When Brexit finally happens it will result in a swathe of repatriated powers for the United Kingdom. And if Scotland remains part of the UK – which I believe it will – Holyrood and Westminster will partake in a tug-of-war over who takes control of that repatriated legislation.
The Oxford Dictionary describes devolution as “the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration”.
In terms of local and regional empowerment, a Scottish paradox has occurred. Regions and islands of Scotland never gained delegated power from devolution; in fact, they lost power, and are still losing it. London’s tight grip has been replaced by Edinburgh’s tighter grip, a Leninist-style symptom of the current Scottish government’s unremitting obsession with centralised control.
Only last week, opposition MSPs rejected another Scottish Government power-grab, a proposal to centralise all regional enterprises (that had operated successfully for decades). That’s just the most recent example.
The merger of eight territorial police forces and eight fire and rescue divisions, replaced with a one-size-fits-all central body, exemplifies the Scottish Government’s attitude on its contempt for local control, not to mention the regional hospitals that have closed and been replaced with super-sized, super-inefficient hospitals in central cities.
If powers are repatriated from Brussels to Edinburgh, by-passing London, the regions and islands of Scotland will still be waiting a long time for empowerment. Many regions and islands would benefit significantly if they got an echo of control over some of that repatriated legislation. Take three areas that Brussels have some jurisdiction over: fisheries, agriculture and industrial policy, all three hugely important to very specific but different regions of Scotland.
No one is suggesting that regions should have complete autonomy. But the regions and the islands should have a proportionate influence on policies that have a direct impact on their local economies. They should be able to contribute to policy with some clout, rather than being shut out as a futile bystander while a Holyrood machine dictates every policy in the country.
London has started to provide pragmatic empowerment to English regions. The Localism Act 2011 legislated to increase local authorities’ power of competence, and help decentralise power from Westminster.
Meantime, Holyrood is busy dismantling any significant local power remaining in Scotland.
Many of the Scottish Government, including the First Minister, use the aphorism ‘One Scotland’ in their Twitter backgrounds. The rationale behind the slogan is the reasons why regions and islands are being deprived of local power. Glasgow has different policing demands than the Highlands. Inverness has different crofting requirements than Edinburgh. The Orkneys face educational challenges that are very different from Dumfries.
In my eyes we’re not One Scotland. There are many Scotlands and they are all still equally Scottish. If repatriated powers do end up at Holyrood, it’s about time the Scottish Government provide real devolution of power.
Robert McGregor is a lawyer, adjudicator and freelance writer based in Glasgow and London.