The National is reporting that the Scottish Conservatives are urging whoever becomes the next Tory PM to undermine the devolution settlement even further than this UK government has done already. Ruth Davidson’s acolytes seek to run a coach and horses through the Scotland Act, and to unilaterally overturn the will of the Scottish people and the promises and commitments that they themselves made to Scotland as part of the Better Together campaign in 2014. We shouldn’t be surprised. The Conservatives opposed devolution in 1979. They opposed it in 1997. They still oppose it to this day. Now this minority party seeks to impose its will on the whole of Scotland on the back of the votes of MPs from elsewhere in the UK. A Scotland within the UK is a Scotland that will do the bidding of the Tories, whether Scotland consents or not.
This week the 13 Tory disgraces who misrepresent Scotland in Westminster signed a letter to all of the candidates for the Conservative leadership asking them to commit to ruling out another independence referendum, and to by-passing Holyrood by spending money directly on devolved matters, money which would remain under the control of the UK government. The plan would require Westminster making a unilateral change to the Scotland Act, despite pledges made and already broken that no Westminster government would ever make changes to the Scotland Act without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament.
It is an extraordinary development, yet one which with the exception of The National has passed largely unremarked in the overwhelmingly British media in Scotland. This letter represents an effective coup by the Scottish Conservatives. It is nothing less than a brazen attempt to subvert Scottish democracy. The people of Scotland voted for the devolution settlement in the referendum of 1997. In the referendum of 2014 the people of Scotland voted against independence because they were assured that they were voting for stronger devolution, for the entrenching of Holyrood’s powers.
Yet here we are, just a few years later, and Ruth Davidson’s little band of political toddlers are desperately trying to overturn the will of the Scottish people while telling us that we must respect the result of the referendums of 2014 and 2016. It’s funny that in Toryland it’s only the losers who have to respect the result of referendums. The winners don’t have to respect the promises and commitment that they made in order to win them. You might just think that the winners being held to account was more important in a country that calls itself a democracy, and you’d be right.
This letter must be seen in the context of this week’s news that there are to be two new “UK government hubs” in Scotland. David Mundell girned before the press cameras with a big key like one of those you give to a teething toddler, and announced new offices for a greatly increased UK government propaganda presence in Scotland. The Tories are adopting the Tesco approach to Scottish government, to plaster union flegs on everything in the hope that it will make people love them.
This new investment which the Tories seek to control will not be, despite their claims to the contrary, “extra money”. The Conservative party and its membership is already unhappy about what it perceives as unfair expenditure on Scotland, and a Boris Johnson Prime Minister who thinks that a pound of public money is better spent in Croydon than in Strathclyde isn’t going to authorise a vast new tranch of cash for Scotland. One way or another, the funds that the Conservatives seek to control directly will come out of the Scottish budget. This is nothing less than a direct assault on the principles of the devolution settlement.
The reason that they’re doing this now is because the Scottish Tories know that their MPs are a bunch of one hit wonders. The British media in Scotland likes to present their election in 2017 as the emergence of the new British Beatles, destined to change the paradigm and usher in a new era. But really they’re the Baha Men, the Scottish Tories are the ones who briefly let the dogs of British nationalism out with their repetitive and singleminded drone. Pity they forgot about animal control.
The Scottish Tories, at least those amongst them who possess some connected neurones, know that too. They do private polling. They can see the results of public polling like the rest of us. They know that come the next Westminster election in Scotland they are facing an extinction level event. It’s not just Ross Thomson who’s going to be known as SNP Gain. The Tories know that they’re facing losses in the next Holyrood elections too. And most of all they know that they’ve got the prospect of a deeply unpopular Conservative Prime Minister who is going to force a no deal Brexit on an overwhelmingly pro-remain Scotland. You can bet your last penny that if and when Boris Johnson becomes the next Prime Minister, Ruth Davidson and David Mundell will be denying that they were ever opposed to him and will sook up to him with the strength of an industrial vacuum cleaner. They’ll enthusiastically back whatever Brexit he foists upon us, irrespective of the damage it does.
The political fall out from that event will shape Scottish politics for decades to come, and not in a way that’s beneficial to Ruth Davidson. She knows that. Ruth Davidson has many negative qualities as a politician, but she’s not that stupid. So her party is desperately levering the political clout that they’ve got while they still have it, because they know that this is the highest their tide will ever flow. This is their last chance.
The Scottish Tories have realised that their much vaunted plans for Ruth Davidson to become the next First Minister are as much of a fantasy as Gordie Broon’s prognostications of a Scotland that would enjoy the next best thing to full fat federalism if it voted against independence. They need a Plan B. Since they have no hope of ever taking control of Holyrood through the ballot box, they seek to control Scotland by subverting and undermining the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Tories want to return Scotland to the powerlessness of the 1980s, when the country was prostrate and helpless against the worst excesses of Thatcherism. Only this time it’s going to be worse. It’s going to be Brexit and Boris Johnson or one of the other Bah Hah Men of the Conservative leadership contest.
What sort of country do you want Scotland to be? We need to ask that question now, because the Tories are determined to ensure that Scotland will soon not have the luxury of asking itself the question. Scotland can either look to its own future, or we’ll get the future that Boris Johnson and the Tories see for us. That will be a future of Brexit, of British nationalism, of a hollowed out Holyrood, of austerity, and of submission.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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