I was saving this post for the final passing of the Scotland Bill 2015, but following the “English Votes for English Foxes” maelstrom and Mr Mundell’s promises to “tweak” the bill, I felt I couldn’t wait. Originally this was going to be a return to the Devo Files, showing exactly what we Yes voters regrettably expected – SNP devolution proposals thwarted by a mixture of massive Conservative opposition and New Labour abstention. It cannot be spun as anything other than the contemptuous defenestration of the democratic will of the people of Scotland.
Nonetheless, events happen – and in this case, a lot quicker than I thought.
Wings Over Scotland encapsulates why, in his opinion (and mine), the SNP are completely right in proposing to vote against the foxhunting ban repeal. Back when it was first proposed, I perceived it to be a Tory trap, to goad the SNP into abandoning their long-standing practise of voting only on laws that affect Scotland – the logic being that if the SNP were willing to do this, then the route to English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) would be paved, and the Scottish electorate would lose faith in them. That isn’t how it turned out, though – and the Conservatives have none to blame but themselves.
I still stand by my original interpretation that the foxhunting repeal was intended as a Tory trap for the SNP, and that it could have worked if they were smart. But they weren’t smart, and the SNP turned the Tory’s own trap against them, because the Conservatives simply couldn’t wait to ride roughshod over their pre-referendum promises to the No Voters of Scotland.
See, the entire argument of English Votes for English Laws is valid as an isolated concept: it doesn’t seem fair for one country’s MPs to vote on something that has nothing to do with that MP’s constituency or constituents, especially in areas which are devolved to an assembly or parliament. The SNP argued to lead by example, and abstained on those issues: there were never enough of them to swing a vote anyway, and for some reason nobody (other than the Tories) seemed to mind when it was Scottish New Labour or Liberal Democrat MPs voting on English & Welsh issues. Of course, the best way to settle this discrepancy is the introduction of an English Parliament as a counterpart to Holyrood – which you’d think people would be clamouring for.
But, as they say, times change. The SNP have not 6, not 11, but 56 MPs. Only 3 times has that number been equalled or bettered for a single party in modern Scottish history, and all before the regional boundary change reduced the number of Scottish constituencies from 72 to 59. It is certainly the largest percentage of Scottish seats for any single party in modern times (94.9% compared to 82.9% for the 1910 Liberal landslide). In contrast, the UK Labour Party has never before had less than 2 Scottish seats since the first election it contested over a century ago; the Liberal Democrats have never had less than 9, and the last time their predecessors in the Liberal party had only one Scottish MP was 1959. It says something when the Conservatives’ lone Scottish seat isn’t the lowest the party’s had even in the last 20 years, let alone modern history.
So you’d think this alone would be enough for the UK parties to respect the mandate of the people of Scotland: even if they did not all vote for the SNP, SNP candidates had an overall majority in 35 of the 59 constituencies – i.e. over half – and the second largest party made all sorts of promises over devolution and “super devo max” prior to the referendum. If you’re not going to treat the SNP landslide as an automatic mandate for independence – as has been the case in the past, not least by the Grand Dame of Conservatives herself – then you must certainly treat it as a mandate for more powers.
So how to explain what happened in the last two months?
The Devo Files Return
Here’s a refresher course on the last Scotland Bill:
Second Reading of the Scotland Bill
For: 6 SNP
Against: 15 NL, 10 LD, 1 C
Absent: 25 NL, 1 LD
Poll Count Clause
For: 31 NL, 5 SNP
Against: 8 LD, 1 C
Absent: 9 NL, 3 LD, 1 SNP
Devolving powers over air weapons
For: 6 SNP
Against: 26 NL, 8 LD, 1 C
Absent: 14 NL, 3 LD
Retaining Insolvency Powers at Holyrood
For: 6 SNP
Against: 25 NL, 8 LD, 1 C
Absent: 15 NL, 3 LD
Retaining Health Professional Regulation at Holyrood
For: 6 SNP
Against: 20 NL, 7 LD, 1 C
Absent: 20 NL, 4 LD
Devolving Quarrying & Mining Tax Powers
For: 6 SNP
Against: 6 LD, 1 C
Absent: 40 NL, 5 LD
Ministerial Code of Practise
For: 24 NL, 6 SNP
Against: 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 16 NL, 6 LD
Devolving Maritime & Coastguard Agency
For: 6 SNP
Against: 26 NL, 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 14 NL, 6 LD
Devolving Railway Responsibilities
For: 26 NL, 6 SNP
Against: 5 LD, 4 NL, 1 C
Absent: 10 NL, 6 LD
Devolving Crown Estates
For: 6 SNP
Against: 31 NL, 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 9 NL, 6 LD
Devolving Time Powers
For: 6 SNP
Against: 29 NL, 5 LD, 1 C
Absent: 11 NL, 6 LD
Devolving Food Content & Labelling
For: 13 NL
Against: 18 NL, 6 SNP, 6 LD, 1 C
Absent: 9 NL, 5 LD
Devolving Company Profits Tax Powers
For: 6 SNP
Against: 22 NL, 6 LD, 1 C
Absent: 18 NL, 5 LD
The first bill involving devolution in 2015 – and the first time devolution’s been put to the vote in four years – actually happened prior to the election, in January. It served as a last chance for the New Labour, Liberal Democrats and lone Conservative MPs to prove to the people of Scotland that they were serious about devolving more powers to Scotland – and you can bet they knew the Scots were watching them like hawks. This was a prelude to the Scotland Bill Amendments saga, a test to see just how seriously the UK parties took The Vow.
The bill was a proposition for a new clause in the Infrastructure Bill to include the devolution of Shale Gas Extraction Regulation to the Scottish Parliament. Fracking has been a hot topic throughout the UK, with a great many people wanting to see it banned outright, let alone regulated: the SNP deliberated for a bit with their new left-wing influx before announcing their call for a UK-wide moratorium. Since that moratorium was defeated, it was proposed that at least the Scots should get to decide what should be done about fracking in Scotland.
Here’s how it went.
Infrastructure Bill — New Clause 2 — Shale Gas Extraction in Scotland — Devolution of Regulation to Scottish Parliament
231 for, 324 against
For: 218(+1) New Labour, 6 SNP, 2 PC, 2 SDLP, 1 Alliance, 1 Green, 1 Respect
Against: 278(+1) Conservatives, 1 DUP, 44(+1) Lib Dem, 1 UKIP
Absent: 38 New Labour, 24 Conservatives, 11 Lib Dem, 7 DUP, 2 Independent, 1 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP
On the one hand, every Scottish New Labour MP who bothered to turn up voted with the SNP to devolve powers over fracking to Scotland. On the other, over a quarter of New Labour’s Scottish MPs didn’t turn up to vote – Russell Brown, Michael Connarty, Jimmy Hood, Eric Joyce, Jim McGovern, John Robertson, Lindsay Roy, Jim Sheridan, Jim Murphy, and Gordon Brown were all absent. Yes, that’s right: neither the newly elected “leader” of Scottish Labour, nor the man who gave his personal guarantee to deliver new powers for Scotland, turned up for the first post-referendum devolution vote. That was their last chance, and they blew it – they either declined to contest their constituencies, or lost them, in 2015.*
Indeed, of the UK MPs, neither the Prime Minister nor the leader of the opposition felt it necessary or desirable to vote on this at all, even though they were two of the three signatories of the Vow. The third, Nick Clegg, voted against it. I guess you could say at least Messrs Cameron & Miliband had some guile.
Nonetheless, this was still back when there were only 6 SNP MPs. Surely after becoming the largest party in Scotland by a significant margin, as well as the third largest party of the entire UK, the Conservatives would see fit to acknowledge their mandate, and New Labour will ditch their vindictive Bain Principle as a result?
English Votes for Scottish Powers
The first vote in regards to devolution of this term was one that’ll be familiar to the comforting words of the Vow: to “protect the interests of Scotland as more powers are devolved from central government to local councils and the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.” In particular, the amendment asks to:
- ‘note that‘, whilst the timeline of the cross-party agreement reached through the Smith Commission has been met and the Scotland Bill will make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world, the Government has failed to confirm that the Barnett formula will be protected and welfare provisions do not go far enough; and
- ‘resolve‘ that devolution should be delivered without leaving Scotland worse off.”
The stage is set: would the MPs of the rest of the UK – particularly England, as the constituent nation with the most MPs – respect not just the will of the people of Scotland, but their own words and sentiments prior to the referendum?
Queen’s Speech — Devolution — Protection of the Interests of Scotland
331 for, 275 against
For: 214(+2) New Labour, 55 SNP, 3 PC, 2 SDLP, 1 Green
Against: 326(+2) Conservatives, 4 DUP, 1 UUP
Absent: 24 New Labour, 8 Lib Dems, 4 DUP, 2 Conservatives, 1 SDLP, 1 SNP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
For the avoidance of doubt, David Cameron – one of the signatories of The Vow – voted against “protecting the interests of Scotland.” Ed Miliband, to his credit, voted aye – albeit in a much-reduced capacity, since he is no longer Leader of the Opposition. Nick Clegg didn’t vote at all – and indeed, he hasn’t voted once this parliamentary term. Their Scottish cohorts voted in kind: David Mundell, a Scottish MP, voted against “protecting the interests of Scotland,” Ian Murray voted aye, and Alistair Carmichael decided not to make any decision at all. It’s emblematic of the three Unionist parties’ attitude to devolution in general: the Tories deny it, New Labour only seem to support it when it suits their purposes & especially when it’s not the SNP’s idea, and the Lib Dems can’t be relied to commit one way or the other with more than a handful of MPs.
Here we see what will become a recurring theme: a “Devolution Alliance” of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and SDLP (and occasionally the Greens and New Labour depending on their mood and the Bain Principle) against the “Anti-Devolution Alliance” of the Conservatives, DUP, and UUP (occasionally joined by UKIP and the independent Sylvia Hermon, formerly of the UUP), with the Lib Dems a wildcard. The result will be a common one: even if all the Devolution Alliance works together, the Conservatives have enough numbers on their own to thwart any proposal for further devolution to Scotland, regardless of any promises or vows they made before the referendum or election.
It’s the first of many thumbs down to Scottish devolution from the UK government.
The Harrying of the Scotland Bill
The first proposed amendment to the Scotland Bill on the 15th of May was one of Gordon Brown’s legacies – one which he, regrettably, declined to see through by contesting his constituency – that of the permanence of the Scottish Parliament. The proposal was to explicitly acknowledge in law that “the Scottish Parliament is a permanent part of the United Kingdom’s constitution,” and that it may only be repealed if (a) the Scottish Parliament has consented to the proposed repeal, and (b) a referendum has been held in Scotland on the proposed repeal and a majority of those voting at the referendum have consented to it. It was debated at length in Westminster.
The first five words of The Vow were “The Scottish Parliament is permanent.” The leaders of the Conservatives, New Labour, and the Liberal Democrats all signed it – and they are all still serving MPs.
Scotland Bill — Clause 1 — Consent of Scottish People and Parliament Before Abolition of The Scottish Parliament
271 for, 302 against
For: 207 New Labour, 56 SNP, 4 Lib Dem, (+2) PC, 2 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 Independent
Against: 300(+2) Conservatives, 1 DUP, 1 UUP
Absent: 28 Conservatives, 25 New Labour, 4 Lib Dem, 7 DUP, 1 Independent, 1 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP
And just like that, the last tattered scrap of the Vow has finally crumbled into ashes. To his credit, Ed Miliband voted in favour, as did the entirety of New Labour in Scotland (i.e. Ian Murray) and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland (i.e. Alistair Carmichael) – although as he is no longer Leader of the Opposition, he does not carry nearly the responsibility he had when the Vow was signed. Neither Nick Clegg nor David Cameron bothered to vote. The Conservatives in Scotland (i.e. David Mundell) voted against it – and since 301 of his fellow Tories voted with him, it effectively meant that a motion 58 of 59 Scottish MPs supported was thwarted. If the absent New Labour, Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and independent voted aye, it may have barely passed – assuming none of the absent Conservatives and DUP did. But they didn’t – so it failed.
The second vote was on the same day, and similarly framed around the issue of respect. As the largest and majority the party, the Conservatives are duty-bound to carry out their manifesto commitment to deliver a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. The timing of this referendum was a cause of some concern, and so a suggestion was made to ensure that the referendum doesn’t coincide with the Scottish government elections in 2016.
Scotland Bill — Clause 5 — Timing of elections
269 for, 305 against
For: 204(+2) New Labour, 56 SNP, 4 Lib Dems, 2 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 PC, 1 independent
Against: 303(+2) Conservatives, 1 DUP, 1 UUP
Absent: 26 New Labour, 25 Conservatives, 7 DUP, 4 Lib Dems, 2 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
It is evidently no concern of the Tories that their European referendum might possibly conflict with a mere local election in Scotland, even if nearly every other major party thinks it’s a terrible idea – though curiously, Mr Cameron didn’t seem invested enough to vote himself, even if Ed Miliband did. Messrs Carmichael and Murray joined forces with the dreadful nationalists only to see that the lone Tory MP in Scotland had more friends than they did.
The next vote was for what amounted to the infamous Full Fiscal Autonomy/Responsibility – or, as the amendment has it: “(a) taxes and excise in Scotland, (b) government borrowing and lending in Scotland, and (c) control over public expenditure in Scotland.” This amendment would enable the Scottish Parliament to amend the Scotland Act 1998 to remove the reservation on taxation, borrowing and public expenditure in Scotland, and devolving them to Holyrood. Since the Conservatives’ Edward Leigh spoke highly of it, it initially provided New Labour with more tiresome “Tartan Tories” jabs. You’d think, then, that the Tories would vote for it, and New Labour would vote against it.
Scotland Bill — Clause 11 — Full Control Over Taxation, Borrowing and Public Spending for Scottish Parliament
60 for, 309 against
For: 56 SNP, 2 New Labour, (+2) PC, 2 SDLP
Against: 305(+2) Conservatives, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Independent
Absent: 230 New Labour, 23 Conservatives, 8 Lib Dem, 7 DUP, 1 PC, 1 Green, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
The Conservatives voted against it. New Labour (and the Lib Dems for that matter) abstained almost to a man: only John Martin McDonnell and Dennis Skinner voted – and they voted with the SNP. I’d hardly put those two on New Labour’s hard right, so the “Tartan Tories” suggestion looks a wee bit silly right now. Astoundingly, Messrs Carmichael & Murray of the non-SNP Scottish contingent at Westminster didn’t turn up to vote; less astoundingly, the lone Scottish Tory voted with his party. Not one of the three signatories of the Vow turned up to vote at all.
Let me knead my temples for a moment… So after everything New Labour have been saying, about how dreadful and terrible and dangerous FFA is, how it would impoverish Scotland, how it would wreck the economy, and how apparently the Tories would love nothing more… nearly all of them abstain!?! Not only that, but they were counting on the Tories to stop the SNP, because even if all the other parties in the chamber combined, it wouldn’t come to even half the SNP’s number.
Think about that: as they saw it, New Labour put the future of Scotland in the hands of the Tories. If the Tories abstained, or voted with the SNP as they did in the two previous votes, Scotland would have FFA – and that, according to New Labour, would have been catastrophic for Scotland.
And we’re expected to vote for these people?
The fourth vote was the first of a few of Ian Murray’s grand schemes, a Constitutional Convention for the United Kingdom: it’s understandably not a Scotland-only issue despite being included in the Scotland Bill umbrella, but, well, see for yourself:
- (1) The Prime Minister shall establish a Constitutional Convention within one month of the day on which this act is passed.
- (2) The Chair and Members of the Constitutional Convention shall be appointed in accordance with a process to be laid before, and approved by, resolution in each House of Parliament.
- (3) The Chair of the Constitutional Convention is not permitted to be a Member of Parliament or a member of a political party.
- (4) Members of the Constitutional must include, but not be limited to, the following—
(a) members of the public, chosen by lot through the jury system, who shall comprise the majority of those participating in the convention;
(b) elected representatives at all levels;
(c) representatives of civil society organisations and, in an advisory role, academia.
- (5) The Constitutional Convention shall review and make recommendations in relation to future governance arrangements for the United Kingdom, including but not limited to the following—
(a) the role and voting rights of Members of the House of Commons;
(b) democratic reform of the House of Lords;
(c) further sub-national devolution within England;
(d) codification of the constitution.
- (6) The Constitutional Convention shall engage in widespread consultation across the nations and regions of the UK, and must provide a report to both Houses of Parliament by 31 March 2016.
- (7) The Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament a formal response to each recommendation of the Constitutional Convention within four months of the publication of the final report from the Constitutional Convention.”
Quite why Mr Murray felt it was in his gift (or, indeed, appropriate) to suggest a UK Constitutional Convention in a Scotland Bill is beyond me, but nonetheless:
Scotland Bill — New Clause 2 — Constitutional Convention
218 for, 306 against
For: 205(+2) New Labour, 4 Lib Dems, 2 PC, 2 SDLP, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Green, 1 independent
Against: 306(+2) Conservatives
Absent: 56 SNP, 25 New Labour, 22 Conservatives, 6 DUP, 4 Lib Dems, 1 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Remarkably, even when every other party that voted (New Labour, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Greens, and even their erstwhile allies in the DUP & UUP) went against the Conservatives, the Oakmen still triumphed by a substantial margin. The SNP were, at this point, still in “Scottish only issues” mode, and so abstained from Mr Murray’s UK-wide suggestion – not that it mattered in the end, of course, since even if the SNP did vote, the result would have been the same. Now, if the SNP & absent New Labour, DUP, Lib Dems, Plaid, SDLP and UUP showed up, and even a handful of Tories stayed at home, it might been a different story – but they didn’t, so it wasn’t.
The fifth vote was even wider-ranging. It was, essentially, the Devomax amendment: the constitution, foreign affairs, public service, defence and treason would remain reserved to Westminster, but financial and economic matters, home affairs, trade and industry, energy, transport, social security, regulation of the professions, employment, health and medicines, media and culture and other miscellaneous matters would be devolved to Holyrood.
Gordon Brown promised “Home Rule.” Alistair Darling consented to the description of “Devo Max.” David Cameron said “all the options of devolution are there and are possible.” Devo-Max, Home Rule, whatever you want to call it, is by far the preferred choice compared to the status quo within the UK.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 3 — Powers of the Scottish Parliament
68 for, 298 against
For: 56 SNP, 8(+2) Conservative, 2 PC, 1 New Labour, 1 Green
Against: 294(+2) Conservatives, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 Independent
Absent: 231 New Labour, 24 Conservatives, 8 Lib Dem, 6 DUP, 1 PC, 1 Green, 3 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Once again, the Conservatives voted against the SNP (save 8 rebels, including Edward Leigh) – including their only Scottish MP. Once again, New Labour (save Dennis Skinner) and the Liberal Democrats abstained – including their only Scottish MPs. And, once again, all three signatories of the Vow were absent.
Up until now, we’ve seen the Conservatives deny devolution to the Scottish Parliament – but at least in those cases, it was technically in their gift to bequeath in the eyes of UK law. The sixth vote was a direct clash between Westminster and Holyrood. The Human Rights Act has been discussed a lot in the UK mostly in regards to EU law, and exactly where Scotland fits into it all is a bit complex. This amendment proposed that any repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 as it applies to Scotland must have the express permission of the Scottish Government.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 5 — Veto for Scottish Parliament on Repeal of Human Rights Act as it Applies to Scotland
274 for, 309 against
For: 206(+2) New Labour, 56 SNP, 6 Lib Dem, 2 PC, 2 SDLP, 1 Green
Against: 306(+2) Conservatives, 2 DUP, 1 UUP
Absent: 24 New Labour, 22 Conservatives, 2 Lib Dem, 6 DUP, 1 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Note that this is specifically about the Human Rights Act as it applies to Scotland. It will not affect England, Wales or Northern Ireland. And yet it was defeated – mostly by non-Scottish MPs. Once again, Ed Miliband voted, but Messrs Cameron & Clegg didn’t. Messrs Carmichael & Murray voted aye, and again, Mr Mundell voted no. The will of 58 defeated by the will of 1. Again.
The final amendment of the 15th of June was comparatively modest, seeking only that the UK government at least ask the Scottish Parliament before acting on legislation which affects devolved areas: this is recommended by both the Sewell Convention and the Smith Commission. You can probably guess how that went.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 10 — Require UK Parliament to Have Consent of Scottish Parliament Before Legislating on Devolved Matters
63 for, 309 against
For: 56 SNP, 5 Lib Dem, (+2) PC, 2 SDLP
Against: 306(+2) Conservatives, 1 DUP, 1 Independent, 1 UUP
Absent: 232 New Labour, 22 Conservatives, 7 DUP, 3 Lib Dem, 1 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 UKIP
That’s the third time in one day that the Conservatives – including the lone Scottish Conservative – resolutely trampled any notion of respecting the Vow, the Smith Commission, the referendum result, and the clear mandate of the people of Scotland into the dirt. It’s the third time in one day that New Labour chose to abstain, and this time not even Dennis Skinner lent his vote. Most pointedly, it’s the third time in one day that not one of the signatories of The Vow chose to make good on their promise by voting to give the people of Scotland the power over their own affairs that poll after poll has shown they desire.
Three betrayals. Three times.
Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times…”
Fast forward to the 29th of June. Mr Murray had a wild idea: an Independent Commission on Impact of Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland on the Scottish Economy, or ICIFFASSE (we’ll not be calling it either of those). Even though just a few weeks ago the Tories resoundingly voted down FFA. The problems with the proposal should be evident on reading:
- (1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a commission of between four and eleven members to conduct an analysis of the impact of full fiscal autonomy on the Scottish economy, labour market and public finances and to report by 31 March 2016.
- (2) No Member of the House of Commons or of the Scottish Parliament may be a member of the commission.
- (3) No employee of the Scottish Government or of any government Department or agency anywhere in the United Kingdom may be a member of the commission.
- (4) The Secretary of State shall appoint as members of the commission only persons who appear to the Secretary of State to hold a relevant qualification or to have relevant experience.
- (5) The Secretary of State shall not appoint as a member of the commission any person who is a member of a political party.
- (6) Before appointing any member of the commission, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Chair of any select committee appointed by the House of Commons to consider Scottish affairs, and
(b) the Chair of any select committee appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of Her Majesty’s Treasury and its associated public bodies.
- (7) The Secretary of State may by regulations issue the commission with terms of reference and guidelines for the commission’s working methods, including an outline definition of the policy of full fiscal autonomy for the commission to analyse.
- (8) The Secretary of State must lay copies of the report of the commission before both Houses of Parliament, and must transmit a copy of the report of the commission to the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament.
- (9) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument, subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
So Mr Murray wants the Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland to appoint a committee of persons unknown with absolutely ludicrous restrictions for the purpose of ascertaining the impact of Full Fiscal Autonomy on Scotland, a complex and highly variable situation dependent entirely on legislation and circumstances, which the Secretary of State himself has the luxury of defining, and working in consultation with the Treasury Select Committee and Scottish Affairs Select Committee, and on top of all that, expects it to be out by March 2016. Here’s the debate.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 1 — Independent Commission on Impact of Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland on the Scottish Economy
192 for, 376 against
For: 187(+2) New Labour, 4 Lib Dem, 1 Green
Against: 313(+2) Conservatives, 55 SNP, 4 DUP, 2 PC, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 43 New Labour, 15 Conservatives, 4 DUP, 4 Lib Dems, 3 SDLP, 1 PC, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
This is a curious vote for a whole bunch of reasons: the SNP voted against it, yet you would think the SNP would be all to happy to have a commission look into FFA… until you remember that said commission would be controlled by the Secretary of State, the Treasury Select Committee, and Scottish Affairs Select Committee, all of whom just happen to be largely composed of Conservatives (the SASC is particularly obnoxious in that only 4 of 11 – one third of the members – even represent a Scottish constituency). It would give David Mundell a huge amount of power, after all, and the Tories would surely want to put the SNP menace to bed too.
Yet the Tories voted against it too. You would think that they would jump at the chance to further fortify their man in North Britain’s position. What’s more, the lone Green votes against the SNP: not unknown, but still uncommon. The strangest, however, is that not only the Conservatives, but the DUP, UUP, and independent vote with the SNP – as we will see, this is not the usual situation.
There were many howls on social media of how the SNP don’t want transparency, about how they COLLUDED WITH THE TORIES to hide the truth about FFA… and in the process deprive the lone Tory left in Scotland of significant vetoing powers, and turn down a fantastic opportunity to kill FFA once and for all (even though, again, they already voted it down) by proving its incapabilities. Why didn’t they?
The SNP have voted against devolution before when they believed it was either meaningless without greater scope (such as the Food Labelling Bill) or not in Scotland’s best interests: they perceived this vote not to be in Scotland’s best interests because while the intent was to devolve more responsibility to Holyrood, the actuality was just another means of Westminster control. Besides, as we’ve seen, even if the SNP abstained or voted with New Labour, the Tories had the final say – and they voted against it.
Mr Murray wasn’t finished wasting everyone’s time. Not satisfied with an undefined Constitutional Convention or an FFA Commission, the next vote was to set up an independent Scottish Office for Budgetary Responsibility. Why would Mr Murray want to set up a new Scottish OBR when the famously “impartial” OBR does that job anyway? And if you aren’t going to vote for FFA (neither the Tories nor New Labour want to, making it a completely moot point) what’s the point in setting a Scottish OBR up? It’s a waste of time and a waste of money.
Here’s the debate, where more concise folk than I talk about it.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 21 — The Scottish Office for Budget Responsibility
194 for, 376 against
For: 187(+2) New Labour, 4 Lib Dems, 2 SDLP, 1 Green
Against: 312(+2) Conservatives, 56 SNP, 4 DUP, 2 PC, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 43 New Labour, 16 Conservatives, 4 DUP, 1 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
As a rule of thumb: any time Ian Murray actually proposes to “devolve” something (really just set up some busybodying committee), expect weird results. Carmichael & Murray voted aye; Mundell voted no; Cameron, Clegg & Miliband were absent. I’m more amazed that a fifth of Mr Murray’s colleagues didn’t turn up to this and his previous motion than anything else.
The next was a return to Full Fiscal Autonomy – this time in those exact words. Whatever the merits of Full Fiscal Autonomy, the SNP campaigned on it as a manifesto commitment, so they had a duty to keep fighting for it upon their election. Consequently, the UK government surely would have a duty to respect the clear mandate from the Scottish people in the 56 MPs and 50% of the entire vote.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 33 — Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland
58 for, 504 against
For: 56 SNP, 2 SDLP, (+2) PC
Against: 310(+2) Conservatives, 186 New Labour, 4 DUP, 1 Green, 1 Independent, 1 Lib Dem, 1 UUP
Absent: 46 New Labour, 18 Conservatives, 7 Lib Dem, 4 DUP, 1 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
1,454,436 Scots – half the entire electorate – voted for a party which campaigned for Full Fiscal Autonomy, which resulted in 56 of 59 MPs elected on a Full Fiscal Autonomy platform. Yet three parties with 1 Scottish MP apiece and 46% of the electorate combined prevailed. Winners lose, and losers win. Of course none of the Vow signatories voted. At least on this occasion New Labour stuck to their guns and held their noses to vote with the Tories against providing FFA, rather than abstain like the last such vote.
One more vote for the day, and it was a mere morsel compared to FFA: the devolution of income tax to the Scottish Parliament.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 54 — Devolution of Power Over Income Tax in Scotland
57 for, 311 against
For: 56 SNP, 1 New Labour, (+2) PC
Against: 305 Conservatives, 4 DUP, 1 Independent, 1 UUP
Absent: 231 New Labour, 23 Conservatives, 8 Lib Dems, 4 DUP, 3 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 PC, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Something of a pattern is emerging: Plaid Cymru and Dennis Skinner votes with the SNP, Conservatives (including Mr Mundell) vote against, New Labour (including Mr Murray) & Lib Dems (including Mr Carmichael) abstain, none of the Vow signatories vote. Result is the same.
The next series of votes happened the next day. The first of these was to do with welfare, and something that New Labour in Scotland are constantly pleading with the SNP to “defend” against the Tories’ onslaughts. This amendment was comparable to the Scottish Parliament’s mitigation of the Bedroom Tax: an ability for the Scottish Parliament to change the threshold on paying disability benefits to a less restrictive one.
Scotland Bill — Clause 19 — Threshold for Disability Benefits
252 for, 312 against
For: 192(+2) New Labour, 52 SNP, 4 Lib Dem, 2 SDLP, 1 PC, 1 Green
Against: 305(+2) Conservatives, 4 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 UKIP
Absent: 38 New Labour, 23 Conservatives, 4 DUP, 4 Lib Dem, 4 SNP, 2 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 Independent
It’s somewhat amazing that this is the first vote that doesn’t have at least 55 or even all 56 SNP MPs present, but at 92% it’s still far more than the lowest turnouts for any of the other major parties this parliament – heck, it isn’t even the lowest turnout percentage or number for this vote. In any case, the result is the same: since it’s a New Labour proposition, New Labour deigned not to abstain, while 4 Lib Dems and the Devo Alliance (SNP, SDLP, PC, Green) united. Unfortunately, so did the Anti-Devo Alliance (Tories, DUP, UUP). Even if the no-shows from New Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems joined their fellows, it wouldn’t have been enough. As before, Messrs Carmichael & Murray voted aye while Mr Mundell voted no, and the 3 Vow Signatories were conspicuous by their absence.
Related to the previous amendment was Clause 19, another New Labour attempt to wrest some control over the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in Scotland from the predations of the Tories. The goal of the clause was to enable the Scottish Parliament to lower the threshold of Carer’s Allowance to those under 16, in full-time education, or in gainful employment.
Scotland Bill — Clause 19 — Carers Benefit — Scope of Eligibility
258 for, 313 against
For: 195(+2) New Labour, 55 SNP, 4 Lib Dem, 2 SDLP, 1 Green, 1 PC
Against: 306(+2) Conservatives, 4 DUP, 2 UUP, 1 UKIP
Absent: 35 New Labour, 22 Conservatives, 4 Lib Dem, 4 DUP, 2 PC, 1 SDLP, 1 SNP, 1 independent
This is getting repetitive: a proposition that the Scottish Parliament be able to do something that only affects Scots with no detriment whatsoever to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland – with the support of several non-Scottish parties & MPs – is rejected by mostly English & Northern Irish MPs. Carmichael & Murray = aye; Mundell = no; Cameron, Clegg & Miliband = absent. Again.
Thus far, David Mundell has something of the pallour of a colonial governor, able to thwart the wishes of 56 to 58 of his fellow MPs despite being the sole Scottish representative of the Conservative Party in Westminster. As Secretary of State for Scotland, he wields disproportionately enormous power despite his party having its lowest support in Scotland for over a century, having one of the smallest majorities of any Scottish constituency, and not even breaking past 40% of the vote share. So, naturally, the Conservatives require him to retain as much power as possible – to the point where he has the power to veto several regulations.
Case in point was the vote to remove the Scottish Parliament’s requirement in the Scotland Bill to have the Secretary of State’s agreement before changing legislation on benefits payments in respect of rent. In other words, a veto – no matter what Mr Mundell claims. This could almost be read as a personal challenge to the dominion of the Right Honourable Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale by the third largest party of the United Kingdom.
Scotland Bill — Clause 24 — Power of Scottish Ministers to Change Regulations on Benefits in Respect of Rent
261 for, 313 against
For: 199 New Labour, 55 SNP, 5 Lib Dems, (+2) PC, 2 SDLP
Against: 313(+2) Conservatives
Absent: 33 New Labour, 15 Conservatives, 8 DUP, 3 Lib Dem, 2 UUP, 1 PC, 1 Green, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 independent
Murray & Carmichael voted aye; Mundell no. In a shocking turn of events, while Messrs Clegg & Miliband continued to abstain, Mr Cameron did vote – and he voted no. Mr Mundell was his man in North Britain, and he needed to remain powerful at all costs – even if it meant actualising his disrespect for the people of Scotland in the process.
The Tories were on their own on this one: their anti-devolution allies in the DUP and UUP didn’t turn up, and 15 of their own members were absent. Yet even then, with more New Labour and Lib Dems than usual turning up, along with all but one SNP, SDLP and Plaid Cymru – even then, the Tories were victorious. And even if every one of the absent pro-devolution party members were present, the Tories would have been victorious. The Governor smiled with great satisfaction and relish – all the forces of Scottish Devolution were powerless without his express will and pleasure…
On we go to the next vote, which was an attempt to devolve powers over employment support programmes to the Scottish Parliament.
Scotland Bill — Clause 26 — Employment Support Programmes — Powers of the Scottish Parliament — Wording
260 for, 316 against
For: 197 New Labour, 53(+2) SNP, 5 Lib Dems, 3 SDLP, 2 PC
Against: 312(+2) Conservatives, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 35 New Labour, 16 Conservatives, 6 DUP, 3 Lib Dems, 1 SNP, 1 PC, 1 Green, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
The Anti-Devo Alliance strikes again, and even in smaller numbers they triumph over the Devo Alliance. Carmichael & Murray vote aye; Mundell no; Vow signatories absent. Getting most tedious.
New Labour weren’t done yet: they put forward another proposal that day. This time it was to devolve powers over housing benefit – most notably the power to not just mitigate the hated Bedroom Tax (or the “Spare Room Subsidy” as the Conservatives have cynically titled it), but abolish it entirely.
Scotland Bill — New Clause 28 — Housing Benefit — Devolving Powers to Scotland
259 for, 317 against
For: 195(+2) New Labour, 55 SNP, 4 Lib Dems, 3 SDLP, 2 PC
Against: 313(+2) Conservatives, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 32 New Labour, 15 Conservatives, 6 DUP, 4 Lib Dems, 1 PC, 1 Green, 1 UUP
Murray & Carmichael voted aye; Mundell no; Cameron, Clegg & Miliband absent. Scottish citizens would continue to suffer because English MPs decided not to let them have the power to decide for themselves.
New Labour tried again, this time with a proposal to let the Scottish Parliament create new benefits, as recommended by the Smith Commission. The Conservatives already tossed their own promises to the side, why stop now?
Scotland Bill — New Clause 31 — Ability of Scottish Parliament to Create New Benefits
258 for, 317 against
For: 195(+2) New Labour, 55 SNP, 3 SDLP, 3 Lib Dems, 2 PC
Against: 313(+2) Conservatives, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 35 New Labour, 15 Conservatives, 6 DUP, 5 Lib Dems, 1 PC, 1 Green, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Murray & Carmichael voted aye; Mundell no; Cameron, Clegg & Miliband absent.
Getting fed up with this.
One more vote on the 30th: the devolution of National Insurance to Scotland. This was proposed by the SNP: would New Labour abstain again?
Scotland Bill — New Clause 39 — Powers of the Scottish Parliament — National Insurance
58 for, 513 against
For: 55 SNP, 3 SDLP, (+2) PC
Against: 309(+2) Conservatives, 197 New Labour, 3 Lib Dems, 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 35 New Labour, 19 Conservatives, 6 DUP, 5 Lib Dems, 1 PC, 1 Green, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Carmichael, Murray, and Mundell voted no; Cameron, Clegg & Miliband absent. Not only have the Conservatives reneged on their fantastical promises of “the most powerful devolved parliament in the world,” but the lone New Labour and Lib Dem candidates for Scotland joined with Mundell to deny the Scottish Parliament the ability to decide their own national insurance.
The next devolution-related vote was on the 6th of July: it didn’t involve substantial devolution of new powers to Scotland, but was in the spirit of the cross-party 50/50 initiative. It was a vote to allow the Scottish Parliament to introduce equal opportunities in relation to an appointment as a member of a Scottish public authority:
- Amendment 162, page 34, line 4, at end insert—
- “Equal opportunities in relation to an appointment as a member of a Scottish public authority.
Scotland Bill — Clause 32 — Equal Opportunities — Scottish Public Authorities — Powers of the Scottish Parliament
250 for, 312 against
For: 188 New Labour, 55 SNP, 3 Lib Dems, 1(+2) PC, 2 SDLP, 1 Green
Against: 309(+2) Conservatives, 1 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 44 New Labour, 19 Conservatives, 7 DUP, 5 Lib Dems, 1 SNP, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Here we go again. Carmichael & Murray aye; Mundell no; Vow signatories absent. There is a cruel irony in legislation asking for equal opportunities being struck down by such an unrepresentative parliament.
Mr Murray’s back. Shortly after Angela Crawley’s previous motion on equal opportunities, Mr Murray proposed an amendment of his own:
- Amendment: 123, page 34, line 13, at end insert,
- “including a requirement for gender balance among the members of the Scottish Parliament and members of boards of Scottish public authorities;”
I must confess to be a bit flummoxed by this one: I was under the impression that the Scottish Parliament was already making headway in gender balance, and that it didn’t need Westminster’s permission to do so? What is the point of this amendment, Mr Murray?
Scotland Bill — Clause 32 — Gender Balance Among Members of the Scottish Parliament and Members of Boards of Scottish Public Authorities
193 for, 313 against
For: 187(+2) New Labour, 3 Lib Dems, 2 SDLP, 1 SNP
Against: 310(+2) Conservatives, 1 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 55 SNP, 43 New Labour, 18 Conservatives, 7 DUP, 5 Lib Dems, 3 PC, 1 Green, 1 SDLP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
I’m just throwing my hands up in the air here.
One more to go: Clause 53. A teeny, tiny, totie wee amendment, you’d think, as the SNP proposed to omit just a few lines from the Scotland Bill:
- 90C Renewable electricity incentive schemes: consultation
- (1) The Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Ministers before—
- (a) establishing a renewable electricity incentive scheme that applies in Scotland, or
- (b) amending such a scheme as it relates to Scotland.
- (2) Subsection (1) does not apply to amendments that appear to the Secretary of State to be minor or made only for technical or administrative reasons; and the Secretary of State is not to be taken to establish or amend a scheme by exercising a power under a scheme, other than a power that is exercisable subject to any parliamentary procedure.
That’s a very important subsection, as it means that the Secretary of State for Scotland (i.e. Governor Mundell) has much greater leeway in how much – or how little – he consults with Scottish Ministers in regards to renewable energy. If he deems it “minor” or “only technical or administrative,” then he doesn’t have to consult with Scottish Ministers at all. Removing this subsection would mean Mr Mundell would be required to consult Scottish Ministers on a much more regular basis.
Scotland Bill — Clause 53 — Consultation with Scottish Ministers On Renewable Electricity Incentive Schemes
253 for, 309 against
For: 190 New Labour, 55 SNP, 1(+2) PC, 3 Lib Dems, 3 SDLP, 1 Green
Against: 309(+2) Conservatives, 4 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 independent
Absent: 42 New Labour, 19 Conservatives, 5 Lib Dems, 4 DUP, 1 SNP, 1 UKIP, 1 UUP
Carmichael & Murray aye. Mundell no. No Vow Show.
Did you expect any less?
There it is. Just to sum up:
- SNP voted for 16 amendments, abstained on 2 amendments, and against 2 amendments
- New Labour voted for 15 amendments, abstained on 3 amendments, and against 2 amendments
- The Conservatives voted for 0 amendments, abstained on 0 amendments, and against 20 amendments
- The Liberal Democrats voted for 11 amendments, abstained on 9 amendments, and against 0 amendments
- The SNP and New Labour voted together for 11 amendments
- The SNP and Conservatives voted together against 2 amendments
- New Labour and the Conservatives voted together against 2 amendments
- 20 amendments were defeated
- 19 votes had more New Labour abstainers/absentees (min 24, max 46) than Conservative (min 15, max 28)
- 3 votes had more than half of the Liberal Democrat’s roster (5)
The two amendments the SNP voted against were New Labour’s Scottish OBR and FFA Commission. The two New Labour voted against were Full Fiscal Autonomy and National Insurance. The Conservatives voted against every amendment. You’d think they’d offer one or two conciliatory, meaningless gestures, even one of Ian Murray’s harebrained ideas. But they crushed them all. Not one amendment was allowed to pass. Not. One.
So anyone in England thinking of how cynical and hypocritical and outrageous it is for the SNP to dare vote on an “English only matter,” consider what has just happened. English MPs have just voted on “Scotland only” matters no less than 20 times in the first two months of this government – and won each and every one of them.
The Unionist Legacy
You’re looking at exactly what every Yes voter has said until they were blue in the face: the Vow was worthless. Westminster will not deliver Devo-Max, Devo-Plus, Super-Devo-Max, Home Rule, Federalism, Indy-Lite if they can help it. Well, there you are, no less than twenty amendments to the Scotland Bill thrown out with little to no effort.
This is why I campaigned, researched, canvassed, leafleted, dreamed and wept for a Yes vote. This is why I chose not to trust in the hopes that a 300-year-old union would change its tune based on a desperate 11th-hour plea. This is why I’m SNP. As long as the people of Scotland treat our politics as something that is in the gift of others to give, it will never be ours. We cannot simply ask, beg, for more powers. We have to take them. But we cannot do that as part of the United Kingdom.
Westminster has given the people of Scotland everything they are willing to give – and even that came at great price. Either we draw the line here and accept being a curious region with different politics while our people die in their hundreds for want of welfare or healthcare, or we acknowledge that the United Kingdom just squandered its last chance.
*It gives me no great sadness to report that not only did Mr Brown fail to retain Dumfries & Galloway, but he was actually pushed into 3rd place behind the Conservatives’ Finlay Hamilton Carson – quite a fall from his 7,449 majority in 2010.