Jim O’Neill asks whether the Tory undermining of democracy in Westminster is at risk of being emulated in Holyrood by the SNP.


Countries like the United Kingdom, with its history of democratic change and its general rejection of violent revolution, tends to see change in small increments rather than in massive lumps. Exceptions include the Attlee government and the Wilson government, both of which made great leaps forward in social change and workers’ rights. But Tory governments have tended to try to claw back these changes, bit by insidious bit.

We have seen the welfare state undermined, first by the Thatcher government, which also attacked workers’ rights by fomenting trade union action. The ensuing disruption was used to claw back workers’ rights hard fought for in the sixties and seventies. This action was continued, more subtly, by the Major government, and ramped up by the Cameron government, disgracefully supported by the so-called Liberal Democrats, in particular in their attack on welfare rights. While pretending to be a softer, more supportive government, May and her team have increased the pace of this attack, especially on in-work welfare.

Last week, however, we saw the first disgraceful attempts to undermine the very principles of our parliamentary democracy itself. It has always been a principle of democracy at Westminster, mirrored now in the devolved governments, that parliamentary committees, both Select Committees and Standing Committees, reflect the make up of parties in the House. Bolstered by their bought votes of the DUP, the Tories have now removed this standard provision of Parliament, to give them a majority on all committees, “to ensure that government can get their legislation through”.

The people did not elect this parliament to ensure that Tory legislation can be enacted. They left the parliament hung, so that there can be a real check on the abuse of power that the Tories have now enacted, and so that real consideration and amendment can be given to Tory government proposals, especially in this crucial time of Brexit negotiations and legislation. Thus, the Tories and their side-kicks the DUP have blown a raspberry to the people of the UK and ignored their decision for party political benefit. A small part of our democracy has been suspended.

It was the so-called Great Repeal Bill that gave rise to the second chip away at our parliamentary democracy. The bill was advertised as simply a procedural move to translate European law into British law. But when the bill was published the legislation was clearly much more extensive. Not only did it translate European law into British law, but it also gave powers to ministers to change these new laws by administrative fiat. These are known as the Henry VIII provisions, after the decision by the then Parliament, under the cosh of Thomas Cromwell, to allow Henry VIII to amend or introduce any legislation he so wished, without reference to Parliament.

This, of course, is intended to remove the enormous log-jam of amending provisions to legislation that will clog up Parliament post March 2019. In line with the provisions of membership of committees referred to above, it will be very difficult for the opposition to amend this legislation in committee and they will have to rely on disaffected Tories to restore democracy when the bill comes back on report and for Third Reading. And so, another part of our parliamentary democracy has been stripped away.

In Scotland, to their great credit, the SNP government accepted the will of the people, especially in the formation of committees. However, we still do not know whether that will extend to accepting changes to their legislation made in committee. They showed themselves to be very intolerant of opposition when they had an absolute majority, but now they are a minority government again, we have little to go on since they have only introduced one bill in the past 19 months. Of course their obsession with a second independence referendum, which was knocked for six by the Westminster election, took priority.

Given that Nicola has decided that nationalism is toxic and to focus on the day job, we are faced with a Programme for Government with a substantial workload of bills for consideration. We will now see whether the First Minister is prepared to accept that she does not have all the wisdom and allow committees to amend her bills, or will she use the Report Back stage to overturn all amendments with the help of her Green lapdogs. Now we will see if the small deaths of democracy perpetrated by the Tories at Westminster will leak into Scotland, or if Scotland will remain the beacon of democracy much lauded in our national mythology.

Related Posts

19 thoughts on “A small death of democracy

  1. I’m hoping the committees will be used what they were created for, creating better legislation. No voters want to see political point scoring for the sake of it

  2. The assault on democracy under PM May included the disaster for her of calling an election she did not need to. No top Tory is even coming close to admitting they were in on the plan.
    The Tory election manifesto and campaign no Tory wants to know.
    The PM v Boris neither is in our world the real world.
    Scotland for all I carp and moan about the SNP Government they have not tried to undermine Holyrood.
    The new programme for government. Is full of bills that are labour policy .
    We can and should work with the SNP to get them onto the statute book. We don’t need to have coalitions etc
    Whats to stop Labour introducing some of those bills on our own. If the Government don’t
    Its conference season so the even more silly than usual stuff is in full swing .
    The Scottish Lib Dem Leader Wullie Rennie after giving the SNP government a blank cheque to support their next budget .
    Is now saying he wants after the next Scottish Election a coalition of different parties to keep the SNP out.
    What happened to democracy there.
    Speaking of democracy David Laws has claimed in a new book .
    That in order to get when in Government Lib Dem policies through. He deliberately held up things like Asbestos Controls.

  3. Jimbo air brushing out the Blair/Brown years when trade union legislation could have been amended, or the Miliband Shadow Cabinet on “welfare” reforms not going “far enough”.

    We now have a One Party state led by a dysfunctional Tory party in open civil war over the terms of Brexit, yet Labour will let them of the hook by supporting their separatist Trump-lite agenda, on the grounds of their common British nationalism. Pathetic!
    In Scotland there is no majority party or range of policy issues which everyone can find support for. Labour in Scotland want to deepen austerity by raising taxes on relatively low paid workers who have already suffered a decline in their living standards of the last decade. Labour in England don’t (£80,000 base line there).
    Indeed the Lib Dems under Rennie and Scottish Labour under -*To Be Announced*- both state that they utterly and totally reject Scots being allowed a say in their own constitutional future—NO MATTER WHAT. My emphasis.

    So the Tory government at Westminster ( under Boris? Reece-Mogg? Liam Fox? ) can do with Scotland whatever it likes, and the Scottish Lib Dems and Scottish Labour will just suck it up. Build a hundred Chinese nuclear power plants–sell off Scottish Water–privatise education and health–destroy devolved government and go back to direct rule. Anything the Tories want and Scottish Labour will huff and puff, and bluster and whine but they will submit to their masters voice. Its the BritNat Way.
    And as David states, Ruthie Davidson and Wee Wullie Rennie have both now claimed a Holyrood coalition between the Brit Nat parties after 2021 can be pencilled in. Ruthie as FM with Rennie and Sarwar as her two Deputy stooges in tow.
    Gowd ‘elp us! Keep us safe from sanctimonious Labour hucksters.

      1. Democracy– The backing of the separatist May regime by Labour at Westminster. The “coalition” between Scottish Labour, Tory and LibDumbs against Scots having a democratic say in their own constitutional future–Democracy.
        Your whine about the so-called “Welfare State” and Trade Union rights—I tried to point out that Labour were in power and could have reformed the Thatcher assault on Unions—they did not.
        . Labour, under Miliband, also complained the “welfare” changes did not go far enough.
        This is not history. Many of us lived through the events you misleadingly portray.

        Apart from that, I agree with much of what you say about the stripping out of Parliamentary authority over the Great Repeal Bill. But this is Westminster, where governments can make things up as they go along, and often do. Scotland has no rights or sovereignty in this set up. Its one of many reasons I want self government for our country.

  4. “United Kingdom, with its history of democratic change”—-hahahaha–that’ll be reform of the Lords then.
    We have only waited a 120 years so far.
    Blair and Broonie will still think they have a chance of joining Darling with their free ticket (for life). A life in ermine , snoring and farting on the plush benches( £300 tax free to clock in), while Scottish Labour hypocritically bleat on about child poverty.

    1. Bit surprising then that neither have taken the ermine. How much free money have they lost. Lol

  5. Welcome back Gavin hope you enjoyed your Hols. So glad you mentioned me haha .
    But wee Wullie Rennie takes some beating blank cheque to get SNP budget through and then by the way we will enter into a coalition after the next Holyrood election to get you out so there .
    Tax rises The FM wants all party talks on this , It got through yesterday because although non binding SNP MSPS were still told to abstain
    I think the SNP are about to increase tax. If they do where do you stand.
    Where do you stand on Indy the FM appears to be swithering
    She is not Nicola knows its not holding a referendum its winning it.
    They also know its people like us in large numbers they need to persuade to change if they are going to win

    1. Where do you stand on the principle that a country should keep ALL of its own revenues to spend on its own priorities relative to handing them over to a foreign authority to distribute as it sees fit outside of the country they originated from?

      How about the principle where a National Government is forced to raise taxes from the only taxation source it has control of because it cant access the revenue sources taken by a foreign authority for distribution outside of said Nation?

      What shoogly wooden leg do you think Labour can balance on with regards to taxation when it promotes the idea that Scotland should be deprived of its own taxation revenue sources?

      1. We whither you like it or not voted in the referendum to remain part of the UK. So we do not hand revenue over to a foreign authority .
        We will see what happens if and when we get Indy 2 and that is a big if. At least 2 SNP MPS have gone public saying nothing for at least 4 years .
        Pete Wishart refused on Scotland Tonight to say if he spoke for the FM.
        I still think there has been some very deep thinking on this and other issues at the top of all our Scottish political parties .And we might not like what we see

    2. David. I believe that taxation is the price we all pay for social decency. But there is a limit where it becomes too burdensome for those at the bottom end, while those at the top avoid direct tax and get “paid” in some off shore tax haven.
      We have to concentrate on building INDIGINOUS industry and commerce, so as to have a prosperous society for us all.
      I would raise tax on those earning above £50 grand a year, but you must also think of other revenue streams which the Scottish parliament does not have access to—-direct taxation being out of bounds for Westminster Chancellors as it is considered too crude.
      Yes for independence. We live in a country where Scotland has no constitutional rights. No sovereignty according to the newly established Supreme Court. We vote 2-1 to stay in the EU, but our wishes/interests/concerns are totally ignored by Westminster and the media.
      We will only “WIN”, as a country, when a fair majority is established one way or another. Until then we are split. The only good thing is that Scottish good humour and perspective have seen us rise above the worst aspects of British or Scottish nationalism. If the worst thing to have happened was for Murphy to be hit by an egg, I can live with that.
      We thankfully have not had the nastiness in either referendum as down south, where people have died ( two so far ) and suffered serious abuse and assault. Many decent people ( whom we need in our public services etc ) have left these shores and will carry home with them tales of British insularity and worse.

      1. Gavin thanks for your comment.
        I voted remain the problem is we when we voted it was as part of the UK. Although I agree with most of what you say.
        You mentioned Jim Murphy and his egg .You left out a certain John Prescott and his egg moment . One of the most interesting things about that is we now know Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell spent time discussing what the line to take in public would be.
        If you think politicians have problems
        I am also a Rangers supporter Altogether now theres only wan Pedro .
        I think I will turn my oxygen level up

  6. You take a story about Westminster’s abuse of democracy and turn it into S.N.P. bad. You are John Mc Ternsn and I claim my five pounds.

  7. Under draconian Great Britain, Scotland does not have a proper democracy and is not an equal partner.

    Scotland (including ‘Scottish Labour’) is nothing if it does not have ultimate authority over itself and future (i.e. democracy, governance, values, culture, identity, partnerships, participation in unions etc.).

    Fundamentally democracy is supposed to work for the people and not against the people.

  8. Thanks for your comm. ent Heids. I did comment about in my opinion the PMS abuse of democracy when she called the General Election 2 years early.
    You commented on me doing SNP bad no I did not.
    I have just looked at the interview Nicola did with Chris Deerin of New Statesman in Bute House.
    Its wide ranging covering subjects from personal observations of PM Cameron and PM May to Indy and brexit.
    I also think its a very honest interview .She said that in the past few years the voters have had to take one big decision after another.
    That’s why she said before recess there is no question of another Independence referendum at this stage.
    The article asks will she hold a second referendum could it be off. The FM said the honest answer Is I don’t know
    On tax powers the FM made it clear she is going to use them.
    After the interview the SNP got in touch with Chris Deerin to say The answer I don’t know is about timing not whether there will be another Independence referendum,
    But here is something that’s wrong North Ayrshire Council put a bid in for the 1500 Social Security jobs that went to Glasgow and Dundee good luck to them.
    Scottish Government officers came to North Ayrshire to assess our area .
    Our North Ayrshire Council leader Joe Cullinane is asking why our council was not told of the decision to give the jobs to Glasgow Dundee before it was announced .
    I have to ask would it have been the same decision if NAC had still been under SNP control . Would they have gone public without telling the council .
    BTW there is a lack of civil service jobs in our area and the unemployment rate here is above the national average.
    So maybe the Lady in Bute House would like to explain why she went public before NAC were told or why not be democratic and make the announcement in Holyrood

  9. How is this for a lack of democracy John Swinneys panel of international education experts were in Scotland last week .They were here for 2 days of talks and meetings with John Swinney and the FM .
    But why was the visit not included in the list of ministerial engagements provided to the media.
    No effort was made to attract publicity until after the event had finished.
    The first we knew they had been here was when a statement was made on Thursday evening saying that the panel had praised the governments education policies
    It appears the panel members were no t told the visit was confidential. They had been prepared to speak to reporters but were told no requests
    for interviews had been made.
    No invitations to speak to the panel were issued . The only interviews were conducted by the Scottish Governments own in house PR staff. The panel therefore was not asked about concerns previously raised by them . That the education secretary was to focused on structural changes .
    In the statement we did get on Thursday the panel supported devolving more power to head teachers. They made no comment on reducing councils role in education and handing power to new regional collaboratives. they backed the principles underpinning changes .But warned against structural change for its own sake
    Meetings with the FM and Education Secretary in Holyrood . Press not told .Somebody tell me why not

Comments are closed.