The main political event this week was the news that the Scottish Government’s alternative to the EU Withdrawal Bill has been passed by MSPs. Ministers put forward their “continuity bill” as part of an ongoing row over UK frameworks of post-Brexit powers. It has undergone more than 20 hours of debate and scrutiny across three weeks, and the finalised bill was backed by a margin of 95 votes to 32. Most unusually, all 129 of Holyrood’s MSPs were present for the final debate and votes (there was one abstention and, by convention, no vote by the Presiding Officer). Brexit Minister Mike Russell said he still hoped to strike a deal with the UK government rather than use the bill.
There is now a period of four weeks in which a Supreme Court legal challenge could be lodged by law officers. The UK government said the competence of the bill – previously questioned by Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh – would be “considered”.
In a further show of Labour/SNP co-operation, the Scottish and Welsh and First Ministers united to urge peers to block what they have called a Brexit “power grab” by the UK government. Mrs May’s cabinet wants to keep control of 24 EU policy areas temporarily to preserve trade within the UK. Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones have written to the House of Lords calling for changes to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, claiming powers held back include areas of “vital importance” to them.
Continuing the co-operation theme and a cross-party group of Scottish politicians has won permission for a judicial review of whether the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50. The MEPs and MSPs want to get a ruling from the European Court of Justice on whether Brexit could be called off. Lord Doherty had originally rejected their application for a review, saying it had little prospect of success. However, after an appeal, a panel of judges said there was “a point of substance” to be addressed in the case. Lord Carloway, Scotland’s top judge, overturned Lord Doherty’s decision and has allowed permission for a judicial review to proceed. The legal action was launched by a group of politicians from the SNP, Labour, the Scottish Greens and the Lib Dems following a crowdfunding campaign.
There was a ripple in the normally iron-clad unity of the Tory Holyrood group this week as Ruth Davidson faced calls to sack shadow tourism minister Rachael Hamilton. The Borders MSP was fined over £50,000 for breaking the law on workplace pensions at the hotel she owns. Mrs Hamilton had originally faced a £400 penalty, but this surged to £52,500 when the charge was not paid. Officials imposed the fine while she was fighting a by-election to defend a safe Tory seat that saw her elected to Holyrood.
And finally … not a great week for former SNP MP Natalie McGarry who has appeared in court on six charges, including three of embezzlement. Ms McGarry, who represented Glasgow East but did not seek re-election in 2017, was elected in the 2015 landslide. She was charged with three counts of embezzlement, two charges under the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013, and one charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
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