So it's official - the Tories have not only betrayed the promise that new powers will come to the Scottish Parliament after Brexit, but they have also announced that some of the existing devolved powers will be taken away. Unless you count a minor change over powers relating to Antarctica which were devolved by mistake, this will be the first time that powers have been snatched back by Westminster since Devolution Day in 1999. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking this is happening as an automatic consequence of Brexit - as things stand, the Scottish Parliament has total control over devolved matters except where limited by EU legislation. For that to change, the Tory government has to effectively repeal parts of the Scotland Act, and that is what they have set about attempting to do today.
Is there any hope that the power-grab can be stopped in its tracks? Under the Sewel Convention, the Scottish Parliament can withhold legislative consent for its powers to be removed. We already know that the Supreme Court regards the convention as legally unenforceable (in spite of the fact that it's written into law!), so everything will depend on whether the UK government feels that it is too politically damaging to abandon Sewel. Remember they will have an eye on the next independence referendum (regardless of whether that happens in two years or in fifteen) and will know that one of the big topics of debate in that campaign will be whether or not "The Vow" was honoured. If Sewel is ripped up just two years after being written into statute, it'll be extremely hard to argue that the part of "The Vow" relating to the permanence of the Scottish Parliament was fulfilled.
The other big advantage the Scottish government have is that they appear to be of one mind on this subject with the Labour-led Welsh government. We know that Labour no longer give a monkey's about protecting Scottish devolution, but because of the Welsh dimension there'll be pressure on them to resist anything that undermines devolution in both Scotland and Wales. Now that we have a hung parliament, a united front between Labour and the SNP could open up the possibility of the Tory government suffering defeats on the floor of the Commons.
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Hot on the heels of Julia Rampen's fearless and groundbreaking "Aren't Scottish Labour adorable?" series of articles, the New Statesman have served up a somewhat less innovative "The Nats are doomed!" piece from James Millar. I just thought I'd do a quick run-through of the highly dubious points made in the article, and also the outright inaccuracies.
* "Many in the party repeat the mantra that they won the election in Scotland, but some sound like they are trying to convince themselves."
In all honesty, Mr Millar, they shouldn't be finding it terribly hard to convince themselves, given that they won the popular vote by a whopping 8.3% margin, and also won 59.3% of the seats. As I've noted a couple of times before, the scale of the SNP's triumph last month was roughly on a par with the UK-wide Thatcher landslide of 1987. It is actually perfectly possible to simultaneously acknowledge that a party won an election, and also lost some ground in the process. Consider for example the difference between the Republicans' showings in the 1984 and 1988 US presidential elections. In 1984, they carried 49 states and won 525 electoral votes. In 1988, that had dropped to 'only' 40 states and 426 electoral votes. The extent of the slippage was noted, but if anyone had tried to claim that the Republicans hadn't 'really' won the 1988 election, they would have been laughed at, and rightly so.
I can't remember if I've ever listened to one of Mr Millar's podcasts, but I did notice that he gave his post-election podcast the understated title of "SNP Apocalypse!" The mind boggles as to what he would have come up with if the SNP hadn't won the election comfortably.
* "Another [MP] admits that that the result in June could’ve been worse. “If the election had taken place on the Friday rather than the Thursday, I’d have lost my seat. It was one-way traffic to Labour.”"
I've been quick to dispute the claims that the Scottish Labour recovery was a 'mirage', but it's important not to go to the other extreme either. If you think back to the council elections in May, long before the Corbyn surge, it looked like Labour were competitive in a handful of parliamentary constituencies. In June, they won a handful of parliamentary constituencies. The situation was scarcely transformed out of all recognition in the intervening month. I've seen a number of SNP activists contradict the suggestion that there was significant direct slippage to Labour, so it does appear that Mr Millar is only reporting the private conversations that actually concur with his own preferred narrative.
In fairness, no-one can say for sure that an extra day wouldn't have made a difference in Glasgow East or Glasgow South-West...but those seats were so close that a good sneeze could have made a difference.
* "Not only has the group in Westminster been trimmed from 56 in 2015 to 35 just two years later, but many of the survivors have seen their majority slashed, some to double figures, Stephen Gethins’ majority in north east Fife is just two."
Which ignores the fact that the North-East Fife result was comparatively good. Even when the conventional wisdom was that the SNP would win around 45 seats, it looked like North-East Fife would probably fall. Holding that one against the tide was a considerable bonus.
* "Many in the party have never known a reverse before. The last time the party went backwards was 1979."
That, I'm afraid, is just complete and utter rubbish. I could at this point give you chapter and verse on the occasions that the SNP have lost ground in European and local elections, but doubtless someone would come along and insist that there is a big difference between 'first order' and 'second order' elections. So instead I'll just give you the examples since 1979 that are indisputably from 'first order' votes.
In the 1983 general election, the SNP's vote share fell from 17% to 12%.
In the 2001 general election, the SNP vote share fell from 22% to 20%, and they lost one of their six seats.
In the 2003 Scottish Parliament election, the SNP's constituency vote share fell from 29% to 24%, and they lost eight of their 35 seats.
In the 2005 general election, the SNP's vote share fell from 20% to 18%.
Conclusion? You'd have to be very, very young not to be able to remember a time when the SNP went backwards in an election. And in truth, if anyone out there wasn't expecting some kind of correction after a freakish election in which the SNP won 50% of the popular vote, they were being a bit naive.