Tom Harris, Grand High Panjandrum of Scottish Vote Leave and a former Labour MP, says a Leave vote in the EU referendum would automatically devolve new powers to the Scottish Parliament.
This is not an appeal to you to vote Leave on June 23.*
I strongly suspect that if you’re reading this site, you’ve made up your mind one way or another anyway, and if you’re a Labour Party member, you’ve probably come down on the establishment side.
But no, this isn’t an attempt to win more support to my campaign to persuade Scots to vote Leave. Rather it is an attempt to shed some light on the curious arguments being deployed by Scotland’s own establishment party, the SNP.
Now, to offer a word of explanation, a few months ago, when I was appointed Director of Scottish Vote Leave, I quickly realised that there was at least one powerful argument that might be deployed in favour of a Leave vote north of the border that wouldn’t work in England, specifically that once outside the EU, the Scottish Parliament would gain more powers. Control over fishing and agriculture, currently subject to the bizarre machinations of the Common Fisheries and Agriculture policies, would be among a range of powers automatically devolved to Holyrood.
Why automatic? Simple – because Donald Dewar was not a stupid man.
He understood, when many around him did not, that if the government in 1997 chose to list in the new Scotland Bill all the devolved powers that should be wielded by the still-to- be-born Scottish Parliament, that would immediately limit the new institution. Donald foresaw a time when areas of policy not yet thought of might present themselves, and rather than have them fought over and create unnecessary constitutional squabbling, they should automatically, by default, come under the remit of the Scottish Parliament.
So instead, Donald decided that matters reserved to Westminster should be the ones that should be listed and therefore limited. This meant that, for example, when newspaper regulation reared its (ugly) head in the wake of the Leveson inquiry, there was no debate as to which parliament should have the leading role: is it listed under “Reserved powers” in the Scotland Act? No? Then Holyrood it is!
Fishing, like newspaper regulation, is not included in the Act’s list of reserved powers, which is why Scottish Ministers currently have the responsibility of implementing the EU Common Fisheries Policy in Scotland. Which means (and stop me if I’m going too fast here) that in the event of the UK voting to leave the EU, Holyrood, not Westminster, automatically inherits fisheries policy.
Now, you are quite entitled to say that the above notwithstanding, you still prefer the UK to remain in the EU. Fair enough. I disagree, but that’s what democracy is all about.
What you cannot say – or at least, cannot say without spontaneous combustion taking place in the immediate vicinity of your pants – is that these powers would go anywhere other than to Holyrood. But hey, don’t take my word for it – take the word of Professor Drew Scott of Edinburgh University:
“If the UK leaves the EU, then by default these powers would come back to the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster.”
Professor Scott, incidentally, was a constitutional advisor to the Scottish Government in the run up to the independence referendum in 2014. I mention this because you would think that SNP politicians might take him more seriously than they’d take a former Labour MP.
Alas, no. The First Minister herself was reported by Buzzfeed last Friday as saying:
“If there’s a Leave vote we would not automatically get more powers in the Scottish Parliament.”
Except we would, so why would say such a thing? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? If you’re the leader of a nationalist movement that has built a reputation of always standing up for Scotland and always fighting for more powers, what else can you say? Your own followers and voters might look somewhat askance at an admission that you’re asking them to vote against a proposition that would give your own ministers extra, important powers.
So simply deny. What about the Scotland Act? Deny. The precedent of newspaper regulation? Deny. Professor Scott? Deny.
Alyn Smyth MEP went even further in this dishonest spin yesterday in a column in the Sunday Herald. No doubt having been told by HQ of the need to kill this “extra powers” story before it did any real damage, he was happy to oblige:
“And for those who claim that Leave will mean more powers for Holyrood – how? We have just gone through the Smith Commission process, with ‘The Vow’ filleted at every opportunity. You think these same people will suddenly permit more devolution? You think Nigel Farage, who barely years ago wanted to abolish Holyrood, suddenly wants to strengthen it?”
You see what he did there? He asked the question about the process of transferring powers from Brussels to Holyrood and left it hanging like a rhetorical question, as if no one was able to answer it: “– how?” And then the slam-dunk – he mentioned Farage, the winning card in any Scottish political poker game. Yet, as has been established, neither Farage nor any other convenient right wing hate figure is remotely relevant to this.
And because these new powers would arrive at Holyrood without the need for a commission or any amendment to the Scotland Act or, in fact, any kind of stushie whatever, Alyn’s reference to the Smith Commission can only have been mentioned to remind his party’s supporters of the Union’s continuing perfidy.
But I repeat my point: I don’t really blame them. What else could they reasonably do? Admit the truth of the matter, that the power to transform and rejuvenate our fishing communities would be in the hands of Scottish (SNP) ministers instead of Brussels bureaucrats, but that they were turning their backs on such a prospect? How could they reasonably have explained that?
Now, of course there’s the bigger question about why the SNP claim to support continued membership of the EU in the first place, but that’s a subject for a different article. In the meantime we’re left with the reality that Scotland’s biggest party, the party that was swept to power on a tidal wave of nationalist sentiment, is rejecting new powers for Holyrood, and asking its supporters to do the same.
As a non-SNP voter, I believe SNP ministers would make the right decisions for our fishing and farming communities. I believe they would make decisions based on Scotland’s interests. I believe they would make good decisions that would benefit Scotland.
What a pity Nicola disagrees with me.
*But vote Leave anyway.