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Response to Opposition Day Debate: the Claim of Right for Scotland

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

On 4 July 2018, this Parliament debated a motion to endorse the principles of the claim of right for Scotland.

This debate was an opportunity to discuss the democratic tradition in Scotland, of which both the 1689 and 1989 claim of right documents form a significant part. The claim of right, set out by the Scottish constitutional convention in 1989, was a key part of a process which ultimately led to the devolution of powers from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to the new Scottish Parliament in the Scotland Act 1998.

The claim of right sought to mobilise and secure the approval of the Scottish people for a new Parliament and then to see that Parliament established. The referendum of 1997 resoundingly secured that approval and the new Parliament was convened in 1999.

While this debate on 4 July secured the UK Parliament’s endorsement of the principles of the claim of right, with the Parliament and the Government voting to support the motion, the UK Parliament has already demonstrated its endorsement quite clearly by legislating for the existence of the new Scottish Parliament in the first place.

Furthermore, the UK Parliament has continued to demonstrate its support with significant deepening of devolution via further Scotland Acts in 2012 and in 2016, along with many statutory instruments which have further strengthened the settlement. For example, the Scotland Act 2016 has transferred a wide range of powers to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament, including significant powers relating to the transfer of £12 billion worth of income tax powers and welfare powers worth £2.8 billion in 2015-16. By devolving historic new powers, the Act makes the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world and demonstrates the UK Government’s commitment to the devolution envisaged in the claim of right.

Devolution and implementation of the Scotland Act 2016 remains a key priority for the UK Government and we are committed to implementing the Scotland Act in full. We are working constructively with the Scottish Government to bring remaining sections into force.

In line with the principles of the claim of right the people of Scotland have also provided their approval to another key part of Scotland’s democratic tradition: that of the Union. In the referendum of 2014 the people of Scotland voted clearly to remain part of the United Kingdom, and have two Parliaments and two Governments.

As we prepare to leave the EU, the arguments for Scotland remaining a part of the UK are just as compelling as they have always been.

Now is the time for the United Kingdom to be pulling together, not pulled apart. The Scottish Government should be working with the UK Government to get the right deal for the whole of the UK, and we should be putting all our energies into making sure that we get that right deal for the UK and the right deal for Scotland in our negotiations with the European Union.

The debate featured passionate voices from all sides of the House. It also demonstrated the importance of respecting Scotland’s democratic tradition, which this Government have done and will continue to do; a tradition which respects the principles of the claim of right and of the Union which the people of Scotland have determined is the best way to achieve a strong Scotland.

The focus now should be on working together to achieve our aims and ensure that the significant powers that the Scottish Government and Parliament have are used in ways that deliver practical benefits for the people of Scotland.