If you're in any doubt that Scotland currently has a second-class parliament, take a look at the very helpful list at the bottom of this document. It sets out the powers that Westminster plans to hold back from the Welsh Assembly after a 'reserved powers' model is introduced, and explains in each case whether the same power is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As you can see, there are several examples of important powers that are devolved in Northern Ireland but not in Scotland, including abortion, film classification, consumer protection, electricity, coal, "time", energy conservation, child support, regulation of the professions, industrial relations, and medicines. You'll be hard-pressed to find reverse examples of powers that are devolved in Scotland but not in Northern Ireland. I can only spot two - public order, and referendums on devolved subject matters. The new Scotland Bill will of course give Scotland powers over income tax that Northern Ireland won't have for the time being, but that just makes it even more anomalous that the Scottish Parliament should be weaker than the Northern Ireland Assembly in so many key respects.
The Tory government has made a modest gesture on that front by agreeing at the last minute to devolve abortion law to Scotland, which went through the House of Commons a few hours ago with a comfortable majority. As long as the Lib Dems don't withdraw their support, there should be no problem getting it through the Lords, in spite of Labour's boneheaded intransigence on the topic. But unfortunately the boneheadedness seems to be rapidly spreading from the red benches to the media. Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News, who of course already has SNP-bashing form after her bizarre and entirely false allegations about the Scottish Government "cutting its contribution to the monarchy", has now waded in on the abortion issue. She claims that "reopening an issue that has been settled since 1967" will erode women's hard-won reproductive rights.
There's just one little flaw in that line of reasoning, Cathy : devolving abortion law DOES NOT RE-OPEN THE ISSUE.
It really is that simple. You'd think from Newman's article that removing abortion from the list of reserved powers will somehow compel the Scottish Parliament to hold a vote on abortion law, but it won't. The GB-wide Abortion Act 1967, as amended by subsequent legislation, will remain fully in force in Scotland until and unless MSPs decide to repeal or change it. They are under no obligation to take any action at all, and the likelihood is that they won't for the foreseeable future. By the same token, refusing to devolve abortion would not have prevented Westminster MPs from reopening the issue and changing the law, and they would at the very least have been no less likely to do so than their Scottish counterparts. Indeed, they'll still be able to do so - but in England and Wales only.
There are plenty of people on both sides of the debate who don't regard the current legislation as some kind of world-leading gold standard. But for those who do take that view, it should be noted that Scotland will now be able to prevent social conservatives at Westminster (and I don't see how it can be denied that there are far more social conservatives at Westminster than at Holyrood) from repealing or diluting the Abortion Act 1967. It may not have occurred to the likes of Cathy Newman that a liberalising Westminster law from the 60s could eventually be scrapped in England while remaining in force in devolved Scotland, but that is precisely the position.
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UPDATE : I've just caught up with the Yvette Cooper article in the Guardian which seems to have triggered the outbreak of illogicality elsewhere. In contrast to Cathy Newman, who truly doesn't seem to understand how devolution works, it's pretty clear that Cooper is being downright disingenuous.
"The SNP government says women shouldn’t worry, because they have no plans to change the abortion law. I’m sure they don’t. But that’s not how it works. This amendment to devolve abortion to Scotland wasn’t put forward initially by the SNP or Conservative government – it was proposed by a small group of backbench MPs who publicly oppose abortion."
Rubbish. Absolute rubbish. Any amendment to the Scotland Bill tabled by backbench MPs was preceded by broad agreement between the SNP, the Conservatives, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats that the devolution of abortion law should form part of the Smith recommendations. That plan was vetoed by Labour, and by Labour alone, at a very late stage in proceedings.
And the idea that the SNP were never interested in having powers over abortion law transferred until pro-lifers started whispering in their ears is self-evidently risible. The SNP have always wanted ALL powers transferred from Westminster to Holyrood. By definition that includes abortion.
"If abortion law is devolved to Scotland...at most, it will mean a new bout of lobbying that makes women feel uncomfortable about their choices and puts medical professionals under pressure. At the very least, it means different laws north and south of the border."
No it doesn't. As I pointed out earlier, after the power is devolved there will still be a GB-wide law on abortion. That will not change until either the Scottish Parliament, or the UK Parliament acting on behalf of England and Wales only, decides to alter the law. Neither is under any obligation to do so. In principle, there's no reason why the current law shouldn't remain in place on both sides of the border indefinitely. Yvette Cooper is too experienced a parliamentarian not to realise that's the case, so it's hard to avoid the conclusion that she's intentionally misleading people.
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