THE debate about powers returning – or not returning – to Holyrood after Brexit has been compared to disagreement about how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin and even to the Schleswig-Holstein Question. The latter, according to Lord Palmerston, was understood by only three people, one of whom had died, a second who’d gone mad, and himself, who’d forgotten all about it. Westminster, at least, has not been allowed to forget that Scotland has a devolved parliament and that it does not take lightly to foregoing any powers.

Yesterday, the divisive debate had the effect of uniting four of the parties at Holyrood – some of them normally at each other’s throats. Only the Scottish Tories hadn’t found the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill sticking in their craw. Looking simultaneously thrawn and uncomfortable, they backed their Tory colleagues in the House of Commons and blamed everything on the SNP. Their case is that the Scottish Parliament should rejoice because Brexit was repatriating powers to Holyrood. And even if Westminster was grabbing some of these, Holyrood would still be up on the deal, with more powers than before.

This is to miss the point spectacularly. The powers in question were already technically devolved to Holyrood, but were entrusted to Brussels to ensure a coherent approach to regulations across the EU.

Scotland did not want Brexit but, if it has to happen, it would like these powers to come back where they belong, and not be “grabbed” by Westminster. The powers may not be the most important in the world, but they are significant, involving areas that affect fishing, farming and environmental regulation. On matters such as food labelling or the safe use of chemicals, it’s clearly helpful if there’s a unified approach across the UK, but it should be up to the respective administrations to come together and agree this from their own perspectives, not for one merely to be consulted by the other.

Celestial beings on pins don’t come into this. Yesterday’s vote to withhold consent from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill marked a constitutional milestone, past which the London and Edinburgh administrations marched in different directions. As the UK Government is likely to impose the legislation anyway, it raises important questions about devolution, and undermines the trust and respect that are supposed to mark relations between Holyrood and Westminster.

However, while this was a final vote at Holyrood, all may yet not be lost. Brexit Minister Michael Russell intimated that this “won’t be the end of the process” and that there was still time for the bill to be “adjusted”.

We understand that. Holyrood understands that. And the UK Government should try to understand that too.