There is no power grab – except that practised by the SNP

There is no power grab – except that practised by the SNP

by Stephen Kerr
article from Saturday 16, September, 2017

THERE HAS BEEN a constant carping from nationalists in the last few weeks that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill represents a “power grab” – that it shall take powers away from the Scottish Parliament. This week I put that claim to the test. In the commons debate around the Bill, before it was passed by an impressive 36 votes, I challenged nationalist MPs to say just which powers were being grabbed.

The silence was deafening – all they could do was refer to powers not yet returned from Brussels – that they themselves recommended should stay in Brussels – and even now would return to Brussels were Scotland independent.

This, from members of a party that have taken powers away from parents who – via their School Boards – once had a real say in how their schools were run; who once had a local police service accountable to their local councillors; who had local emergency services that are now centralised, who have seen the screw turned on their local councils so much that tens of thousands of staff across Scotland have been cut from vital services.

The SNP Government has spent the past 10 years power grabbing for itself from local government and local communities, and its incessant centralising of power has undermined the very fabric of local democracy in Scotland. Just a few days ago, Scottish Ministers, against all advice, including from its own reporter, ran roughshod over local democracy in Stirling by foisting a huge commercial development on scenic greenbelt at Park of Keir. Many of my constituents in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan are rightly angry at this power grab by the SNP. That is one of many such examples.

To me, the debate around the Bill came down to something rather straightforward. When the House of Commons passed the Bill to hold an in/out referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union, it entered a compact with the British people to act on their direct instruction. The Second Reading debate of the Bill was about its main principles. 

The first principle of the Bill is to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on the day we leave the European Union. A vote against that principle would have been an attempt to set aside the result of the referendum and show a base disrespect to the British people—it was as uncomplicated as that.

The second principle of the Bill is to convert EU law, taken as a whole, into UK law so that we can have a stable and functioning statute book on the day we leave the European Union. A vote against that principle would have created the potential for instability and uncertainty, because we would have a broken statute book on the day we leave the European Union. It is no more complicated than that.

Tuesday’s debate and what the Bill proposed was a grand moment for British pragmatism.

Sincerely held concerns were and are being raised about the Bill’s so-called Henry VIII powers. A number of members on both sides of the House made positive suggestions that deserve the careful consideration of the Government Front Bench. There is clearly a willingness on the part of the Government both to listen and to accommodate such concerns, and I fully expect it to be as good as its word.

That said, I find it strange that some of those who objected so strenuously to the so-called Henry VIII powers and the Bill seem not to have had many concerns over the past 44 years when Governments have been expected to enact a steady stream of EU laws and regulations that neither the Government nor Parliament have had the power to change or the capacity to scrutinise properly.

In the debate I was asked if agreed with the Law Society of Scotland that the Bill would remove legislative competence from the Scottish Parliament, including in areas of law not reserved to the UK, such as agriculture and fisheries and even if I had read the Bill?

My answer to the first question was an emphatic NO! And the answer to the second question was a similarly emphatic YES!

I also reminded the House that it was a Conservative Government that passed new powers to the Scottish Government, and there is no evidence, other than in the feverish imagination of SNP Members, that the UK Government intends to grab back any devolved powers.

To the contrary: I have lost count of the number of times Ministers have said in the Commons and elsewhere that they anticipate the Scottish Parliament will have new enhanced powers because of Brexit.

I also have no hesitation in telling the UK Government that I want it to get on with Brexit. It will bring opportunities, and we must make the best of them.

I want to get on with those free-trade deals across the world. We already know that customers globally have an insatiable appetite for Scottish food and drink, including Scottish salmon, and since Stirling is now the UK’s centre of excellence and innovation in salmon, and finfish aquaculture in general, I declare a vested interest.

There are those in the opposition parties who gleefully seize on every statement by EU negotiators at the supposed expense of our country’s Ministers,  who should consider how their antics appear to the voting public. We must work together across parties to get the best deal for the British people, and I have the utmost faith David Davis and his team to do just that. We must be, among ourselves, united.

The Bill represents the best kind of pragmatism, for which this country is rightly renowned around the world. It will efficiently allow us to leave the European Union under the rule of law – which is how it should be; it will allow our devolved administrations to make more decisions about the lives and livelihoods of the people whom they serve; and, it will allow us to have a statute book that functions on the day we leave the European Union. We should be celebrating this British pragmatism, not diminishing it, I know I certainly do.

ThinkScotland exists thanks to readers' support - please donate in any currency and often

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter & like and share this article
To comment on this article please go to our facebook page