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Last November, Theresa May sulked up to Scotland to deliver a speech to a small group of extremely bored factory workers in a leather goods warehouse in Bridge of Weir. Tomorrow she’s due to repeat the trick, and is due to appear in a shipping container in a lorry park off the A9 where she’ll address an audience of invited press people. Although if the last time is anything to go by, journalists from The National will not get a press pass.
The purpose of the exercise, we’re told, is to announce a review of devolution. Remember in 2014 when the people of Scotland got a solemn vow from the anti-independence parties that no changes would ever be made to the devolution settlement without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament? Well, guess which legislative body in Scotland hasn’t been consulted or informed about Theresa’s intention to launch a review of devolution. If you require a clue, it’s one which isn’t composed entirely of Scottish Conservatives.
The move comes just as the British government has rejected a Freedom of Information request from the SNP MP Tommy Shepherd for the release of a recent opinion poll commissioned by the the UK Cabinet Office about public attitudes towards Scottish independence. Given that other recent polls have all shown a marked shift in Scottish opinion towards support for independence, and a poll of Conservative party members found that they’d prefer to see Scottish independence than give up on Brexit, it’s pretty certain that the UK government’s own poll made for uncomfortable reading for Theresa May. It’s equally certain that if it had found a drop in support for independence that the Cabinet Office would have leaked it by now.
Of course it’s entirely coincidental that this review has been announced on the same day that John The Only Pollster In Scotland Curtis has told us that a majority of remain voters in heavily remain supporting Scotland now support independence. That’s a coincidence in the exact same way that Conservative tax policies benefit the rich more than the poor.
This review has been launched, much to the annoyance of the Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt leadership campaigns, because Theresa May has belatedly realised that her policy of ignoring Scotland, sidelining the Scottish Government, and driving ahead with an entirely Tory Brexit has only succeeded in antagonising people in Scotland. She knows that all she’s done is to break the Conservative party in Scotland as well as her precious union, and now she’s got Ruth Davidson staring at her like an incontinent puppy that knows that it’s about to become homeless.
Theresa is the careless kid who has smashed her mother’s precious union ornament, and who is now desperately trying to stick it back together with blutack and chewing gum in the hope that her mother won’t see the breaks when she gets home in a few minutes time. Perhaps she can lose it in a wheatfield and no one will notice. It’s too late for that. The people of Scotland have already noticed, and they will return their verdict the next time there’s a public vote. As Theresa May prepares to leave office, she’s reflecting on her legacy, and has realised that perhaps the most important part of it is that she’s set Scotland on the path to independence.
Theresa’s review is going to be led by Andrew Dunlop, who as an advisor in the government of Margaret Thatcher was one of those responsible for the poll tax. So that inspires confidence. We’re told that the review is going to confine itself to looking at UK Government departments, but if you believe that you probably also believe that the poll tax was a good idea. We’re looking at you, Andrew.
Since Theresa May is due to leave office as soon as the winner of the Tory leadership contest is announced, this review isn’t going to be carried out with her as Prime Minister anyway. It will be her successor. Reportedly neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Hunt is happy about this obvious attempt to impose Theresa’s will on them. Imposing the will of the Conservative party on Scotland is something that they have no problems with. Both of them have already announced that they have their own plans to deal with the Scottish problem, and in both cases it involves ensuring that UK government departments spend in Scotland on devolved competencies so that they can plaster Union flegs on things.
Who is this review meant to impress? Who is it meant to convince? Sticking a few more union flegs on things in Scotland won’t change anyone’s mind about the fundamental democratic deficit which is driving support for independence. Undermining the Scottish Parliament even further than they have already undermined it won’t convince anyone in Scotland that Scottish political distinctiveness is respected and valued within the UK.
During the very same week that the Conservatives have said that they are boycotting the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly, they announce their unilateral review of devolution. How exactly can the Scottish Tories claim that they respect the people of Scotland when on the one hand that they are happy to participate in the British Government’s unilateral review of devolution, but at the same time say that they’re not going to take part in the Citizens’ Assembly along with the Greens, the SNP, the Labour party, and non-party groups. They are blind to the hypocrisy. The only voices that count for the Tories in giving a view on how the constitutional settlement works for Scotland are voices from Westminster.
Indeed, the Tories imposing themselves on Scotland in a unilateral manner is only going to make the perception of the democratic deficit even stronger, all the more so when we have a Prime Minister who has been elected solely by members of a Conservative party which has minority support in Scotland and whose support is crashing in the polls. Scotland gets what Conservatives vote for is not a convincing argument for the Union.
The truth is that the Conservatives have no idea how to solve their Scottish problem, so are approaching it in the exact same way that they approached Brexit. They are making it all up as they go along, with only their arrogance and entitlement to guide them. It will be their undoing, and their red white and blutack won’t put the union that they smashed back together again.