So there you are, planning to watch a movie and put your feet up because you’ve taken care of blogging responsibilities for the day, and then the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, the famously unmemorable Ken Wossisname, finally goes and does something for which he’ll be remembered. It’s just a shame that what he’ll be remembered for is being the first Presiding Officer to rule that a bill to be put before Holyrood is not within the remit of the Scottish Parliament, and for being the first Presiding Officer to avoid using the word outwith, which counts as a constitutional crisis all by itself.
The Continuity Bill being placed before Holyrood by the Scottish Government is the Scottish Government’s response to the stalled talks on the Westminster Parliament’s EU Exit Bill between the Scottish and British governments. The bill aims to maintain all the devolved laws currently exercised by the EU after Brexit takes place and will give Scottish ministers the power to alter or amend these laws after Brexit. The Scottish Government says that the purpose of the bill is to ensure that Scotland retains the powers that it currently has, and to put an obstacle in the way of a Conservative government in Westminster which seeks to grab Scottish, and Welsh, powers for itself. Speaking on Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she refused to sign up to a British Government Brexit plan which “effectively undermines the whole foundation on which devolution is built”.
Ken’s not convinced by this. Or if he is he doesn’t care too much. In a statement, the Presiding officer said that he didn’t believe that the Scottish Government’s continuity bill is within the remit of the Scottish Parliament because it would “make provision now for the exercise of powers which is it possible [that Holyrood] will acquire in future”. So Ken’s legal argument, such as it is, seems to boil down to saying that you can’t legislate for things which haven’t happened yet even if you specify that the provisions in the bill will only take effect if the thing in question does actually happen. If that were true then there wouldn’t be any Brexit legislation at all, because Brexit hasn’t happened yet. I’m no lawyer of course, but then neither is Ken.
James Wolffe, the Lord Advocate, is definitely a lawyer, the top lawyer in the land no less, and the Lord Advocate is of the opinion that the draft bill is most definitely within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. The Lord Advocate has issued a statement of his own saying that the continuity bill is carefully framed to avoid doing anything or having any effect before Brexit happens. He says that it is perfectly lawful for the Scottish Government to legislate now for what is to happen once EU law no longer applies.
Ken disagrees, because he’s got a degree in history and worked as a reporter for BBC Scotland. So naturally Ken is in the right here, and the Scotland in Union member of an anti-independence party is pure dead unbiased and not in any way motivated by any tribal hatred of the SNP. Oh no, not at all. Because that would be wrong.
The Welsh Senedd has fewer powers than Scotland does, but a remarkably similar bill has been presented to the Welsh Senedd and has been accepted as within the competence of the Welsh legislature to vote on. The difference of course is that the Welsh Government is led by the Labour party and so their bill isn’t a dastardly plot to undermine the Union even though it says pretty much the same thing and makes pretty much the same provisions as the Scottish one does. That said, Welsh devolution is underpinned by different legislation from Scottish devolution, and it is technically possible that legislation in Wales can be lawful but an equivalent in Scotland be unlawful. Morally and politically however, the case is unanswerable. Scotland has supposedly got a more powerful legislature than Wales, the powers of which were guaranteed and enshrined into law after the 2014 referendum by the same British government which is now trying to grab them for itself.
Onieweys, according to Reporting Scotland at least, none of this is as important as the incredible and amazing fact that it’s snowing in Scotland in the winter. Because snow in the winter in Scotland totally unexpected. That Humza Yousaf should be out there personally with a snaw shovel. Actually no, strike that. He shouldn’t be making any preparatory arrangements at all. He should be sitting at home and doing absolutely nothing at all, because according to the Ken Wossisname Doctrine, the snaw hasn’t happened yet. It’s clearly outwith the competence of the Transport Minister to make contingency plans for things that haven’t happened yet. But you can bet that if the Transport Minister didn’t make any plans for what would occur if there is indeed a large and disruptive fall of snow, then Ken’s party would be amongst the first to condemn That Humza Yousaf for not doing his job. Funny then that he’s so determined that the Scottish Government should refrain from making any contingency plans for the crap that is going to rain down on Scotland once Brexit hits the fan.
The Scottish Government is pressing ahead with the Bill despite Ken’s objections. The Lord Advocate is due to explain to MSPs tomorrow (Wednesday) why he believes that the Bill is within the remit of Holyrood. Although this probably won’t shut up Tory MSP Adam IT’S THE LAW! Tompkins who seems determined to go down a Madrid style route and claims that the Scottish Government is acting illegally. The matter doesn’t have to be resolved for now, the Scottish Parliament can vote on the Bill, which since it counts on the support of the Greens and the SNP will presumably pass. However the legality of the bill can be challenged during the period when it’s awaiting Royal Assent, and then the matter will be taken to the UK Supreme Court.
Ken Macintosh is going to be remembered at last. He’ll be remembered for being the first Presiding Officer to rule that a bill is outwith the remit of the Scottish Parliament and then being slapped down by the Lord Advocate who has ruled that it most definitely is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. He’ll be remembered for putting his British nationalism before the permanence and power of a Scottish Parliament which his own party has guaranteed to strengthen and respect. But then Ken’s a Labour politician, and so is constitutionally incapable of seeing a constitutional crisis looming on the horizon without making it worse.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Due to the weather, tomorrow’s The National Roadshow event in Peterhead has been postponed. Forecasts expect a foot of snow, high winds and -10C temperatures for the North East. The event will be rescheduled. Sorry for the inconvenience.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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