THE Scottish Parliament’s devolved powers are at “existential risk” because of a “Trojan horse” the UK Government has introduced through the Internal Market Act (IMA), Scotland’s Constitution Secretary has said.

Angus Robertson published a new paper on Wednesday showing the impact of the UK Government imposing authority over Holyrood.

The report talks of a “worrying trend” of the UK Government seizing control over devolved policy matters via the likes of the IMA and the Retained EU Law Bill as well as blocks on agreed Scottish legislation.

Prior to BrexitWestminster governments had never passed new laws in devolved policy areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The report finds that it has now done so on nine occasions, with that number set to increase in the coming months.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Robertson said he believes if the UK Government continues to apply the IMA across a wide range of devolved policy areas it will have a “profoundly negative impact on democratic decision-making” that “every fair-minded person” should be concerned about.

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Through the paper, he said he wanted to make people understand the “concerted political attempt” by the UK Government to take back control from devolved institutions which they may only have picked up on “in part” so far.

'A breach of the devolution settlement' 

Robertson added he didn’t believe the Scottish Parliament would’ve been able to bring in policies like Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) on alcohol in the post-Brexit age.

The IMA is a piece of law that came in after Brexit to ensure smooth trade between all four nations of the UK and is the reason behind the recent blocking of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme.

Robertson told The National: “If the UK Government continues to apply the IMA across a wide range of policies, that it will have a profoundly negative impact on democratic decision making.

“They have introduced a Trojan horse into the UK political system which is aimed at undermining self-government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and it needs to be called out for what it is.

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“This is not just some sort of dry, academic discussion about how we make democratic decisions, this goes to the heart of the fact people in this country voted in a referendum to have a Scottish Parliament with devolved decision-making powers, which are clearly outlined and are now being subverted by the UK Government.

“That is a breach of the devolution settlement and I see little prospect of the ideologues of the Scotland Office changing their approach.

“It seems to be that the entire role of the Scotland Office is to seek to block and undermine Scottish democracy and that should concern every fair-minded person.”

The National: Angus Robertson said 'every fair-minded person' should be concerned about Scotland's powers being reducedAngus Robertson said 'every fair-minded person' should be concerned about Scotland's powers being reduced (Image: PA)

The paper draws on numerous examples of the UK Government’s actions including “reducing funding available to Scotland compared to that expected from UK equivalent EU funding schemes” and “taking forward legislation that puts at risk EU laws on environmental protection, food standards and other devolved matters”.

Undermining of the Sewel Convention

It goes into detail about how the Sewel Convention – which outlines how Westminster will not normally legislate in devolved areas without the Scottish Parliament’s consent – has been undermined after being followed “scrupulously” by successive UK Governments of different parties prior to Brexit.

The Sewel Convention when it was brought in was designed to give Holyrood “meaningful autonomy”, and Robertson said he was concerned that was now being taken away from Scotland.

Robertson added: “Given how many constraints are being applied by the UK Government, I do think there is an existential threat within a devolved context for Scottish self-government to be meaningful.

“The UK Government doesn’t seem to understand that devolution is supposed to mean different policy solutions in different parts of the UK. There is a view clearly in Westminster that conformity is what is required and conformity that aligns with the UK Tory agenda.

“The UK Government is infused with a Brexit mentality which doesn’t understand inter-dependence, which is the way of the world in the 21st century, and whether it’s a multilateral organisation like the EU or a multinational state like the UK, Westminster and Whitehall still have this post-imperial mindset which believes decision-making in London trumps everything else and doesn’t need to take the views of others tremendously seriously.”

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Asked if he thought it would be possible to bring MUP in now given the way the UK Government has blocked legislation like the DRS and Gender Recognition Reform Act, he said: “Absolutely not.

“I have zero doubt that if one was trying to introduce MUP in 2023 in Scotland the UK Government would be applying the IMA and would be seeking to block such a measure saying it was against the effective working of the UK single market.”

Other parties must stand up to defend self-government 

Robertson said it was clear that with Brexit, the UK Government wanted to take back control from not just Brussels, but from every devolved nation of the UK.

And he has called on all parties that believe in self-government – which he said should include Labour and the LibDems – to defend it.

He said: “Up until now people have maybe only registered part of what is happening - the blocking of a piece of legislation, for example.

“But when you take a step back and realise what the common impact of all of that amounts to, it is an attempt to undermine democratic decision making and self government in Scotland and it has increased significantly since Brexit.

“Not only was the UK Government keen to take back control from Brussels but also to do that from Edinburgh, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“It's extremely bad news for anyone who cares about political responsibility and democracy and whether people support pro-devolution parties like the Labour party or the LibDems or pro-independence parties like the SNP or the Greens, what we all agree on, I would hope, is that self government is something that is worth defending.

“Now is the time for people to realise that our Scottish Parliament and our ability to make decisions is at existential risk and we need to stand up and call out what is happening and say it is unacceptable and it will be resisted.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government is delivering on the priorities that matter to people in Scotland and making devolution work for them.

“There is a huge amount to be done - continuing to tackle the cost of living, halving inflation and growing Scotland’s economy. This is where our focus should be, not constantly debating the constitutional settlement.

“The Scottish Parliament is one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world and our exit from the EU further increased its powers.

“We want to work collaboratively and constructively with the Scottish Government, as demonstrated by positive joint working on crucial programmes of work, like growing the Scottish economy through our City and Growth Deals and Green Freeports.”