FOUR years ago I sent a group of Tory MPs into fits of apoplexy as I gave evidence to the House of Commons Brexit Trade Bill Committee. I told them that Brexit was incompatible with devolution and that to deliver Brexit would mean stripping the devolved parliaments of much of their vital powers. Those MPs either didn’t understand or were just not prepared for someone to point out that undeniable fact so early in the process.
Brexit isn’t about trade or immigration, freedom of movement, it certainly isn’t about saving money – it’s about power. A British nationalist political elite that believes without question they have the right to rule without deference to any other authority, because that’s how things worked in Britain’s heyday.
It’s a symptom of a sickness called exceptionalism, a belief system that misunderstands history, harks back to a rose-tinted view of what Britain used to be. Britain never partnered, it conquered, it didn’t trade, it extracted wealth from colonies, it didn’t help nations, it held them back so they couldn’t compete.
It’s why the UK still possesses nuclear weapons when it makes no sense economically nor in terms of modern defence requirements. It’s about projecting power, power that the UK no longer possesses, power that the rest of the world can ignore with impunity because it’s an illusion that only British nationalist politicians still seem to believe in.
Exceptionalism isn’t interested in fair democratic processes, they just want their way. Being an EU member required sharing power for the good of all members and they found that unacceptable. Sure that’s not how they sold Brexit, they blamed the ills of the nation on immigrants, interfering foreign powers and making the false equivalence of saving EU membership monies and spending it on the NHS (it was never a case of either/or). They talked about putting the Great back in Great Britain, knowing that a compliant press would help feed the beast and give them the power they desired.
Not that they have any real plans for using that power; exceptionalism requires no more than the belief that whatever they do must be right, by virtue of the fact that they decided to do it, so get all the power and the good old days must therefore return. If it doesn’t work, it simply must be the fault of someone or something else.
Now that they have experienced the devolved parliaments’ ability to challenge the overbearing centralisation of the UK Government and object to Brexit changes, the UK Government has decided that devolution is surplus to requirements. Brexit started as an exercise in seizing back powers from the European Parliament but, as I predicted all those years ago, has evolved (mutated) into an exercise in seizing Holyrood’s devolved powers.
The UK PM famously stated in leaked reports that “Devolution has been a ‘disaster’ and the biggest mistake made by Tony Blair”. Any institutional challenge to his clique’s divine right to rule cannot be permitted so devolution has to go, so does Channel 4, the BBC has to be threatened with a loss of funding to be brought into line, Union flags must fly everywhere, budgets must be controlled by the UK Government allowing Westminster to falsely claim the credit for money that would have been Scotland’s anyway but would be spent on projects that Scotland actually needs. They can’t close Holyrood but they can clip its wings.
The Welsh government (in an abject lesson to Labour in Scotland) has complained bitterly and explained that the UK Government not seeking devolved consent, whilst simultaneously seeking to legislate in devolved areas, could end the UK.
Brexit provides the cover Boris Johnson needs to undermine Scotland’s Parliament, simply because it consistently chooses a different path and promotes more inclusive values.
Scotland voted against Brexit, but England voted Leave, so Westminster can dismiss Scottish opinion and press ahead, massively damaging Scotland’s exporting, fishing and farming sectors and stripping the powers that the parliament could use to mitigate the damage of Westminster’s incompetence.
The devolved nations are no longer equal partners in the eyes of the UK Government but relegated to a similar status of a colony – which as I pointed out above is a complete misunderstanding of history.
Despite promises to the contrary Westminster blocked powers returning from the EU from going to Scotland through the UK Internal Market Bill, which substantially weakens the ability of the Scottish Parliament to manage devolved matters. Which amongst other things, empowers Westminster to subject the NHS in Scotland to “market access” principles, authorises the sale of controversial chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef in Scotland, and threatens the Scottish Government’s ability to ban materials and substances that could damage Scotland’s environment The key point is that Scotland’s control over its own NHS is clearly a power that cannot be tolerated by Westminster. The Health and Care Bill, announced under the guise of “supporting recovery from the pandemic”, will in reality make it easier for private healthcare providers to be awarded contracts, extracting profits from public healthcare, fragmenting and undermining the NHS in England.
If profit, not the quality of care, drives the English NHS and public fees and insurances are introduced, then it will generate lower public spending, meaning Scotland’s NHS budget from the UK is automatically cut – regardless of the NHS policies the Scottish Government follows.
Dismantling devolution will be the straw that breaks the Union’s back – Scotland’s government understands that in the modern interconnected and interdependent world, we must work with others, give up old-fashioned views on our place in the world, join international trading unions and seek to collaborate with others to address the great challenges of this century, especially climate change.
Sovereignty shared is sovereignty retained, but Scotland cannot exercise that sovereignty till it leaves the broken Union.
Westminster is actively undermining Holyrood, and independence will not save but significantly improve the Scottish Parliament’s ability to protect Scotland’s interests.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the chief executive of Business for Scotland and founder of the grassroots independence campaigning group Believe in Scotland