Kirsty Blackman: As we hurtle towards a constitutional crisis, the SNP will do whatever it takes to ensure Scotland's voice is heard
After the Brexit Bill power grab we are in unprecedented territory. It’s up to UK ministers to now to tell us what action they will take to show that the will of Scottish Parliament, the Scottish government and the Scottish people is respected, writes Kirsty Blackman
As I write this, it’s been quite an unusual 24 hours. I have long been an advocate of ripping up the standing orders of the House of Commons and re-writing them so they are actually fit for purpose. They give too much power to the government. We can see on private members’ bill days that updates are desperately needed. Change is also needed to ensure meaningful discussion and votes on matters where a majority of the House is agreed but it’s unpalatable for the government: I’m thinking along the lines of Votes at 16 or, in the past, House of Lords reform.
Yesterday was one of many travesties caused by rubbish procedures combined with government intransigence. The programme motion that was agreed, combined with the length of the votes, meant that we had less than 20 minutes of debate on the aspects of the EU Withdrawal Bill that relate to devolution. Twenty minutes to discuss Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. SNP Members were understandably quite unhappy about this. We made a number of points of order highlighting the problem.
The problem, though, isn’t just one about the standing orders of the House of Commons and the way the UK government uses them to their advantage. The problem is a fundamental, constitutional one.
Back when the EU Withdrawal Bill was first tabled, many people raised issues with the changes to the devolution settlement. Powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament on its creation will be reserved again by the Withdrawal Bill.
We have been absolutely consistent in our opposition to this power grab. The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly two decades ago to create the Scottish Parliament. In 2016 the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to reject Brexit. Yet, the UK government is now using Brexit, which we didn’t vote for, to overturn rights that we did vote for.
It’s easy to understand why people are angry about this. Powers over fisheries, agriculture and environmental standards will be taken by Westminster. Whether you agree or not with legislation the Scottish Parliament passes, the institution is unquestionably popular. Taking powers away from it was never going to be a vote winner.
We are now in unprecedented territory. The UK government has never proceeded with legislation that affects devolved matters in the absence of a legislative consent motion for the Scottish Parliament. Four parties in Scotland – Labour, Greens, Lib Dems and the SNP – all voted to refuse consent.
The sections on devolution in the EU Withdrawal Bill cannot be voted on again. In either house. This is why at PMQs the SNP group leader, Ian Blackford, called for emergency legislation to be brought forward. It’s the only way for this issue to be fixed.
The Prime Minister refused. So Ian Blackford called for the house to sit in private. Standing orders make clear that the vote should be put forthwith. The vote wasn’t put “forthwith”. The culmination of this was the SNP Leader’s ejection from the Commons and the SNP Members walking out after him.
We are clear that what is being done by the Tory government is unacceptable. We are clear that the UK government should not proceed with this legislation without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. By constitutional convention and practice, this legislation should not proceed.
We have arrived at a point of constitutional crisis. It’s up to the UK government now to tell us what action it will take to show that the will of Scottish Parliament, the Scottish government and the Scottish people is both recognised and respected.
Anything less will downgrade devolution and defy the democratic will of our nation. In Scotland, the people are sovereign. We will do whatever we can to ensure their voice is heard.
Kirsty Blackman is MP for Aberdeen North and the SNP’s Depute Leader at Westminster