Our rights and democracy under attack

For my long blog this weekend I've turned to my friend Drew Hendry MP to explain the threats posed by the Internal Market Bill. Over to you Drew.

Two things have always troubled the Tories: The EU and the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

The former has, until they ousted their Europhiles, divided them, but the latter has been more straightforward for them – they've always detested the idea.

Now, this Cummings-directed Tory UK Government is acting on both, breaking international law and seizing the opportunity to break devolution at the same time.

Behind the innocent-sounding mutual recognition mechanism, the Internal Market Bill is a race to the bottom on standards, and the UK Government imposing it against our will in Scotland. It undercuts, in nearly all aspects of Scottish life the democratically established choices of the people who live here.

Boris Johnson's government is staging an assault on devolution with the most significant power grab since the Scottish Parliament was re-established (by overwhelmingly popular will in the late nineties).

The fact that this is happening in the full glare of the Scottish public highlights the contempt Westminster has for Scotland's democratic choices. The Scottish public, however, is not daft. They know that this shabby, illegal, dogmatic Bill's purpose isn't to fix anything, but to game the system for vested interests.

Existing mechanisms and simple changes to current regulations, with consensus, could easily have worked instead, making it clear this government arent interested in consensus, just in getting their own narrow ideological way.

The UK Government's approach—the diktat—is the opposite of the democratic European single market approach. The latter is built on the principles of equality, co-operation, co-decision, subsidiarity and, of course, consent. Crucially, ​the single market sets a baseline of minimum agreed standards with which all member states' own rules must be compatible. What a contrast with this hasty, poorly written, contemptuous Bill. 

These powers, affecting almost every aspect of Scottish public life, radically undermine the ability of the Scottish Parliament to serve its people. The provisions in the Internal Market Bill force us to accept the rules that suit market forces, rather than the drive for public well being.

The Tories continually refuse to rule out chlorinated chicken or hormone-injected beef reaching our tables for the simple reason that President Trump has declared that when it comes to doing business with the UK

"everything is on the table."

Biden would insist on the same, but, ironically, this Bill may even stop negotiations altogether if it proceeds as it is.

All told, the UK Government voted against specific amendments to protect standards on food and health ten times, even some raised by their backbenchers.

Their White Paper has case studies on deposit return schemes, food labelling, food manufacturing, hygiene, recycling and animal welfare. It mentions explicitly minimum pricing, building regulations and construction permits. As Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University observes, Scotland's minimum price controls could be

"characterised as a form of product requirement",

making them

"fully subject to the principle of mutual recognition."

Meaning that:

"..imported English alcohol would not have to comply with any new Scottish requirements. Once the mutual recognition obligation applies, there is virtually no scope for Scotland…to justify applying its new rules to English imports: mutual recognition can only be set aside on the basis of serious health threats arising from the internal movement of pests/diseases/unsafe foodstuffs."

While we all should be aiming for a race to the top, this Bill promotes the very opposite.

Indeed, the National Farmers Union of Scotland explained the absence of effective common frameworks could trigger a race to the bottom. In a Scottish context at the very least, they could force a choice between upholding high standards of production or maintaining the competitiveness of agricultural businesses.​

The existing common frameworks already manage cross-UK divergence, where EU law and competences intersect. 'Scottish Environment Link' is clear that the UK Government's plans could

"force Scotland to follow the lowest common denominator."

The Scottish public knows what this is all about – they aren't buying the spin. They see that this grubby attempt to make sure that we can get a deal—any deal as long as it is not with the EU, they're turning over every stone, regardless of who is under it. That's the real reason standards are up for sacrifice.

The bonus for this Tory UK Government is to strangle devolution.

Most worryingly, the Bill directly gives, to the Secretary of State himself, the power to overrule virtually anything that he wants to. Think about that - one, single UK Government Minister has the power to overrule the entire Scottish Parliament.

This fatally undermines the Scottish Parliament's ability to protect and keep our NHS and Scottish Water in public hands. Private companies will be given a guaranteed right to trade unhindered in Scotland, regardless of the views of the people of Scotland.

The Law Society Of Scotland warned that the powers of the Secretary of State are very wide powers, the Secretary of State is under no obligation to consult the devolved administrations before making regulations.

The real threat to trade comes not from internal UK market matters that could be addressed by common frameworks, but from this Tory Government's incompetent handling of the process to agree on a deal with the EU. Their lofty ambitions are now, at best, low deal or no deal.

In doing so, they are removing Scottish people – against their will - from the EU, a prosperous and highly integrated market no less, with an integrated trade and regulatory partnership of 450 million customers. Not to mention the associated social vandalism their reckless behaviour has inflicted – impacts felt across all nations of the UK.

Incidentally, just in case anybody is under the illusion that we can rely on the altruism of Westminster, they should listen to the words of Tory Luke Graham, who lost his seat only last December, he said;

"To reiterate my point and the frustration that I have felt since I have been in this place, sometimes…it appears that the Treasury is not so much a British Treasury but an English Treasury, which becomes incredibly frustrating for people trying to fight for projects in Scottish constituencies"

The UK Government are breaking international law and devolution, firing the starting gun on a race to the bottom on standards, with the UK Government imposing those standards on Scotland against our will. This Bill oversees the biggest power grab since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

The real threat to ​trade is the looming no-deal or low deal that the government are railroading through with the EU.

It is clear for all in Scotland to see that the only way to represent the public needs and to protect our way of life and our hard-won Parliament is through becoming an independent nation, taking our place as an equal partner within the European Union.

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