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15 October 2019

The Odd One Out - No Democratic Accountability at Westminster

I spend a great deal of my life as Parliamentarian reading and scrutinising legislation and holding the Scottish Government to account.

Whatever your view on Brexit may be the process of leaving the EU has highlighted a range of concerns about the democratic structure of Westminster when it comes to the accountability of government.

In Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and even in Brussels, the First Ministers or EU President can only take office after the corresponding Parliament approves of them. This also applies to Ministers or EU Commissioners ensuring that the executive is brought before the parliament following their party appointment.

Up until now, some may say the advantages of an informal constitution have worked, mostly, for the Government. However, if we have learned anything from recent events it’s that there are clear gaps in the constitution and it has been up to the courts to fill in these gaps when it comes to holding the Prime Minister to account. While we can commend the Supreme Court for intervening in the unlawful prorogation, we can’t expect this every time and the Parliament must run of its own accord.

This has left me asking whether the arrangements in Westminster are fit for purpose. I have concluded that the lack of a formal framework in the UK has created a lack of accountability within the parliament itself. This has ultimately led to a situation where the Courts have had to intervene.

If we’ve learned anything from Brexit it is that parliaments need to be open and transparent and prime ministers must be held to account. You won’t find accountability on an organisational chart in the UK Government because it is a function of character - it is about honesty and integrity and is central to having transparency with our political leaders.

We have a party that is not fit to govern, leading a parliament that is not able to legislate, these contradictions are no longer sustainable - things have to change.

Meanwhile, fishing remains a concern following our withdrawal from the UK - especially if we are to leave the UK without a deal. Pelagic and mackerel are currently Scotland's largest export species, both in terms of volume and monetary value. I understand that in the event of a no deal Brexit tariffs into the EU will be enforced of 20%.

This is extremely concerning for Scottish fisherman and processors when it comes to competitive market pricing. Undoubtedly the UK Government's approach to Brexit will cause damage to the industry on and offshore and tariffs like this must be avoided.

Local jobs are at risk along with a hit to the North-east economy.

I have been listening to industry on the real and harsh realities of the approach the UK are taking to Brexit.

It seems that political ideology is trumping economics and my great fear is that the burden of the cost is to be borne by our local communities.

1 October 2019

Decisions, Decisions..

There have been two important decisions this week - both of historic significance.

The first is that of the Scottish Parliament as we successfully passed through the Government’s Climate Change Bill. After months of scrutiny as a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform committee I welcomed the bill completing its Parliamentary process.

The new Climate Change Bill demonstrates international leadership on climate action and takes bold steps in response to robust scientific assessment. The landmark legislation commits Scotland to becoming a net-zero society by 2045 - tougher than a net-zero target that commits only to balancing carbon dioxide emissions and the toughest statutory target of any country in the world for this date. The bill sets out ambitious targets to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030. We have already halved greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland while growing the economy, so I know we can do it. Scotland is committed to meeting the most ambitious targets possible and doing so while continuing to build an inclusive and fair economy.

I have particularly enjoyed working together with my Conservative colleague John Scott who has given wise counsel throughout the legislative process. We both have a mutual agreement that agriculture will provide an important part of the solution rather being the major problem that many have suggested. Farming will change and forestry is a part of the process of wider change will be key to our success as a nation.

John Scott and I have been particularly concerned about the way that the international greenhouse gas inventory works in relation to agriculture. Farming and agriculture are essential when considering our approach and I believe that the inventory is very unfair in reflecting the cost and benefit of agriculture, because it does not attribute to agriculture things such as forestry and renewable energy.

My final thought on this bill is that I have been inspired by Greta Thunberg and the millions of young activists around the world. When I cast my vote last week, I was thinking of her and her young companions who have led the way in being the change they want to see. I will be gone before it all matters, but for them - they have to inherit a world that is worth inheriting.

Legal Eagles on the Hunt

The second, and unanimous, decision is of course the conclusion of the case against the Prime Minister in the UK’s highest court. I was struck by the ruling in London this week, particularly that the judges went so far as actually to quash the prorogation of Parliament.

Lady Hale, a state educated female directed the UK Prime Minister on what proper legal behaviour is. Rooted in a working class family Lady Hale reminded the Eton educated Prime Minister that Parliament is not there to serve Boris Johnson, but rather he is there to serve the Parliament and the citizens. The judgement sends a strong message of democratic outrage to the Tory Government and provides a reminder that you can’t bypass democracy.

Stewart Stevenson
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