A report has just been published by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. The House of Commons report was written by anti-independence MPs, largely from England. It consists of 11 MPs, five of whom are Conservative, five Labour, and only one SNP. The sole SNP MP on the committee is the only MP representing a Scottish constituency. So this is a committee which has no particular insight into Scotland, and no special sympathy for the Scottish Parliament, but even they recognise that Theresa May’s government’s handling of devolved issues in the wake of the Brexit referendum has been woeful. It lays the blame for the acrimony and anger which has been generated firmly at the door of the Conservative government and notes that current inter-governmental mechanisms are not fit for purpose.
Wee Wullie Rennie, remember him? He’s been quoted having a wee ribbit that the report is a powerful rebuke to independence supporters. Because clearly a report which highlights the woeful inadequacies of the British government’s handling of devolution is such a great advertisement for Scotland to continue as a part of the UK. Devolution was sold to Scotland as the great British alternative to independence, but even members of the British establishment concede that it’s not working for Scotland. Except Wullie. But then every time you look at Wullie you can’t help but make a mental note that somewhere a number 17 bus to Kelty is missing its driver. Although to be fair, bus drivers can actually negotiate a route and arrive at the destination which they told people that they were going to go to, which is more than anyone could ever say for the Lib Dems.
The report also says that consideration should be given to abolishing the Scotland Office and the position of Scotland Secretary. Scotland would be better off without the Scotland Office. In fact we have no need for any aspect of the Westminster government. It’s mired in dysfunction, incapable of delivering any of the promises that it feverishly makes to the electorate when the time for voting comes round, and sits in gloriously unaccountable isolation.
You only have to look at David Mundell’s performance in the post to see that he’s quite possibly the most pointless cabinet minister in a cabinet which even includes Michael Gove. Well I say ‘performance’, that’s a misleading term in this context since it implies actually doing something. You’d be as well talking about the performance of wallpaper or the performance of a cardboard cut out figure. You could in fact replace David Mundell with a life sized cardboard cut out figure and it’s highly unlikely that any of his cabinet colleagues would notice the substitution. There are those of us who wonder whether he was replaced by a life sized cardboard cut out figure quite a long time ago.
However we must be charitable. Unlike Michael, whose pointlessness is personal, Fluffy is hampered both by his own pointlessness and the pointlessness of the post which he occupies. If you wanted to know what the purpose of the Scotland Secretary was, you wouldn’t find out by watching David Mundell, or indeed any other occupant of the role. Quite possibly the only parliamentary position even more pointless than Fluffy’s is the post of Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland – and I challenge you to name the occupant of that role without Googling it. Even Labour politicians don’t know who it is, and the real role of Labour politicians is to act as the opposition to other Labour politicians because they actually vote against one another instead of abstaining.
But back to the Fluffy one. See how easy it is to forget his existence and go off on an unrelated tangent? That’s precisely what his colleagues in government do too, only with them it’s a policy choice and not merely forgetfulness.
You’d get a better idea of what Mundell’s job consists of by fixing your gaze on one of those nodding bulldogs sitting on the parcel shelf of a car and advertising a UK patriotically themed insurance company. This is in fact precisely what David’s job is, to nod along in a UK patriotically themed way to whatever the Goves are saying. At least the toy dog is decorative, which is a lot more than you could say for either Mundell or Gove. Although that may be unfair, as there is quite possibly a ghost train ride somewhere that’s missing a couple of its exhibits.
Supposedly, the purpose of the Scotland Office is to give Scotland representation at the highest level of UK government. The Scotland Office is theoretically the voice of Scotland in the British cabinet. In theory David Mundell acts to ensure that Scottish interests get an airing in the British government, and in theory he brings a Scottish perspective to UK government decisions and policy making. But there’s theory, and then there’s real life.
In theory BBC Scotland is an unbiased, balanced, and politically neutral national public service broadcaster. In theory Jeremy Kyle brings social work onto the small screen. In theory the people commenting on stories in the Scotsman are human beings with functioning neurones. In real life, the Scotland Secretary is not Scotland’s voice in the British cabinet, where he is regularly ignored and never invited to any important meetings, he’s really the voice of the Conservative government in Scotland. It would make not the slightest bit of practical difference to Scotland if Scotland Office was abolished and replaced with a voice mail message saying, “Shut up and do what you’re told ungrateful Jockos. Leave a message after the beep if you want, but no one is going to listen to it.”
Despite losing most of its functions after devolution, the department has in recent years mushroomed in expense, and in the number of staff it employs. The cost is taken out of Scottish funding. These staff members and this money isn’t used for the benefit of Scotland, they’re used for the benefit of the British government. Nowadays the Scotland Office is nothing more than a blatant propaganda department selling the British government to the people of Scotland. We have no need for it. We already have BBC Scotland for that sort of thing.
This weekend I am speaking at the launch of Greg Moodie’s new book Cool Scots. The book launch will be downstairs in the Yes Bar in Glasgow from 2pm. Entrance is free and everyone is welcome.
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