The Parliament at the City of Westminster created the bastard child of the Tory government and their big business financial backers that is the Trade Union Bill.
A Bill with the intention of no less than killing off our country’s Trade Unions.
Today the devolved parliaments at Edinburgh and Cardiff will be debating the Trade Union Bill.
Like every right thinking person it is the settled intention of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to do everything in their power to resist and reverse the Bill as it applies to the people of Scotland and Wales respectively.
However, the motions before each of the devolved parliaments today are very different. Because of the astonishing position of the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Tricia Marwick, to thwart the wish of the entire Scottish Parliament to hold a Legislative Consent Motion (or Sewel Motion as it used to be called); today the Scottish Parliament are debating the generalities of the Trade Union Bill only. There will be no practical outcome or impact of the debate.
In contrast, the Welsh Assembly are clear in their view that they have the devolved power to hold a Legislative Consent Motion and that is what they are doing today. They will vote unanimously not to consent to the Trade Union Bill. First Minister of Wales has also made it clear that if the Trade Union Bill makes it on to the statute book the Welsh Assembly have the devolved power to introduce their own legislation to reverse the impact of the Bill; and will do so immediately.
We are in the run up to the Scottish Parliamentary election. This is the time when we will start to get big promises. Words are however utterly worthless if they are not backed up by action. While it is good that today the Scottish Parliament will express an overwhelming view that the Trade Union Bill is a legislative abomination that must be avoided in Scotland it is only words and that is not enough.
When it comes to casting their vote in May will anyone believe that Edinburgh has the weakest parliament of all and there is less that we can do about the Trade Union Bill in Scotland than in Wales? I won’t even bother giving the obvious answer to that rhetorical question.
The simple fact is that the Scottish Parliament must find a solution. They must find a way to thwart the Bill in Scotland in the same way as the Presiding Officer previously thwarted the Legislative Consent Motion. If it can be done in Wales, the people of Scotland will accept no less from the Scottish Parliament.
For me the answer seems clear. Under the Scotland Act the Scottish Government have “no power…to do any act [that] is incompatible with any convention rights.” (Section 57(2)) Convention rights of course includes the Human Rights Act and the conduct expected of the Scottish Government under the Trade Union Bill is unquestionably incompatible with the Human Rights Act. Article 11 of the Human Rights Act ensures freedom of assembly and association. It is clear to me that the Trade Union Bill will contravene that right. Accordingly, the Scottish Government not only have the right to refuse to follow the obligations placed on them by the Trade Union Bill, such as banning check-off, they are in fact obliged under human rights law to ignore the Trade Union Bill.
Accordingly the Human Rights Act provides the solution that will allow the Government in Edinburgh to turn to the Government at Westminster and say, like the Government at Cardiff, we will not be complicit in your efforts to destroy Trade Unions.
The time for talking is over. It is now the time for action and if the Scottish Government are as committed to standing against the Trade Union Bill as they say they are, they now have the means to do so.
Time and political will shall tell.