The Tory power grab risks 111 Scottish Parliament powers

Twenty years ago, people across Scotland were celebrating the referendum result which restored a Scottish Parliament.

But today the founding principles of the devolution settlement which people voted for so overwhelmingly in 1997 are endangered as never before.

That is because the Conservatives’ Brexit plans, as currently drafted, propose to take powers in relation to devolved policy areas in Scotland to Westminster.

The EU Withdrawal Bill contains provisions for the wholesale transfer of powers from Brussels to London – including in devolved policy areas such as farming and fishing.

That demolishes the principle outlined by Donald Dewar in framing Holyrood’s remit, which made clear that everything should be devolved to Edinburgh except those powers explicitly reserved to Westminster.

The Tories’ approach also means that if powers over things like agriculture are not returned from Brussels to Scotland – as they should be – then Scottish ministers will be prevented from making any changes to current EU law in these areas, while Westminster will be able to change the law for England.

That would be a backward step, throwing the whole process of devolution into reverse.

For example, we do not believe that the hill farmers of Argyll, in my constituency, would be better served by policy on less favored area support being made in London, where such support will never be needed and where knowledge of its vital nature is scant or non-existent.

We do not believe that ambitions for a greener Scotland should be undermined by UK ministers who have very different environmental priorities and who have championed de-regulation at every opportunity.

And we do not believe that the needs of Scottish families in crisis will be better understood by a Tory government which has constantly undermined the welfare state.

The EU Withdrawal Bill appears to represent a deliberate decision by the Conservatives to use Brexit as cover for a naked power grab. In total, the areas which could be affected runs to a list of 111 powers – and that is a list we will publish soon.

We are not alone in our view – Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister of Wales, has made clear his government shares our position.

And there is independent confirmation from the Law Society of Scotland, which last week commented that the UK Government’s Brexit plans would “remove the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament” in areas including agriculture and fishing.

Yesterday, I made clear to Parliament we will not recommend that MSPs give consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill as it stands. And I was heartened at the indications of wide cross-party support.

This is a matter which goes beyond party politics to the core of Scottish democracy, and I believe Holyrood should be as united as possible in opposing the removal of powers which people voted for so overwhelmingly two decades ago.

This article originally appeared in the National.