No government, no matter the size of its majority, can expect a completely problem-free period in office. For one reason or another, all governments will face a number of mini or maxi crises during their period in power.
For example, what happens when you don’t win an election that you expected to win and it mucks up all your plans to convert your country into a tax haven for the very rich. Do you talk to the opposition and come to an agreement about the policies you’ll put before your parliament and give up on all that tax haven nonsense? Well, not if you’re the Tories, you don’t. You just pretend you really did win, say it will be business as usual, then sneakily try to change the rules to make sure the result doesn’t matter.
We have already been given a good idea of what democracy in Scotland will look like if the Tories get their way and if we hang around long enough as a part of the UK to allow it to happen.
While all political parties might exaggerate their potential achievements before an election, the difference between what they promise and what they deliver is generally small enough to allow them to explain it away before the next election, or they won’t get re-elected. However, in the case of the 2014 referendum, the difference between the promises, like the Vow, like “don’t leave the UK, lead the UK”, like all the rest, and the delivery, no you can’t get home rule, but you can get EVEL to reduce the status of your MPs to second class, would have made chalk and cheese embarrassed. Of course, the difference here is they thought there would never be another one. As one after another of the proposed transfers of power from Westminster to Holyrood was voted down in Westminster by both the Tory and Labour MPs (including the Scots), they just laughed at us for believing them.
Following the result of the EU referendum, the Tories have now given us the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, or the Great Repeal Bill as it’s more commonly known. The Government propose to make the Great Repeal Bill subject to the so-called “Henry VIII rules” which would allow them to make whatever changes they like after the bill is passed by Parliament by the use of “statutory instruments” with no parliamentary scrutiny. Effectively, it becomes government by proclamation. This means that the Government is free to make any changes it wishes to EU laws being transferred into UK law. While some of these changes will be benign, for example to change a reference to a European institution into one to a British equivalent, there will be nothing to stop the Government introducing changes which fundamentally alter the original EU law, or remove it altogether. The Tories have promised they won’t do that (honest, they have), but is there anyone in the UK who really believes they won’t take the opportunity to make changes to any EU laws that they would rather hadn’t been introduced. What are the chances of workers’ rights, environmental regulations, consumer rights or trading standards coming through the process unscathed? Would that be no chance, or perhaps less than that?
Looking at what the Great Repeal Bill doesn’t say, it tells us what political life in Scotland is going to be like following Brexit. Powers will all be reserved to Westminster, even in areas which are currently devolved, such as farming and fishing. Trust us, they say. We’ll sort out the details later. Unfortunately, later, the Government will be able to change the rules in any area without consulting the Scottish Government (or any of the devolved governments). They will be able to overrule the Scottish Government, even in areas of devolved responsibility. They can take back powers, reduce the Scottish Government to an impotent shell or even close it down altogether, though even the Tories may consider that a risk too far. Trust us, they say. We’ll sort out the details later. But who is brave enough to forecast just how far the Tories will go to rid themselves of the annoyance that the Scottish Government represents. Devolution was never intended to create Westminster’s conscience, Westminster’s Jiminy Cricket.
But aren’t the Tories a democratic party? Surely, whatever they might do, can’t you always depend on the Tories to act democratically? Well, if anyone still thinks the Tories are committed to democracy, just think for a moment about the replacement Scottish Tory MEP and the reason for there being a need for one. When Ian Duncan, Scotland’s only Tory MEP, tried and failed to win a seat at Westminster in Theresa May’s snap election, his efforts to get into the UK government looked to be over. But ignoring the verdict of the electorate (doesn’t that ring a bell?), Duncan was given a peerage and appointed to the post of Deputy Scottish Secretary, under Fluffy McFluffyface. As a Peer, Duncan couldn’t retain his position as an MEP, so he had to resign from Europe and that meant a replacement was required. The expected replacement should have been the person who came second in the ballot for the Tory list for the EU election, but the Tories (or do I mean Ruth the Mooth) decided to ignore the result of that ballot as well (surely not another one?) and instead gave the job to Baroness Mobarik, who was third in the ballot, and who then had to take leave of absence from the Lords to take up the position. And this was just a relatively unimportant internal ballot. How many more times will the Tories just ignore the result of an election because they don’t get the result they wanted?
For their latest trick, even though they have no Commons majority, the Tories plan to push through a rule that says the Government (even a minority government just like today) will always have an effective majority on all Public Bill Committees (formerly called Standing Committees), those which debate bills and have the power to alter them. Currently, the makeup of Public Bill Committees is required to reflect the relative number of MPs in the Commons for each party, which means a minority government would not have a guaranteed majority in committees. The change means the Tories will be completely in charge of the content of all bills brought before Parliament. Pity they hadn’t thought of this idea before they offered a £1.5bn bribe to the DUP. They could have spent the money on something more important, like offering tax rebates to their mates.
Theresa May had called the election to give her a big enough majority to steamroller all the Brexit changes through the Commons with no real opposition. When that didn’t work, she’s now changing the rules to give her the majority that the voters refused to provide. So we see that, if they don’t get the “correct” result from the electorate, the Tories are quite happy to ignore the result and make up their own. That’s Tory democracy! Or do I mean Tory dictatorship?
What’s next, I wonder? Perhaps, next time, the Tories will just miss out the inconvenient part of an election, the asking the voters part, because, if you can give yourself a majority by ignoring the views of the electorate, why bother asking them in the first place.