By Margaret Johnstone
So, at a time when former PM Gordon Brown is strutting the stage and again, as in 2014, promoting devomax and federalism, Johnson as part of the much heralded “less confrontational” approach of his “reset” in the wake of the departure of Dominic Cummings, has firmly trashed Brown’s ideas for strengthening devolution. Despite their talk of strengthening the union and working together, the Tories have no intention of sharing power with devolved administrations.
On Newsnight on 16th November, Kirsty Wark, no supporter of the SNP or independence though a close friend of Donald Dewar and devolution, interviewed Damian Green, former First Secretary of State, who not unsurprisingly supported Johnson’s outburst, blaming the SNP. “What’s been a disaster is the way [devolution] has been used by the SNP.” In response, Wark accused Green of “English arrogance”.
A few of the usual suspects rushed to get in on the act.
Redwood obviously thinks the SNP are in government with an endless supply of money and by some dastardly sleight of hand, with Scottish voters having nothing to do with it. Either that, or he believes Scottish voters are crass and ignorant, believing whatever pap they are fed.
Tory spokesmen had obviously been rushed into media studios to reinterpret Johnson’s remarks, as Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared on Sky News to insist that devolution has been “misused” in Scotland by the SNP “to drive a wedge between people who are ultimately part of the same country”.
Philippa Whitford slapped Jenrick down in her usual pleasant way, pointing out that the “wedge was being driven by Boris Johnson and his government with constant attacks on Scotland”, and with their Internal Market Bill which grabbed powers from the Scottish parliament.
In another interview Philippa Whitford pointed out that the Tories appeared intent on removing the “middle way” of devolution from people in Scotland, forcing them to choose – accept return to Westminster control or take control of our own future. More and more Scots are choosing the latter. Scots increasingly have come to the conclusion that they can run their country better than politicians in another country whose ignorance of Scotland and what its people are determined to become, is bottomless.
The chorus of explanations were visible online too:
A recent Panelbase poll commissioned by Scot Goes Pop indicated that more than three-quarters of voters expect the Tories to take more powers away from the Scottish Parliament or abolish it completely – and if that happens, almost 70% will be “more likely” to support independence.
Libby Brooks, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent tweeted that for nearly a year, politicians and observers of all stripes have been warning of a deep hostility to devolution at the top of the UK government. So why is this? Is it because the Scottish government is failing and unpopular in Scotland?
Is it because the party in government is unpopular or because the First Minister is not believed to be performing well?
In August the New European carried an article with this:
Polling by YouGov, carried out for the Times, found that Sturgeon was on +50 points as her approval rating continues to soar following her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson has dropped to -50 points after mismanaging the crisis, leaving 100 points difference between the two leaders.
Ruth Davidson, the new Tory group leader at Holyrood, has an approval rating of +15 just ahead of Labour leader Keir Starmer on 14 points.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tories’ new leader, is polling on -15 points.
The National also carried an article on the YouGov findings.
Johnson may have his reasons for disliking devolution, for his contempt being made public, (Scotland and its government performing better than the Tories and Westminster? A dislike of a First Minister whose highly competent and empathetic performance on Covid-19 and a range of other issues has shown him in an extremely poor light?) but in calling devolution a disaster because he dislikes the fact the SNP is in government derides and shows disdain for not only our government but all those who vote for it. The last opinion poll put support for independence at 56%, so Johnson is disparaging, and ignoring the wishes of over half the Scottish electorate – not that he’ll lose any sleep over that!
Interestingly, though, even some Tory supporters appear shocked, with a number said to be extremely angry as Johnson’s comment puts at risk what the new Scottish Tory leader is trying to achieve (whatever that is!). It certainly looks as if Johnson’s dislike of devolution has more to do with the fact that the competency of the Scottish government shows the UK government in a very poor light, adding to the growing belief in Scotland that we could govern ourselves far better as an independent nation.
Even the LibDems were gobsmacked:
So far, Labour in Scotland who used to claim to be the party of devolution, has been surprisingly quiet on this attack on the Scottish government.
In 1997, 74.29% of Scottish electors voted to have a devolved Scottish parliament, 63.48% agreed that it should have tax-raising powers. This came 18 years after the rigged 1979 referendum in which Yes won but votes cast failed the 40% test imposed on the result by a Labour MP. For that we had to endure Thatcherism and its years of unemployment and impoverishment as part of “the most successful political and economic union in history”. Few Scots would want a repetition of those years and yet that is exactly what we might be faced with if we lose our parliament and fail to win our independence.
The Tories – a party that hasn’t won a general election in Scotland for 65 years – were against devolution then, and they remain implacably hostile to it despite it giving their party a voice at Holyrood. Our MPs are treated abominably at Westminster and, instead of reaping the benefits of four nations working together as one United Kingdom, Holyrood and the other devolved governments have been sidelined and ignored during Brexit and trade negotiations with the EU.
Now a Tory rump, treating Scots with unconcealed disdain, wants to neuter or dismantle what we in Scotland fought for many decades to achieve. And the dismantling of devolution would affect not just Scotland as Tricia Marwick (former Holyrood Presiding Officer) made clear.
We’ll let Scotland’s young and talented Cabinet Secretary for Finance have the final word: