Ian Blackford claimed the UK Government is “demonstrably unwinding elements of the Scotland Act” with flagship Brexit legislation that will ‘freeze’ control two dozen devolved powers at Westminster for up to seven years leaving the EU.
Peers in the House of Lords debated amendments to EU Withdrawal Bill that would have required Holyrood’s consent before ‘freezing’ any devolved powers at Westminster, but none of the Scottish Government’s proposals were passed.
At the same time, the Scottish Government minister Michael Russell met UK counterparts in London for talks on Brexit, including how joint control of the contested powers will work in areas like agriculture, fisheries and the environment.
Mr Russell had suggested a deal was still possible if the UK Government accepted amendments proposed by Lords Hope of Craighead and Mackay of Clashfern. However, ahead of an appearance before a Holyrood committee today, Scottish Secretary David Mundell has written to MSPs to argue that “it would not be acceptable, or consistent with devolution, for an administration in one part of the UK to effectively have a veto on issues that affect the whole of the UK.”
Speaking to journalists after yesterday’s meeting, Mr Mundell insisted there was still time to reach an agreement but added that it was “disappointing” that a deal was being held up over a “head of a pin constitutional argument”.
“My view is that the best way forward is to have agreement,” the Scottish Secretary said.
“I think we are absolutely clearly down to what the differences are. If there is a way through those differences, then we will have a dialogue.”
Mr Mundell added that “the public in Scotland are sick and tired of constitutional rows.” He said that because talks had already begun on how powers held at Westminster would be administered, “in a sense, this whole debate is about agreeing something that we’ve already agreed.”
Rival legislation in the Scottish Parliament, which asserts Holyrood’s authority over the contested powers, has been challenged by the UK Government and will be ruled on by the Supreme Court.
“If there is a failure to reach agreement over the coming days, which I suspect is now where we are, then we are going to be in the situation where this is going to be determined by the Supreme Court,” Mr Blackford said. “That in itself puts us in uncharted territory since the reestablishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1998.
“This is about protecting the devolution settlement, and I’m staggered that the UK Government and the Conservatives don’t get that. Many people fought long and hard to establish the Scottish Parliament… anything that unpicks the devolution settlement should deeply worry us all.”
Asked if the dispute would feature in debate in the event of a second referendum on Scottish independence, Mr Blackford said: “These are questions that we will come back to.”
The SNP MP added: “I think there has to be a situation where there is a recognition of the sovereignty of the devolved parliaments as well as the sovereignty of Westminster. This is an issue that will have to be resolved - and I’m not just talking about what happens with the Supreme Court in this particular case. I do think it does raise much more fundamental questions.”
Mr Mundell said the SNP’s Westminster leader was “not party to negotiations” when asked about his comments.