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by Louise Wilson
14 June 2023
Angus Robertson: UK Government ‘rolling back’ Holyrood powers

The Scottish Government has published a paper titled 'devolution since the Brexit referendum'

Angus Robertson: UK Government ‘rolling back’ Holyrood powers

Angus Robertson, Scotland's constitution secretary, has accused the UK Government of “rolling back” the powers of the Scottish Parliament as the Scottish Government publishes a paper saying recent moves by Westminster have “eroded devolution”.

The two governments have been at loggerheads in recent months over the UK Government’s decision to block reforms to the gender recognition process and Scotland’s now-delayed deposit return scheme.

The Scottish Government’s paper points to other areas which it claims “obstruct the democratic choices made by the Scottish Parliament”, including the risk of protections inherited from the EU being repealed and the legal challenge to the legislation to bring the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law.

The paper goes on to say the UK Government is “taking decisions on devolved areas”, including setting policy targets and spending money directly in Scotland rather than going through Holyrood first.

But the UK Government said it wanted to work "collaboratively and constructively" with Scottish ministers to deliver on "the priorities that matter to people in Scotland".

Robertson said: “The Scottish Parliament was set up because people in Scotland voted for it, but the Westminster government is rolling back on that democratic process.

“Under the cover of Brexit, they are imposing direct Westminster rule by stealth and curtailing the ability of the parliament to take decisions for the benefit of people in Scotland. What we have seen so far is the thin edge of the wedge.”

The paper highlights that before the Brexit referendum, the UK Government had never legislated in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament – through the legislative consent memoranda mechanism – but it has now done so on nine occasions.

The Sewel Convention says the UK Government will “not normally” legislate in devolved areas without the consent of devolved administrations.

One bill pushed through Westminster without receiving the consent of Holyrood or Wales’s Senedd was the Internal Market Act 2020.

This has prevented the rollout of Scotland’s deposit return scheme this August, as Scottish ministers were required to seek an exemption to that Act which the UK Government said it would only provide if glass were removed from the scheme.

The paper goes on the say the UK government’s has “blocked” legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack moved earlier this year to prevent the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from becoming law, owing to concern about its impact on the UK-wide Equality Act. This was done by making a section 35 order, which he is entitled to do under the Scotland Act where there are concerns that Scottish bills would impact UK legislation.

The Scottish Government also criticises the UK Government for taking it to court over the UNCRC Bill. The Supreme Court ruled in October 2021 that the legislation impacted Westminster’s ability to make laws for Scotland, and therefore went beyond the powers of Holyrood.

Publication of the paper follows First Minister Humza Yousaf warning devolution was becoming “unworkable”.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government is delivering on the priorities that matter to people in Scotland and making devolution work for them.”

“There is a huge amount to be done - continuing to tackle the cost of living, halving inflation and growing Scotland’s economy. This is where our focus should be, not constantly debating the constitutional settlement.

“We want to work collaboratively and constructively with the Scottish Government, as demonstrated by positive joint working on crucial programmes of work, like growing the Scottish economy through our City and Growth Deals and Green Freeports.”

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