MSPs are doing a “disservice” to the people of Scotland by watching devolution be eroded by the UK Government post-Brexit, a former minister has said.

In a debate on how devolution is changing post-EU, Kate Forbes insisted it was vital the Parliament unified to ensure stronger legal safeguards for devolution, which she added had come under “incredible strain” since the UK left the bloc.

The debate followed on from a report produced by the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee last October. The report received cross-party backing and raised concerns about how the regulatory environment within the UK had changed since Brexit.

The committee called for a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the UK Government and devolved administrations. 

It also called for the creation of agreements on common frameworks and the use of powers by UK ministers in devolved areas.

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Throughout the debate, MSPs from across the chamber raised concerns about breaches of the Sewel Convention since Brexit, of which it is claimed there have been 11.

It was highlighted that part of the problem that the convention – which recognises the UK Parliament should not “normally” intervene in devolved matters without consent – is not legally binding.

Former finance secretary Forbes said MSPs have a duty to ensure legal safeguards for devolution are bolstered.

She told the chamber: “One thing we cannot disagree on is devolution is under incredible strain and talking about it is insufficient.

“What we need is to ensure those [legal] safeguards are in place to not just protect it but to enhance it.

“Right now, we are doing a disservice to the citizens of this country watching devolution continue to be eroded.

“They voted for the Scottish Parliament, that is bigger than any party that occupies it. They are supportive of further powers. That is greater than any constitutional position we may take.

“They expect political parties to deliver for them and where we see the UK Government riding roughshod over the Scottish Government, we are at great risk of ballooning bureaucracy that does them a disservice.

“The devolution settlement was designed to safeguard what citizens had voted for. Irrespective of which party is in power, either south or north of the Border, we have a duty to ensure the legal safeguards of evolution are sufficient to deliver what the people of Scotland voted for in a referendum that was bigger than any party.”

The National: Angus Robertson said Brexit has ushered in a period of unprecedented assault on the Scottish ParliamentAngus Robertson said Brexit has ushered in a period of unprecedented assault on the Scottish Parliament (Image: Angus Robertson)

In 1999 and again in 2013, an MoU was signed between the administrations, laying out key parts of the devolution settlement not codified in law, which included issues like international relations.

Tuesday's debate came a few weeks after the UK Government was told it could legally block gender reforms in Scotland via a Section 35 order.

This was despite the fact the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly to pass the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which would have made it easier for trans people to change their legal gender.

There have also been repeated concerns raised about the post-Brexit Internal Market Act – which MSPs voted to get rid of last year – that ultimately led to the downfall of the Deposit Return Scheme.

The passage of the Retained EU Law Bill – which was passed last year – has equally sparked fears about Scottish Parliamentary scrutiny being trampled on after MSPs voted to withhold their consent for it.

Parties across the chamber all agreed there needed to be improved intergovernmental relations between the UK and Scottish governments, but it was highlighted during the debate the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, Michael Gove, had so far not responded to requests for a discussion about the committee’s report.

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Constitution and External Affairs Secretary Angus Robertson said in the debate: “Brexit has ushered in a unprecedented assault on the powers of this Parliament and the whole system of self-government endorsed by people of Scotland in 1997.

“I hope the willingness to rise above party political considerations evident in the report will encourage colleagues to engage in a way that allows this parliament to speak with one voice.

“It didn’t need to be like this. It was a choice to use Brexit to launch a sustained campaign to undermine the powers of this parliament, and it is a choice to ignore agreed constitutional norms, processes and structures whenever they are considered to be inconvenient.

“Devolution cannot function as intended in these circumstances and this Parliament cannot operate as it should.”

Labour MSP Neil Bibby said the UK Government needed to respect the Sewel Convention and believe in new statutory formulation of it to make it legally binding.

He said: “The Sewel Convention worked well prior to Brexit. It has been breached significantly and on numerous occasions in recent years.

“The Labour Party do not believe it is acceptable for UK governments to legislate in devolved areas without consent.

“We need to see a return to the situation where the UK Government respects and adheres to the Sewel Convention.”