First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today called for a renewed Parliamentary consensus on protecting and enhancing the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
Two decades after the people of Scotland voted for a Scottish Parliament, the First Minister outlined the importance of building a similar consensus to that achieved in 1997, in order to safeguard the devolution settlement and to extend the Parliament’s current powers.
Speaking in Edinburgh to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1997 referendum, she also set out the threat to the founding principles of devolution from the Brexit process being pursued by the UK Government.
Addressing a cross-section of civic Scotland, the First Minister said:
“Even though there is still disagreement – passionate disagreement – about the final destination of our constitutional journey, we should seek a new spirit of consensus to match that achieved in 1997.
“With Brexit now threatening the underpinning principle of devolution and many of our vital national interests, it is essential that we do so.
“Last week, using the current powers of devolution, I unveiled the Scottish Government’s programme for the coming year.
“The changes we are proposing are far-reaching. We have examined every area of devolved policy and asked what more can be done to help create the best country we can – for young and old.
“So there is much we can, and are, doing. But we should always be restless in our ambition to make life better for the people who live here. And the more powers our Parliament has, the more we can, collectively, do for Scotland.
“So today I want to talk about how we can build a new consensus in 2017 to match the spirit of 1997. Respecting our differences and then working together – not as government and opposition – but as equal partners, to win more powers for the Parliament and assert and protect its rights.
“Everyone knows that I believe becoming an independent country would be best for Scotland. Others disagree. But twenty years ago that disagreement about the final destination did not stop us from working together to make progress where we could, and it shouldn’t today. We should work, as we did then, to find and make progress on the areas where agreement exists.
“So over the coming months the Scottish Government will work to do just that. We will publish a series of evidence-based papers on extending the powers of our Parliament – they will cover the issues of employment and employability, social security, immigration and trade.
“They will not be intended as the final word – but to stimulate debate and seek consensus.”
The First Minister added:
“The EU (Withdrawal) Bill which the UK Government is attempting to take through the House of Commons today threatens the very principle on which our Parliament is founded.
“The devolution settlement – the Scotland Act that established our Parliament – is based on the principle that everything is automatically devolved unless it is reserved.
“The Withdrawal Bill turns that principle on its head. As it stands, it will mean that devolved policy areas such as agriculture, fishing and the environment, which are currently carried out at EU level will be automatically reserved, unless the UK government decides to devolve.
“So on the very day that we should be celebrating devolution, we are being called upon to defend it.”