GORDON Brown has called for a new law to “fully entrench” the Scottish Parliament in the UK’s constitutional landscape so its powers can never be over-ruled or abolished by Westminster.
In a speech in Glasgow yesterday, the former Prime Minister said the “permanence” of the 14-year-old devolved system should be formally recognised, making it an “irreversible” feature of the modern British state.
He also called for MPs to create a new law explicitly stating the purpose of the Union, again in order to set out clearly what it stood for.
Under current UK law, there is nothing that would prevent Westminster from legislating as it chooses in Scotland, despite the set-up of the Scottish Parliament.
In practice, the UK parliament has always first sought the consent of the Scottish Parliament – a commitment known as the Sewel Convention.
But Mr Brown suggested yesterday that this practice was not sufficiently bold, and argued that it was now time to put Holyrood’s constitutional status on firmer ground. The suggestion prompted the SNP last night to say that the best and simplest way to ensure Westminster could not over-rule Holyrood was to back independence. The party also said that even if Holyrood had its own powers nailed down, Westminster would still have a say over areas of policy in welfare.
Mr Brown’s plan could run into legal difficulties, as the UK does not have a written constitution and promises made by one parliament are not necessarily honoured by successive ones.
However, Mr Brown suggested a “constitutional pillar” could be erected, either through a resolution of the House of Commons or an Act of Parliament.
He told a gathering of Labour activists: “The time has come for the Scottish Parliament to be fully entrenched into the constitution of the UK to make its irreversibility more explicit.”
The proposal to grant permanent powers to Holyrood has already been recommended by the cross-party Devo Plus group.
While also acknowledging the lack of a written UK constitution, it suggested that Holyrood’s authority could be guaranteed by a new law that declared its powers could only be removed with its own agreement in a vote. This would effectively create a “legislative lock” on the parliament’s authority, the group recommended.
In tandem with this law change, Mr Brown said Westminster should also create new legislation setting out what the Union is for. He said: “I believe we should write this into the constitution, for the first time making it explicit that the purpose of the Union is not just defence security, is not just trading relationships, but to pool and share our resources for the benefit of working people, the elderly, children and families, in all parts of the United Kingdom.”
The plan was something he “should have done” while in power, he said, reflecting on his three-year period as prime minister.
Mr Brown spoke out at an event in Glasgow organised by United With Labour, the party’s campaign to persuade people to vote against independence in next year’s referendum.
Responding to Mr Brown’s remarks, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, a member of the Referendum Bill committee, said: “The only way to entrench the Scottish Parliament is with a Yes vote and independence – including the democratic advance of a written constitution, which is light years ahead of anything on offer from Westminster.”