In Brief

Scotland sparks constitutional crisis with Brexit rebellion

EU Withdrawal Bill rejected by Scottish Parliament prompting showdown with Westminster

The Scottish Parliament is on course for a consitutional crisis after MSPs refused to consent to the UK government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.

Scottish Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems united with the SNP to defeat the Scottish Conservatives by 93 votes to 30 and cause Theresa May yet another Brexit headache.

The vote came after months of wrangling over the bill’s impact on devolved powers, and leaves the prime minister with the “high risk” decision between pressing ahead with the legislation despite its rejection by Holyrood, or making further concessions to the Scottish government to avoid a crisis, reports The Guardian.

The Independent says the former option “could trigger a constitutional crisis”, as it would be the first time the UK government had pushed through laws against the will of Scotland.

The Scottish government has sought guarantees that powers currently reside with the EU are not returned to Whitehall after the UK leaves the EU. SNP Brexit minister Mike Russell told the BBC the bill in its current form “rides roughshod over devolution” and accused Westminster of “trying to subvert that and to change that by the back door”.

Refusing to give its consent to a piece of Whitehall legislation will “certainly be a first” for the Scottish Parliament, says the BBC’s Scotland editor Sarah Smith, “but one that can be overcome by Westminster”.

The UK government has the authority to simply impose the Brexit legislation on Scotland, “even if that is politically problematic [as] it would overturn 20 years of constitutional convention and precedent”, she added.

In fact, Theresa May has ignored the will of the Scottish Parliament before, refusing to grant a second independence referendum last year after MSPs had voted for it.

“The Scottish issue is just one among many headaches,” Akash Paun, senior fellow at the Institute for Government in London told Bloomberg. “But I don’t think they should underestimate it. It becomes a bigger issue at the point when the bill is completing its passage through Westminster.”

However, says Smith, the argument over devolution rights “has not caught voters’ attention”. While some may be outraged over the principle of legislation being imposed on Scotland after it has been specifically rejected by their MSPs, “the practical consequences may not amount to much”.

Because of a general inertia among Scots over the issue, Nicola McEwen, politics professor at the Centre on Constitutional Change at Edinburgh University, suggested that the Scottish government should instead play the long game.

“The SNP has to wait and see what happens with Brexit,” she told Bloomberg. “If the constitutional issue becomes about devolution and not about independence, then that helps them and not the Conservatives. It becomes about self-governance.”

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