When the Scottish Office was established in 1885 its main job was to oversee the various government departments operating within Scotland, Scottish education, farming, and other government roles. However the most important single task for the Scottish Office and the Secretary of State who headed it was to represent Scotland at cabinet level within the British Government. The founding of the Scottish Office gave Scotland a guaranteed seat in the cabinet, and ensured that there was a cabinet minister whose main role was to stand up for Scottish interests at the highest level of British government. That remained the main task of Scottish Secretaries for over 100 years. Within the unwritten constitution of the UK, the Scottish Office was the only official representation that Scotland possessed in the corridors of power of Whitehall, and the only recognition that the British Government did indeed represent a union of nations and was not merely the political expression of Greater England.
Devolution changed the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Many of the prior responsibilities of the Office now fell to the new Scottish Parliament. But even so, the main role of the Scotland Office, as it’s now known, remained representing Scotland at cabinet level. The Scotland Secretary was still supposed to act as Scotland’s voice in the British government. That remained the case all the way through the first decade of devolution.
But following the accession to power of the Conservatives in 2010, all that has changed. The main task of the Scotland Office is no longer to represent Scotland within the UK government. The role of the Scotland Secretary is no longer to stand up for Scottish interests in cabinet. According to the website of the Scotland Office, the most important duties of the department are to “strengthen and maintain the union”, to “champion the UK Government in Scotland”, and to “represent and advocate for the UK Government’s policies in Scotland”.
The focus of the organisation has been turned on its head, it now acts to represent the British Government in Scotland. The main role of the Scotland Secretary is to promote the British Government. The Scotland Secretary is no longer Scotland’s representative in cabinet, he or she is the cabinet’s representative in Scotland. The Scotland Office no longer exists in order to give shape to Scottish distinctiveness at a Westminster level, it exists in order to crush it. It’s the Department For Putting Union Flags On Things And Telling Us To Be Grateful.
The Scotland Office is funded out of the money that Westminster allocates to Scotland. Its ballooning budget is not intended to strengthen and defend Scotland’s distinctive interests within Westminster, it’s a nakedly political operation which has the goal of promoting the policies and politics of the British government of the day within Scotland. The Scotland Office’s spending on spin doctors and communications officials has ballooned under the Conservatives. Spending has increased seven fold from £108,439 annually in 2010/11 to £686,166.29 in 2016/17. That’s taxpayers’ money being spent directly on people whose job is the promotion within Scotland of Conservative policies that Scotland didn’t vote for.
That’s all bad enough, but the real scandal here is that the change in focus and goal for the Scotland Office means that Scotland and Scottish interests no longer have formal representation at the very highest level of British Government. Instead we have a Department for British Propaganda which is hoovering up more and more of the funding which ought to be spent on public services in Scotland. Yet this change was carried out unilaterally, without any consultation with the people of Scotland, without our permission being asked or our consent sought. If Scotland really was a partner in a precious union, then those changes would not have been made without the express consent of the people of Scotland. Instead they were introduced unilaterally by a political party which hasn’t won a General Election in Scotland since the 1950s, with the express aim of benefiting that party and promoting its policies. Yet it’s the people of Scotland who are paying for this propaganda.
Scotland is told that it’s a part of a Union, but it’s a part of a Union which lacks any constitutional safeguards for its constituent parts, a union in which there is absolutely nothing to prevent the interests and concerns of the largest partner in that union riding roughshod over those of all the other partners. Scotland is supposedly a part of a union, but that union has no constitutional measures to ensure that Scotland is represented in the highest levels of government of that union. That’s a damned peculiar union. It’s one which is indistinguishable from a unitary state. It’s one in which Scotland’s concerns are ignored, sidelined, and marginalised.
I’m sure that once I could have made a witty bon-mot about all of this, but that was back when we were living in a world you could satirise. Now we have a Home Secretary who says that she aims to make criminals feel terrified. She’s succeeded beyond her wildest expectations. This government has half the UK terrified. We have a Scotland Secretary who only got the gig because he’s a millionaire with a landed estate who has wined and dined the other rich boys and girls at the Brexity end of the Tory party. Moreover he’s heading a department whose aim is to propagandise for the UK and who says that Scotland won’t be allowed another independence referendum under any circumstances whatsoever. If that’s the case then democracy in Scotland is effectively dead.
When Boris Johnson came to power, his difficulties in Scotland were flagged up well in advance. It cannot have come as a surprise to him and his cabinet that he is personally unpopular in Scotland and his headlong drive for Brexit come what may is liable to make many in Scotland reconsider their attachment to the UK. Yet he’s pressing on regardless. He has shown not the slightest inclination to take any of Scotland’s concerns into account, not even the concerns of Scottish Conservatives. That can only mean that he believes that he can take Scotland for granted, that he thinks we’re a problem that he can contain. He’s in for a big disappointment.
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.
You can order the book directly from the publisher. Ordering directly means that postage is free. You can order here –
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