When a bad thing happens once, it can be considered accidental. When it happens twice, that’s deeply unfortunate and a sign that someone isn’t paying attention. When it happens a third, fourth, and fifth time it’s a deliberate act of policy. That’s the case with the Conservative administration in Westminster not keeping the governments of Scotland and Wales informed.
This week it happened again. Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes was not consulted or informed about the surprise decision of the UK Treasury to scrap the VAT exemption rules which allow tourists to claim back VAT on shopping that they’ve done while on a trip to the UK. The scheme is to be cancelled at the end of the Brexit transitional period on 31 December. In response to a written question from Labour’s Jackie Baillie, Kate Forbes said that the decision had been made without any consultation with the Scottish Government.
Scotland has a massive tourism industry. Or rather it had before the pandemic. The sector is already struggling due to the effects of months of lockdown and quarantine restrictions on foreign travel. The retail sector is in crisis due to the lack of footfall in city centres. This measure will make it even harder for retail businesses which depend upon tourist spending to get back on their feet. However the Scottish Government is unable to say how much of an effect it’s going to have, and so cannot implement any measures to help to mitigate it, because since it was introduced without any consultation or warning Scottish Government officials have not been able to carry out any analyses of the impact it will have on retail businesses dependent on tourist spending. To compound matters, the British Government has not seen fit to share with the Scottish Government any analyses that it may have carried out itself.
The Conservative attitude in this as in so many other things is that the British Government has made its decision and Holyrood must obey. They don’t consult with the devolved administrations for the same reason that a patrician upper class Tory sees no need to consult with the household servants. And that’s precisely how they see us. That respect agenda that was once promised is as much in the realms of fantasy as that time that Johnson and Gove told the truth during a press conference.
Today Johnson delivered his speech to the virtual Conservative conference. He spoke of his “passion” for the union. By which he meant his belief that Scotland and the rest of the UK exist solely to serve his ego and ambitions. He has no interest in what’s good for Scotland. All he cares about is himself.
This is not, as some British nationalist zoomers on social media like to claim, merely the SNP pursuing a grievance. Today the finance secretaries of all three devolved adminstrations have jointly called upon the British Government for clarity about the finances of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Chancellor has decided to cancel the Autumn Budget saying that because of the financial effects of the pandemic it was not an appropriate time. However this means that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland now have no certainty about how much the block grants upon which devolved spending depends will be over the coming months.
Last month Kate Forbes revealed that the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak hadn’t even done her the basic courtesy of informing her that his budget was to be scrapped, despite the fact that this has an enormous impact on the Scottish Budget. Scotland can’t plan a properly detailed budget if the British Government doesn’t even bother to let Scotland know how much money it’s going to have. The Scottish Conservatives have been typically silent about their contempt for devolution displayed by their colleagues in Westminster, but you can bet that they will be the first to try to make political capital by criticising the Scottish Government for delays to the Scottish budget. And they will be aided in this by their friends in the press.
This lack of consultation, indeed a lack of even the most basic courtesy in keeping the Scottish Government informed, is nothing new from the Conservatives. We saw it all the way through the Brexit process when Theresa May’s government cold shouldered Scotland at every opportunity. We saw it again during the pandemic when the British Government didn’t keep the devolved administrations in the loop about decisions which affected them. It’s worth asking why the Conservatives are behaving this way, because in doing so they are creating an open goal.
The answer is twofold. Firstly it’s because they genuinely don’t care. In their worldview the successful operation of their precious union means that they give the orders and the little nations obey. They still operate with the British Imperial model of government in which Westminster reigns supreme. The no more see why the Scottish Government needs to be consulted than they see any need to consult with a local authority in England. In fact UK Government ministers have made that explicit equivalence before. In March 2018 when the Scottish Government suggested that aspects of immigration policy should be devolved – as Michael Gove said could be possible during the EU referendum campaign – Caroline Nokes, then the UK immigration minister, said: “Immigration is a reserved matter. We are not going to grant an ability to the Scottish government that I might not also be granting to Lincolnshire county council.” Scotland, you’re just a glorified Englandshire county council.
Secondly the Conservatives routinely ignore the devolved administrations because they have no understanding at all of how their actions are perceived in Scotland. The have come to believe that the UK is a unitary state, that the only nationalism which needs to be taken into account is their British nationalism which is functionally identical to English nationalism and which of course isn’t nationalism at all – it’s patriotic. They have lost the traditional Scottish Conservative understanding that Scotland is a distinct nation within the UK – an understanding the Scottish Tories themselves have lost too. Any aspect in which Scotland is different from the rest of the UK represents a threat to the unity of the UK and must be squashed. This is not a world view with which devolution can coexist. The Conservatives cannot tolerate any limits on their power, and a strong Scotland within the UK is a constant reminder that they don’t rule supreme.
The only respect that the Conservatives understand is the forelock tugging of their lackeys and servants. That’s the ‘respect agenda’ that they have in mind for us. Devolution isn’t safe with the Tories. Scotland isn’t safe with the Tories. The only safety is when we escape this malign British nationalist Brextremist state for good. Then and only then will Scotland enjoy the respect of equality.
The purpose of this blog is to make a positive case for independence, to attack the pretensions of British nationalism, and to formulate arguments which will help to persuade no voters, undecideds, and soft yes voters to support independence. It’s also to boost the morale of those of us who are already involved in this campaign. I do not provide this platform to allow people to attack others in the movement with whom they disagree. Other people might choose to use their platforms to do so, I don’t.
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