The Principle of Consent
Actually, that’s not just a flip remark. “Take Back Control” worked so well as a slogan in the Brexit Referendum because it answered a very specific social and psychological need. For the English people to take back something they felt they’d lost. The globalised economy was felt to have robbed economic life of a sense of identity and purpose. The systematic destruction of the welfare state over the last thirty years had robbed people of a sense of “us”…the people “they” were supposed to look after. Brexit, ever more explicitly, is an English nationalist moment…and Scots should not be entirely surprised by it, or feel unconnected to many of the impulses behind it. After all, many Yes voters also voted to Leave. However, it is now becoming clear that a suppression of the qualified autonomy represented by the Scottish parliament is very much among the things that Brexit is “taking back control” of. Resentment of noisy jocks is absolutely smack dab at the centre of the agenda. This English National Moment is, in the usual confused way, mixed up with BRITISH hegemony. What the next few days and weeks will tell us is just how explicit the consequences of the English National Moment are for us…and whether this grotesque insult to the principles upon which we thought devolution were built is as accidental and unthinking, or a deliberate act of bureaucratic violence springing from the same poisonous source as the Windrush Scandal.
(Surely there can be no one left who thinks that this generation on West Indians were targetted by accident!)
“Clause 11, in particular would “adversely impact on the intelligibility and integrity of the devolution settlement” and was “a fundamental shift in the structure of devolution in Scotland”. Presiding Officer, let me focus on the precise words of the Committee Report for a second. What does it mean to say that the approach of the UK Government is “incompatible with the devolution settlement”? It means that clause 11 subverts the principles of that settlement – principles which have given the people of Scotland a stable and effective Parliament for nearly 20 years, supported by all parties in this place, and which have throughout that time secured good government under different administrations, and in response to many political challenges.
Notwithstanding the more benign language now being used, the effect of the UK Government’s latest proposals remains this: the Scottish Parliament’s powers could be restricted – for a period of up to seven years – without its consent. That is not something the Scottish Government could recommend the Parliament approves.”
– Mike Russell
The events of the last few days in Scotland and Westminster, and the provisions of the bill now published, are an absolute vindication of a simple proposition. You can have a unitary Brexit, or you can have effective devolved government. You cannot have both.
Brexit, as I’ve indicated, is an expression of English national feeling, which is hardly something in itself to criticise from a website that supporterd the Yes campaign in 2014. But it is taking the twisted form of a nostalgic resentment of 21st Century reality. Part of the Resentment of Empire is the visible…hence annoying…limited autonomy of the “regions.” The fact that all that was really “added” to the constitution in the late 1990s was a democratic element to a federalism that already existed…is neither here nor there. The Union settlement itself is a triviality in contemporary British politics. What matters is the irritation. All that matters politically is that the irritation be soothed or removed.
The Labour Party have now removed Wales from any future consideration as a stone in the pathway of a “Smooth Brexit.” And the voters of Wales will reap the harvest of obedience. But Wales at least VOTED for Brexit as well as devolution. Scotland voted decisively against Brexit and for at least a measure of democratic participation in specifically Scottish matters…such as agriculture, fishing and energy policy that were themselves partially devolved to EU coordination. Can those who devised that Parliament now act with the Tories to strip back that measure of democratic self government in the name of a Brexit that the country voted decisively against? On what possible grounds?
The Devolution settlement of 1997 is now untenable. It cannot survive Brexit. The alternatives are either an absorption into a unitary UK State that has never existed in this form before…(the Barnett Formula, for example, is unlikely to survive)…or fundamental re-negotiation. This may or may not be called “Independence.” , itself a very 20th Century term in a very different set of realities in the 21st Century. But be sure that unless Scotland remains as a “problem” for Brexit, Scotland will cease to exist politically in the UK except as a footnote. Any consideration of the needs of the people of Wales in the context of agricultural or regional policy is already fading into irrelevance. Everyone who supports devolution as a meaningful element of Scottish life HAS to stand firm with the Scottish Government, or face oblivion.
Just as a footnote, the influential Tory think tank, The Institute of Fiscal Studies has just reporterd that they see no future for the Barnett Formula after Brexit. Taking control of the portfolios coming back from Brussels is very much the thin end of the wedge. This is the essential context for the “deal” that WM has offered Scotland. If we take the deal, we are handing all control over ScotGov funding to Tory Government discretion. Not just a bit of it. All of it. Is that really okay with everyone except Nicola Sturgeon?
There are lots of things about Brexit we in Scotland can’t do anything about. If this point of principle is conceded on the Continuity Bill, there will be nothing we can do about any of it – which is precisely the idea. What we can and must do right now is defend the Devolution settlement itself…and hold accountable the Labour and Liberal MSPs whose predecessors designed it. Are they really happy to give it away for the slim chance of a Brexit supporting Corbyn government?
No wonder Carwyn Jones resigned as Welsh Labour Leader rather than countenance cancelling Devolution till we “sort” Brexit? A time frame of seven years “while they sort Brexit out” is a political eternity. Brexit is a car crash that can’t be sorted. Do we really just amble on with our heads in a light proof rubber sack till the Tories win a General Election in 2022?