It is interesting that Shona Craven writes in The National (The trick to securing a No in indyref2? Rig the vote) of the ‘gold standard’ being “tarnished” by whatever devious conditions might be “scrawled into the margins of any Section 30 order Boris Johnson is likely to have drafted”. That’s interesting in the sense of wrong. Or, to be more precise, interesting in the sense of being indicative of a fallacious mindset. Far from the British establishment’s ‘gold standard’ process being “tarnished” by the appending of cunning caveats contrived for the purpose of ensuring a win for the British state, such crafty codicils should rightly be regarded as burnishing it to a perfect gleam.
To say that these nefarious qualifications and reservations tarnish the ‘gold standard’ is to suggest that they somehow reduce the effectiveness of the Section 30 process. Which is to misunderstand entirely the purpose of that process. It is essential to grasp that Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 is not there to facilitate or enhance democracy. Section 30 of the Scotland Act exists solely to augment the legal and constitutional framework which protects the Union. It is there to prevent any serious outbreak of genuine democracy in Scotland. It’s function is to give the British Prime Minister powers to intervene and put a stop to any of that democracy nonsense before it gets out of hand and begins to put the Union in jeopardy.
Because of the way the Section 30 process was used in the 2014 referendum, many people have come to believe that it is a legislative device by which the Scottish Parliament can be given new powers – albeit on a strictly time-limited basis. And, indeed, it can be used thus. But the original and true purpose is to afford the British executive sweeping powers to alter in any way and without consultation, consent or explanation those parts of the Act which delineate the powers of the Scottish Parliament by defining the powers that are reserved to Westminster.
Put simply, Section 30 is the brake that can be used to stop the devolution experiment running out of control.
It’s not clear whether those who drafted the Scotland Act ever considered the possibility that Section 30 might be used to decrease the powers that are formally denied to Holyrood. It is entirely possible that they only ever envisaged it being used to withhold yet more of the powers which rightfully belong to our Parliament – the one that is actually elected by the people of Scotland. What matters is that, while Section 30 puts no constraints whatever on the British Prime Minister’s authority to take powers away from the Scottish Parliament, it also places no constraints on the British Prime Minister’s ‘right’ to impose conditions on any powers temporarily granted. This, we may assume, was intentional. Ensuring advantage for the British state is, we may be sure, standard operating practice.
That ‘gold standard’ that everybody’s talking about isn’t defined by the extent to which a process improves democracy in Scotland but by the amount of control over Scotland it affords the British state. The Section 30 process is rightly regarded by British Nationalists as their ‘gold standard’. That anyone else perceives it in this way – or speaks of it in such glowing terms – is only explicable as a triumph of British propaganda.
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