Multiple Brexit impact papers are coming out (some unintentionally) and they are all saying the same thing – that all Brexit options will damage the economy. My own research dating back to 2015 also shows that all Brexit scenarios will be worse for Scotland than for the rest of the UK, and so we now have a UK Government that is deliberately implementing a policy that it knows will damage the economy, and damage Scotland more than the rest of the UK. The Scottish Conservatives attacked the Scottish Government’s Brexit analysis as “scaremongering” and are now in an indefensible position.
A few years ago Alex Salmond famously stated that “Scotland wasn’t oppressed by the UK”. However, the leaked Brexit impact report now provides the evidence that the UK Government is acting in a way that wilfully economically oppresses Scotland
That said I fear an even bigger betrayal of Scotland and its devolved parliament is in the pipeline. Back in September in my newspaper column, “Henry VIII powers … a very British coup d’état”, I pointed out that hiding behind the complexity of the EU Withdrawal Bill is an assault on both devolution and on parliamentary democracy itself.
Then in December I wrote, “Hard Brexit will mean the end of devolution”, I pointed out that Brexit could only lead to a British nationalist and Westminster centralist coup, as Westminster would need to subvert Scotland’s democracy by removing and rewriting its hard-won devolved powers.
I have been providing evidence to this effect since the EU referendum was called, and to be honest, sometimes I feel I have been banging my head against a brick wall. However, last week I was invited to give evidence to the Westminster committee investigating the Brexit Trade Bill and that offered the chance to point out that my research leads to the inescapable conclusion that Brexit is actually incompatible with devolution (watch the video here).
For example, healthcare is devolved, and any future trade deal with the US or current ones being rewritten by the Trade Deal Bill (such as with Canada) that could involve access to NHS contracts for North American companies would therefore be subject to a veto by each of the devolved administrations.
Ipso facto, the UK Government does not have the powers it needs to negotiate third nation trade deals, unless it takes powers back from the Scottish Government.
I have given evidence to the Scottish Parliament a few times dating back to 2000, and more recently also to the House of Lords, but never Westminster. What I found was surprising. I stated that David Mundell’s failure to meet the deadline to amend Clause 11 was missed by the Scottish Office and now can only be changed in the Lords. Thus Scotland’s elected representatives have been sidelined and they were almost unanimously in favour of protecting the current devolution settlement.
Now call me a cynic but I pointed out that this looks like a deliberate attempt to delay the transfer of EU-held powers to the devolved parliaments until after the UK Government has had free rein to agree trade deals that run roughshod over the devolution agreements of the smaller nations of these islands.
So if the House of Lords does not cast in stone protections over devolved powers then we will have a constitutional crisis. Conversely, if the House of Lords protects those devolved powers, then we will have a post-Brexit trade crisis. This I believe is what chess players call “reaching an impasse” – a no-win situation.
Over and over again Scotland has been told that new powers will come to Scotland post-Brexit, and so the only option I can see for the UK Government is to transfer returning EU powers to the Scotland Office, thus denying them to the Scottish Parliament whilst claiming the promise of returning them to Scotland has been met.
I would go further though, and suggest Westminster will also need to transfer powers currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament to the Scotland Office for the purpose of agreeing trade deals, and circumnavigating the Scottish Parliament’s consent.
This will clearly lead to both a post-Brexit trade and constitutional crisis for the UK, in Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular.
However, in the last week or so I have detected a growing understanding of the level of damage Brexit will do to Scotland’s economy and also a change within the ranks of Labour in Westminster. My evidence went down like a lead balloon with the Conservative MPs on the committee, but the Labour MPs jumped on it, asking multiple open-ended questions to allow me to get my points across in detail. Afterwards they stated that the evidence proved the need to protect devolution and give the devolved administrations the power to offer or withhold consent to the Brexit bills.
If UK Labour MPs are able to step up and support the right amendments, even if their own leader appears to be unconvinced, then an EFTA-style trade deal with the EU is within reach. That would mean no hard borders in Ireland or Scotland after independence, and force Unionists to go into the next independence referendum arguing that a deliberate 5 per cent fall in GDP is a price worth paying to be ruled by a Westminster parliament that is now wilfully economically oppressing our nation.
They would still need to rip powers from Scotland to negotiate a trade deal with the US for example, and no matter how many spin doctors the Scotland Office hires, they won’t be able to stop more and more people from understanding that Brexit makes independence the top economic opportunity of our generation.