David Mundell has suggested the SNP is using the current constitutional row over Brexit to push the case for independence as he dismissed claims of a Westminster power grab as “ridiculous”.
The Scottish Secretary said that a new “third way” is needed to resolve the impasse between Holyrood and Westminster over the repatriation of powers from Brussels which is “going to the wire”.
The Scottish Government says that Westminster is effectively legislating to take control of dozens of powers which should belong at Holyrood over key areas such as farming and fishing. Mr Mundell faced a grilling from Nationalist MSPs yesterday on Holyrood’s constitution committee who claimed that Scotland’s voice is being silenced.
He said: “It’s very clear and transparent, because I don’t think there’s any attempt to hide it, that there are people in this Parliament and the Scottish Government clearly, indeed it’s the Scottish Government’s position, not to accept the constitutional settlement.
“What I’m clear and what the UK Government is clear on is that this Bill is not a basis on which to change the current constitutional settlement. That was in broad terms agreed by people in the referendum in 2014.”
He added that the Scottish Government position would alter the existing devolution settlement.
The row centres on the EU Withdrawal Bill which will provide a post-Brexit legal framework for the UK. It contains provisions for “joint frameworks” in the disputed areas which the UK Government says are needed to protect the integrity of the UK internal market. Months of talks have failed to reach a deal, even after the Welsh Assembly Government struck an agreement with Westminster, despite similar “power grab” concerns.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted that Mr Mundell had refused to give an assurance that the UK Government would not act in devolved ares without the consent of Holyrood.
“In the absence of a commitment of that nature, how can we be expected to take the UK Government at its word that it would respect our decision when it comes to consent in any future order that might be laid at a later stage?
“The Secretary of State also seemed to confirm that even if every single member of the Parliament was to vote in future to withhold consent on a regulation that was being laid to reserve power at Westminster then they would still take that as consent and do it anyway.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “We want to get to an agreement on this but we will not do so if the UK Government is insisting on riding roughshod over the powers of this Parliament.”