By Michael Russell

LAST week has been pivotal for the future of the Scottish Parliament and the devolution settlement as we have understood it for two decades.

On Wednesday evening an overwhelming majority of MSPs voted to reject new UK Government legislation that, if passed, would ride roughshod over the powers of Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament. The Bill should now be dropped immediately in line with the rules of the UK’s constitutional system.

If it is not, the UK Government will have demonstrated once and for all that it has abandoned any idea of the UK as a partnership of equals and instead wants to impose a system in which Scotland is placed firmly under Westminster control. We could never recommend that the Scottish Parliament consent to the Internal Market Bill because it threatens devolution and breaches international law.

Despite empty assurances from UK Ministers, this Bill opens the door to a post-Brexit race to the bottom and will mean democratic decisions of the Scottish Parliament on public health, environmental standards, food standards and a range of other key areas can be over-ridden. The UK Government has resisted every attempt to write guarantees on continued high food and animal welfare standards into law.

The widespread concerns of business, environmental, farming and public health organisations, trade unions and professional bodies like the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Royal Incorporation of Architects have been downplayed or simply ignored.

It means that if lower food and environmental standards are allowed elsewhere in the UK, , Scotland would be forced to accept these. The Bill will also mean the UK Government taking control of key devolved spending powers and the devolved policy area of state aid.

I am grateful that all but one of the parties across the Chamber were able to unite against this reckless and harmful Bill. Indeed no member of the Scottish Parliament who respected its powers, and the wishes of the people of Scotland, could have possibly voted any other way.

The constitutional convention is that the Westminster Parliament should not legislate in devolved areas without the Scottish Parliament’s consent and the deeply damaging Internal Market Bill should now be withdrawn immediately by the UK Government.

The Bill is not just an affront to democracy. It is also completely unnecessary.

The Scottish Government’s alternative to the Bill – an alternative supported by industry bodies and farming and environmental groups - is for a system of voluntary common frameworks based on the idea of partnership and agreement rather than imposition.

Unfortunately, nothing we have seen or heard so far suggests the UK Government is listening to the people and parliamentarians of Scotland and, as the European Council prepares to meet next week, we are closer than ever to leaving the Brexit transition period with either a disastrous ‘No Deal’ or a deeply damaging ‘Low Deal’.

It is beyond belief that in the middle of a global pandemic and deep economic recession the UK Government has decided to leave the transition period in less than three months’ time.

It is clear that, whatever the outcome of the end of the UK-EU talks, the impact on the economy of Scotland will be particularly severe, both in the short and long-term.

The Scottish Government stands ready to do all we can to alleviate the effect of the hardline Brexit currently being pursued by the UK Government which would hit trade, limit the export of services and leave Scotland’s gross domestic product more than 6 per cent, or £9 billion, lower by 2030 than if we had stayed in the EU. In the event of no deal we would lose even more.

We will also continue to argue for a closer relationship with the EU and will assert our right to align with EU rules where suitable and practicable to do so. We will also explore whether we can take part in future EU programmes in devolved areas, even when the UK Government does not.

But what the events of the last week shows us more clearly than ever before is the UK Government is not listening to the democratic voice of the Scottish Parliament.

By pressing for a damaging hardline Brexit against the wishes of the Scottish people and by continuing to pursue a piece of legislation that breaks international law and undermines devolution it is clearly not acting in the best interests of Scotland, our economy and people.

That is why Scotland needs a different future. A future where decisions taken in the Scottish Parliament are reflected in all of the policies that are enacted in Scotland and a future in which an independent Scotland can look forward to being an equal partner in the EU and able to take advantage once again of all the benefits that membership brings.

Michael Russell is Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs