Holyrood power-less to prevent Westminster Tory power-grab over Scotland’s C02 emissions and air-quality standards in ‘hard’ Brexit’, warns Deputy Scottish First Minister


'Tories could reduce Scotland's 'green standards' after Brexit, warn SNP chiefs
Tories could reduce Scotland’s ‘green standards’ after Brexit, warn SNP chiefs

The SNP-led Scot-Govt has warned that a Tory-led ‘hard’  UK Brexit would mean that Scotland would lose the power it presently has to set its own national standards on the environment, air-quality, and carbon-gas emissions targets.

Powers over these areas are already devolved to the Scottish parliament and government when Holyrood was set up 20 years ago.

At that time, the EU had ongoing and over-arching control of EU-wide environmental powers – including the ones above.

But instead of these powers being devolved from the EU to the Scot-Govt in Edinburgh, senior Scottish ministers have admitted they will have to stand idly by when the Brit-Govt in London grabs these powers on the homeward passage from Brussels. 

After more talks on these issues between the Scot- and Brit-Govts collapsed yesterday, John Swinney, MSP, the Scottish deputy first minister, and fellow MSP Michael Russell, the Scot-Govt minister for keeping Scotland in the EU, explained:

“Far from the “powers bonanza” promised by the UK government, this is entirely about Westminster’s plan to constrain devolved powers, not add to them.

John Swinney, MSP
John Swinney, MSP

“Last summer we were startled to discover the UK government had its eyes on 111 devolved policy areas. Under these proposals any area that, in the UK government’s language, “intersected” with EU law would be controlled by Westminster unless and until the UK government decided that such control was no longer necessary in pursuit of its policy agenda.

“Extraordinarily this approach even extended to aspects of the justice system in Scotland, a system that has always operated independently from England <even after the 1707 Treaties of Union>

“This approach and the list of functions was of course completely absurd. But it betrays a very clear attitude, that the Westminster government, not the Scottish parliament, should be in control of every aspect of the Brexit process, including determining the future for Scotland in wholly devolved areas.

“After several months of meetings, the UK government has cut the list down. But make no mistake, although the list is shorter the demand remains the same: Westminster must decide.

“This remains a power grab in critical areas at the heart of the devolution settlement, areas such as fishing, farming, GM crops, vital aspects of environmental quality, food standards and state aid.

“This would mean, for example, that if the Tories wanted to lower food standards  <after Brexit> we could do little to prevent it. If they wanted to reduce environmental quality requirements we would be similarly powerless.”

The two top Scot-Govt ministers then raised the stakes in the ‘power politics’ national poker game, again warning the British prime minister that they will recommend that Scotland’s MSPs refuse consent to the Brit-Govt’s Brexit Bill unless they give up their powers-grab.

Swinney added: “The UK government says we don’t have to worry about any of this because it hopes to consult the Scottish government. But if “consulting” had any meaning in relation to Brexit we would not be facing being dragged out of the single market against our will.

“We are simply seeking to protect the devolution settlement and to ensure the Scottish parliament has the powers in full that the people of Scotland voted for.

“We will never recommend giving consent to a bill that undermines the principles of devolution and the powers of the Scottish parliament that the people of Scotland campaigned for so long to win.

“Westminster should be in no doubt that this is an absolute condition.”

The Edinburgh and London governments have to reach an agreement before the Brexit bill passes through the House of Lords and becomes law by the end of next month.

Otherwise the Brit-govt could – and may have to – simply ignore any lack of a ‘consent motion’ from Holyrood MPs to its Brexit Bill.

But this could spark a fresh rise in popular support for Scottish Independence as Prime Minister May would be manifestly ignoring the democratically-express wishes of both Scottish MSPs and the majority of Scottish voters – who voted 2:1 in favour of staying in the EU in the referendum.

23 Feb 2018

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