• John Mortimer

There's No Positive Case for Devolution

The following letter was submitted by Abolish leader John Mortimer to The Herald, in response to a column which made a rather weak and unconvincing defence of devolution.

Doug Marr took a swipe at “regular sniping and spasmodic calls for abolition” of the Scottish parliament in his recent column (“Holyrood is far from perfect but the alternatives are much worse”, The Herald, April 12).

Remarkably, he made no attempt at all to promote any positive case for the Scottish parliament; but instead dived immediately into criticism of the Johnson government. In particular, Marr takes exception to Johnson’s personal life, and authoritarian UK Government legislation, and presents these as evidence that Westminster is worse that Holyrood.

Perhaps Marr should consider the litany of scandals to hit Holyrood; for example, text-pest MSPs Derek Mackay and Mark McDonald. A disgraced former First Minister is now seeking re-election and to engineer an artificial “supermajority” for independence by gaming Holyrood’s wildly open-to-abuse electoral system. SNP Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Bill has criminalised ‘offensive’ speech in our own homes. Scotland’s lockdowns have been both harsher in measure and slower to ease than those in England. To defend Holyrood on the grounds of Westminster’s illiberalism is gross hypocrisy.

Marr berates Westminster purely on the actions and failings of recent Conservative governments; yet ignores the fact that Westminster has served as the British parliament for over three centuries, and makes no attempt to present any argument against its constitutional, democratic mechanisms; that is to say, against Westminster itself. Yet in a blatant double-standard, Marr dismissively brushes aside any sort of conflation of Holyrood with 14 years of SNP mis-rule, because according to him “the predominance of a single party for so long is a moot point”. It doesn’t seem to cross Marr’s mind that the fact of having a separate Scottish assembly, pursuing a separate Scottish interest and passing separate Scottish legislation might possibly feed into the nationalist narrative of the SNP.

Most significantly, Marr should not assume that direct rule by the Johnson government is the only – or even most likely – alternative to Holyrood. There is a cross-party consensus that de-centralisation is needed in Scottish politics, not least because of Holyrood’s power grabs from local government. In the event of abolition, a reconvened and empowered Scottish Grand Committee would allow Scottish MPs to address distinct Scottish issues, without the bloated bureaucracy and expense of 129 MSPs. A re-instated Scottish Office could ensure the benefits of UK Government funding are delivered directly from Edinburgh. Powers would flow downward to Scotland’s regions and local councils; not all back to Westminster.

As leader of Abolish the Scottish Parliament Party, I am proud to be contesting all Scottish regions this May. Almost a quarter of a century since Blair’s referendum, Scots have every right to judge devolution on its record and decide for ourselves if there are better alternatives available.

With the scandal-hit devolved assembly now costing the taxpayer over £100 Million to run every single year, both Marr and the SNP may discover that pointing the finger at Westminster is no longer going to cut it.

John Mortimer

Leader and Central Scotland Candidate, Abolish the Scottish Parliament Party

Abolish Holyrood, 272 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 4JR