Scottish Parliament: Boris Johnson needs to realise the point of devolution was to enable Scotland to do things differently – Angus Robertson MSP

More than five years after the 2016 referendum, Scotland’s overwhelming vote to remain in the EU has been ignored by successive UK governments, all determined to pursue the hardest of Brexits.

Boris Johnson needs to recognise that the purpose of devolution was to enable Scotland to do things differently (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson needs to recognise that the purpose of devolution was to enable Scotland to do things differently (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

The stark realities of Brexit become clearer every day. Labour shortages mean farmers are unable to pick their crops. Scotland’s world-renowned seafood struggles to reach lucrative EU markets due to Brexit red tape.

We are told to expect a summer of rolling shortages on supermarket shelves as there aren’t enough hauliers now we have left the EU.

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While the result looks far from promises that Brexit would allow the UK to “take back control”, there’s one area the UK government has been working hard to assert its control – over the powers of Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament.

This can be seen most clearly in its Internal Market Act, which effectively gives the UK government a veto over the Scottish Parliament’s powers.

It does this in a sleekit way. Holyrood can still pass devolved laws on matters such as animal welfare, food standards or the environment, but if the UK government introduces different rules, these must automatically be accepted in Scotland, even if they are lower than standards set here.

Take the global plastics crisis. The Scottish government is committed to acting to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic, and environmental policy is a devolved matter.

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In 2019, Scotland became the first nation in the UK to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds. There is strong support for market restrictions on single-use plastics. In a recent consultation, 94 per cent of individuals were in favour of a ban and among organisations the proportion ranged from 76 to 91 per cent.

The Scottish government intends to build on this and the voluntary steps already being taken by businesses and services across the country to switch to moresustainable products, and phase out other single-use plastic items.

However the UK Single Market Act risks undercutting these ambitions: while we could ban or restrict supply or manufacture of locally produced single-use plastic if lower standards apply elsewhere in the UK then the Act would mean these standards must be accepted in Scotland. Having to accept lower standards set elsewhere in the UK means diluting our efforts to tackle the scourge of single-use plastics on Scotland’s environment.

Fortunately there’s another way to approach this. Since 2017 the Scottish government has sought to work with the other governments of the UK to develop common frameworks – ways of working to agree how we manage differences in approach on matters such as the environment where we previously worked to EU rules.

This model of progress by agreement between equal partners is the correct way of managing policy differences across the UK: being able to do things differently is, after all, the purpose of devolution.

In recent weeks I have been meeting with officials and ministers in London and Edinburgh to make progress on framework agreements.

The Scottish government is pushing the UK government to respect devolution and allow our Parliament to make meaningful choices that work for Scotland, and not have these choices undermined by the Internal Market Act.

Time is running out. Hopefully the UK government will deliver on its commitments.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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