnesia is that it declared every area bar defence, foreign affairs and macro economics was devolved to Holyrood. It slips their mind too that any Commons legislation which would impact on devolved matters had to be ratified by Holyrood before it held sway in Scotland.
Gove has been trying to chip away at the very foundation stones of this settlement for a very long time. Remember his wheeze about wanting to bypass Holyrood and directly fund in already devolved areas? Remember his wanting to make sure this had a Made in London label attached? And let’s not forget all those empty promises about protecting farmers and animal welfare standards. As I say, sleekit to a fault.
We have to recognise that we are in an existential end game here whose importance and dangers have been masked by the urgent need to deal with the pandemic. The suggestion that the Scottish Government is trying to drive a wedge between itself and London is the polar opposite of what is actually happening in less than plain sight.
That Gove and Co are little more than a wrecking crew is only too obvious from the way they’ve botched and sabotaged the Brexit negotiations. What is less well understood is that they they want to shaft Scotland too. Witness how they first bought off, and then royally screwed the Northern Ireland administration. NI chose to cosy up to the Tory government and got swallowed by it. There is now a border in the middle of the Irish Sea which the PM repeatedly declared was a fantasy. Fake news.
There is little point in having a steady 54% of Scots with an appetite for independence if we have a gelded parliament incapable of pressing home the case for it.
First published in The National 7.7.20