Deputy First Minister John Swinney says "the UK is not a partnership of equals"
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has warned that the UK Government’s Internal Market Act “exposes the fact… that the United Kingdom is not a partnership of equals”.
Speaking at a virtual event for the Institute for Government, Swinney said that the act gives the UK Government powers to decide how public funds are spent in devolved policy areas such as education, culture and sport, as well as threatening devolved legislation such as the ban on single-use plastic items.
The Deputy First Minister said: “The Internal Market Act imposes a rigid system, with very limited exceptions, and with no consideration of the UK’s inbuilt constitutional and economic imbalances.
“It is the assertion of centralising political power in the guise of even-handed market management.
“Its primary purpose is to undermine devolution, constrain the choices of the devolved governments and legislatures, and diminish alternative centres of decision making and power in the UK.”
While the act was before the House of Commons, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, described the bill as a measure to preserve the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, but the Scottish Government has previously described the act as a “power grab” that limits devolved powers.
Taking questions from the audience, the Deputy First Minister was asked if his government has a vested interest in presenting devolved governance as unworkable, given the SNP’s policy on Scottish independence.
Swinney replied: “[Welsh First Minister] Mark Drakeford has been very explicit about the deterioration in inter-governmental working recently. It hasn’t always been like this.
“We worked with the Blair, Brown, Cameron, May and Johnson governments – and intergovernmental relations are at their worst right now. I have an obligation to deliver good governance for Scotland.
“What I’ve set out today, I believe, is a fair and accurate distillation of intergovernmental working and it is poor.”
The Deputy First Minister was also asked by Holyrood how an independent Scotland with EU membership would conduct trade across the Anglo-Scottish border.
Swinney responded: “We think our interests are best served by establishing a positive and cooperative relationship with other EU nations.
“In relation to trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK, obviously there would have to be some negotiation with the UK Government on the arrangements to be applied, many of which are material to the issues currently being wrested with in relation to the aftermath of Brexit.
“Fundamentally we would want to undertake the creation of a constructive trading relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“There are of course mutual interests in making sure that is the case, because of the flow of goods both from the north and from the south across the border, and we would want to make sure there was a smooth and negotiated arrangement in place to enable that to be the case.
“We would be committed to ensuring that would be the case within the context of the commitments we make to the European Union but we would be prepared to make to a successor UK Government in ensuring the ability to have good, open trade flows that would be able to continued post-independence.”