The Scotland Bill was published by the Scotland Office (UK Government) this week. It is the job of this bill to take The Vow / Smith Commission report and make it reality. Of course, the last thing the SNP want is for The Vow to be delivered in full. They’d rather it fell short. Even if The Vow is delivered in full, the SNP have no interest in accepting that is the case. They’d rather we talk about process, not policies.
It was therefore no surprise that, almost as soon as it was published, Nicola Sturgeon claimed that the Scotland Bill “falls short in almost every area“. She must have read its 30,375 words at a truly impressive rate.
Never one to knowingly miss an opportunity to mislead people or jump on a bandwagon, Wings Over Scotland (a Bath based cybernat website) claimed the Scotland Bill gave the Scotland Office a veto over decisions democratically reached in Holyrood. This is based around the notion that the Scotland Bill places a duty on Holyrood Ministers to “consult” the Scotland Office as part of their law making process.
This is misleading as:
- Consultation does not imply consent. Indeed, the Scottish Government has a number of consultationsopen right now – it does not need to take on board everything the respondents offer. This is even the case where they are “Statutory Consultees”.
- If Wings Over Scotland had been honest enough to provide a full screenshot of the Scotland Bill section, it would have been clear that the Scotland Office must also consult Holyrood Minsters (see below). This means that if consultation offers the Scotland Office a veto over Holyrood the opposite is also true.
Having debunked the Wings Over Scotland consultation veto myth, let’s look at points in the Scotland Bill were “agreement” is required.
Holyrood must reach agreement with the UK Government regarding:
- technical matters related to the UK wide energy market;
- any change to the UK voter registration system; and,
- when (not if) changes to the universal credit can be implemented.
The UK Government must reach agreement with Holyrood before:
- UK or EU elections are held in Scotland if they clash with Scottish elections; and,
- any transfer of Crown Estate functions.
These appear not to be vetoes, but checks that should be made about the practicability of Scottish / UK Government policy which has cross-border implications (e.g. the use of shared infrastructure). For example, if the SNP want to cut/increase the universal credit surely it is correct that they should ask about how quickly the change can be implemented?
If Scotland had voted for independence, the SNP would have had to seek agreement on much bigger issues – currency, DVLA, the benefit system and energy provision. Would rUK have had a veto on Scottish sovereignty?
Does the Scotland Bill fully encompass The Vow? I don’t know, but the Law Society of Scotland says it does. Is The Vow the right mix of powers to ensure Scotland has autonomy whilst being able to pool and share resources within the UK? I don’t know, but Scotland voted for it. Let’s try to make it work. If there are problems with the mix of powers, I’ll be the first to demand a remedy.