Yesterday the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales participated in a four nations summit meeting chaired by Boris Johnson. Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill were also in attendance. The meeting had been called by Downing Street following the results of the elections to the Scottish and Welsh parliaments last month. Feeling the need to look like he was doing something after elections which produced a record majority for pro-independence parties in Scotland, Johnson called the summit ostensibly so that the leaders of the devolved nations could discuss covid recovery with the British government following repeated criticisms from both Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford that Downing Street has sidelined, marginalised and ignored.
However that wasn’t the real purpose of this supposed summit. Like those TV adverts where cosmetics companies make the carefully worded legalese claim that their expensive product can visibly reduce the appearance of wrinkles, this summit was called by Downing Street as a cosmetic exercise to visibly produce the appearance of listening.
It was always clear that nothing of any substance was going to come out of the meeting. Yesterday’s summit was postponed from last week after Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford both wrote to the Prime Minister’s office to complain that the proposed agenda for the meeting was vague and ill-defined. But then you don’t really need a detailed agenda when the purpose of the meeting is simply so that you can go ,”Yeah right whatevah” and then brief to the right wing British press that you were being constructive and cooperative but there’s no reasoning with those beastly separatists, it’s all the fault of Thatessempee for being divisive.
As predictable as Michael Gove evasively sliming his way through an interview on the telly, following the meeting Nicola Sturgeon reported that “nothing substantial” had come out of it. However both Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, who is most certainly not an advocate for Welsh independence took advantage of having access to Boris Johnson’s ear, if not his attention, interest, or sympathies, to warn him that his Government’s power grabs at the expense of the devolved governments risked the break up of the UK.
The Conservative Government has shamelessly used Brexit, which Scotland didn’t vote for, as an excuse to hollow out the devolution settlement, which Scotland did vote for. The British Government’s UK Internal Market Act unilaterally gives Westminster governments the power to make spending decisions on devolved areas and to override and ignore any objections from Holyrood or Cardiff despite the fact that all the major anti-independence parties, including the Conservatives promised during the independence referendum campaign that if Scotland voted no they would ensure that no changes could ever be made to the powers of Holyrood or the devolution settlement without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament. Funnily enough we don’t hear much from the Scottish Conservatives about that when they’re pontificating about the need to respect the result of the referendum.
Following the meeting the First Minister said: that she and the Welsh First Minister had made it clear that ” If we are to have good faith discussions about working together where we can then that’s not helped by the power grab and the UK Government trying to muscle in on devolved spending. ” She added: “We then had a discussion that shared some experiences around Covid, but the proof in the pudding of all of this is going to be whether it has an impact, whether it changes any of the decisions of the UK Government that impact on the devolved nations. ”
Meanwhile writing in the Guardian newspaper, Alex Niven, a university lecturer and author of a book advocating greater powers for the English regions and decentralisation of the British state, argues that there has been an astonishing lack of thinking in England about what will replace the current model of the British state.
Those of us who support Scottish independence are acutely aware of the need to formulate plausible and convincing arguments for independence. Considerable work has already gone into these by organisations like Common Weal, Business for Scotland and Believe in Scotland. However Alex Niven has pointed out that there is scarcely any awareness in England, never mind serious work, about how England would need to change if some form of union with the other nations in these islands is to survive. This is absolutely crucial because even though anti-independence politicians like Gordon Brown are constantly trying to promote federalism as the antidote to Scottish independence, without widespread support for this idea in England, it’s a non-starter.
For their part the Conservatives appear content to complete their transformation into an avowedly English nationalist party and have no interest whatsoever in embarking upon radical constitutional changes which would limit their power in England just to keep Scotland happy. They know that they only need to entrench themselves as the party of English interests in order to secure their power at Westminster. For the immediate future they are content to stall and delay the inevitable confrontation between Downing Street and a pro-independence Scottish Parliament which has a commitment to deliver another independence referendum within its five year term, hence the summits with ill defined agendas which were never designed to produce concrete outcomes.
The Tories have no intention of going into the next independence referendum campaign with a revised offer of union to put before the people of Scotland. They are relying on the hope that they can stall long enough that some magic event will intervene and defeat independence for them. Apart from that they are relying on scare stories and fear mongering and cosmetic exercises like meaningless and toothless summits, royal visits and plastering union flags on everything. As Alex Niven has noted, deep down the Conservative party has accepted that the Union is a busted flush. They’re just hoping that the soft noes, nd the undecideds, the waverers and the home rule advocates in Scotland – Brown’s so-called Middle Scotland – haven’t noticed that the the “muscular unionism” the Tories hope will replace traditional unionism is really just a version of the right wing xenophobic English nationalism which led to Brexit writ large. The Tories’ big problem is that in the absence of a plausible version of a reformed union, “Middle Scotland” won’t be able to ignore it.
NEW MODERATION POLICY
In the wake of recent events I am determined that this site will not become a home for bigots and conspiracy theorists. They will not be welcome here. Moderation is the most stressful part of running a blog, but this site is going to continue to make the positive case for independence. With this in mind as of today a new moderation policy is in force.
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