By Fiona Grahame
So, cam’ all ye at hame wi’ freedom
Never heed whit the hoodies croak for doom
In your hoose a’ the bairns o’ Adam
Can find breid, barley bree an’ painted room. “The Freedom come all ye” , Hamish Henderson
The current Scottish Parliament was established on 6th May 1999 because the Scots wanted one. Of course we had one way before then for hundreds of years and you can find all about that here. It was dissolved when the Treaty of Union was signed in 1707.
The Scottish Parliament, now sitting in the Holyrood building is elected by a form of proportional representation which more accurately reflects the desires of the electorate than does the Parliament in Westminster which continues to use the ‘first past the post system’. At the 2016 election the following were elected for each political party:
|Scottish National Party||Nicola Sturgeon||62|
|Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party||Ruth Davidson||31|
|Scottish Labour||Kezia Dugdale||22|
|Scottish Green Party||Patrick Harvie||6|
|Scottish Liberal Democrats||Willie Rennie||5|
|No Party Affiliation|
Scottish Labour have since changed their leader and at the date of writing it is Richard Leonard. There is a majority in the Scottish Parliament of MSPs who support an Independent Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament is a devolved administration and over the years it has been granted more powers by the UK Parliament. There’s a list of them here List of Devolved Powers
The UK Parliament retains power over:
- benefits and social security (some aspects)
- foreign policy
- trade and industry
- nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity
- consumer rights
- data protection
- the Constitution
There are some fine details under those topics but that is basically it.
So what has the Scottish Parliament done with its powers?
The National Health Service has always been supported by all Scottish Governments and includes free prescriptions and free eye tests. Social and Health Care has been integrated and people over 65 can receive free personal care. This will be extended in April 2019 when Frank’s Law will make it possible for all those who require free personal care to receive it. Mothers can apply for a free baby box which contains essential products, information and a safe sleeping space for their newborn baby.
There are no tuition fees in Scotland. The highest ever number of domiciled Scots went to University in 2017. Apprenticeships are being supported with the Modern Apprenticeship Programme including Foundation courses which can be taken whilst at school. 3 – 5 years olds can have up to 600 hours of free pre-school education with some 2 years olds also being eligible.
Welfare Benefits and Social Security
The Scottish Welfare Fund provides support and no one in Scotland need fear the Bedroom Tax with 70,000 people saved from paying it. New powers have meant that 15% of all social security spend will now be controlled in Scotland. The revised social security system is to have dignity and respect as its core values which will be scrutinised by a new Scottish Commission on Social Security.
Fishing and Farming
Marine Scotland is responsible for controlling the activities of all fishing vessels operating within the Scottish zone. As part of the EU the UK is signed up to the Common Fisheries Policy and negotiations are conducted between UK Government Ministers and the other 27 EU nations. Scottish Government Ministers can and do attend meetings, however, the deals are agreed by the UK Government.
With farming too there is a cross over of responsibilities. As part of the EU the UK is signed up to the Common Agricultural Policy. After a major CAP reform in 2005, there are now two big strands to CAP payments: one for direct income support (pillar 1) and the second for rural development (pillar 2). Currently CAP are distributed by the Scottish Government.
“In 2016, 19,674 different Scottish rural businesses received a CAP payment from EC funds. Of these, 18,435 businesses received £405.51 Million for Pillar 1 payments (BPS, Greening, Young Farmer and Voluntary Coupled Support). £242.3 Million (EC + National money) was paid out on Pillar 2 (SRDP) schemes to 7537 Scottish businesses – some of whom also received Pillar 1 payments. “ Agricultural Subsidy Payment Information
In the last week of Scotland’s 2014 Independence Referendum Scotland was promised The Vow by the leaders of Better Together. A resolution signed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown committed them to a timetable which would see the Scottish Parliament becoming “one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world”. It is thought that this was instrumental in securing a No vote to Scottish Independence.
“To promise is ae thing, to keep it is anither.” Proverb
The Sewel Convention
This is based on a statement by Lord Sewel in the House of Lords on 21 July 1998, during the passage of the Scotland Bill 1997-98. Lord Sewel stated that he
“would expect a convention to be established that Westminster would not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament”.
In Miller v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017 UKSC 5 the Supreme Court held that judges:
“are neither the parents nor the guardians of political conventions; they are merely observers. As such, they can recognise the operation of a political convention in the context of deciding a legal question… but they cannot give legal rulings on its operation or scope, because those matters are determined within the political world.” 
At paragraph 150, the court agreed with submissions from the Lord Advocate (who represented the Scottish Government) and the Counsel General for Wales that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly do not have a legal veto on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The UK will be out the EU at 11pm on Friday 29 March, 2019. Many of the areas which the Scottish Government currently has control over will be clawed back to the UK Government.
The Sewel convention is a mere expectation not legally binding. 111 powers are thought to be involved in what has now been termed a Power Grab by the UK Government.
Only last week a Labour amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill in the UK Parliament would have put a halt to the power grab. All Scottish MPs voted for the amendment except for the 13 Scottish Conservatives with the result that the amendment fell.
What does this mean for the Scottish Parliament?
“The most powerful devolved parliament in the world” is no such thing. A Parliament which has the support of the vast majority of the population. A Parliament that is more representative of the views of the electorate than the UK one. A Parliament which was established due to the will of the People of Scotland.
No one would argue that the Scottish Parliament is perfect but at its heart it has the needs and interests of Scotland. How many , if any , of the 111 powers going straight to the UK Parliament after Brexit will be returned to Scotland? And questions should be asked of the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs who voted against the interests of their own constituents in order to support an enfeebled minority UK Government . Putting Party above People.
“When we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament-men o’ our ain, we could aye peeble them wi’ stanes when they werena gude bairns – But naebody’s nails can reach the length o’ Lunnon.” Mrs Howden in “Heart of Midlothian” by Sir Walter Scott
All quotes used can be found on the Cannongate Wall, Scottish Parliament