In Scotland a much bigger story is brewing than ours. Theresa May is taking Nicola Sturgeon head on and may come a cropper. She’s behaving as if the Tories’ clean sweep in England boosts their authority in Scotland. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite winning 25% of the vote in Scotland, it only emphasises the Conservatives as the party of pro-Brexit England. The Nats are up in arms claiming that May now wants to revisit the whole devolution settlement.
May makes a fair case in wishing to reserve some powers due back from Brussels to Westminster over agriculture, fisheries and the environment that otherwise under devolution would transfer over to Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont. she needs those powers in order to make new trade treaties with other countries. But was she wise to goad Nicola Sturgeon into calling for Indy ref2? Papers on the right and left are worried.
The politically cautious pro-EU FT (£) has serious doubts
On Friday, Mrs May accused the SNP of obsessing with independence at the expense of all other considerations. The prime minister has a point. The problem is that the manner in which she is pursuing Brexit risks strengthening calls for independence. It would have been wiser if the prime minister had stuck to her original course: approaching the Brexit negotiations in a way that does not alienate the significant minority that voted to remain. Her failure to do so may prove to be a profound miscalculation.
Lesley Riddoch the Belfast-born pro-nationalist commentator is scathing in the Guardian.
What has been roundly ignored to date has been the Scottish government’s options paper – still the greatest amount of ink on paper by any government relating to Brexit. It suggests ways to keep Scotland inside the single market, and was presented to the British government in December. To date there has been no official response: all there has been is backtracking.
After promising that powers returning from Europe would be devolved, it now looks as if control over agricultural and fishing subsidies will stay at Westminster when they return from Europe. Yet when SNP politicians seek clarification – as the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, did in prime minister’s questions this week – they are dismissed like stupid, unruly children.
“My way or the highway” is the standard British government response to pleas for opt-outs or flexibility. But behind the scenes, opt-outs aplenty are being considered for constituencies that matter to May – naturally Scotland is not among them.
Top of her priority list is the City of London whose powerful remain-voting bosses are thoroughly panicked.
And of course there is the special and delicate problem of Ireland – both sides of the border voted to remain in the EU, mostly because membership removes the vexed problem of an internal border. If there is a bolder geographical fix offered to Northern Ireland, Scotland will be the only important player left out in the cold.
That’s why independence is becoming an option for many people who voted no two short years back – many on the back of a cast-iron assurance that the only way to stay in the EU was to stay in the UK.
May and the Scottish Conservatives are currently waging a phony war over Scottish independence because their own party’s record is woeful. The Scottish government will trigger another referendum when May has fully demonstrated how little Scotland means in the dangerous game of Brexit. We may not be waiting long
Mrs May is treating Scotland the same way as she treats the Remain constituency- as a group to consult and then overrule. She is failing to grasp that a majoritarian, winner take- all- approach doesn’t work when under devolution voters have an alternative. Rather than court ultimatums from Sturgeon she would be well advised to devise a better framework for negotiating over the SNP’s considered case in their document, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. The UK government needs to convince, that access to the single market is much the same as continuing membership – a tough call.
May’s defenders say that detailed negotiations between Whitehall and Holyrood are proceeding in the Brexit department and both sides wish for similar ends. If so, the fruits of their labour had better surface soon
And where is Northern Ireland in all this? Sorry, too busy just now. But watch out for Gerry Adams.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London