Three men who would be effortlessly recognised by members of their own families stand proudly outside their new seven storey pad in central Edinburgh. One is apparently the Secretary of State for Scotland. Now you might think, and I do, that the arrival of Scotland’s own seat of government some 21 years ago would have rendered his job obsolete. Redundant. Unnecessary. A very expensive irrelevance. Yet he is not entirely without contemporary purpose. Once, pre-Holyrood, we had Secretaries of State for Scotland whose function was to go into bat for us in the Westminster cabinet. Post holders as diverse as Donald Dewar and George Younger did just that. Now, in something of a role reversal, the job is to be the cabinet’s man in the north. Not to be confused with a friend.
In the years since devolution the premises occupied by yesterday’s men (always all men) have become ever grander in a sort of inverse ratio to their usefulness. Of course this latest edifice – named in the customary imagination -free manner Queen Elizabeth House – is not just a gaff for three men in search of relevance. It is a very expensive Trojan Horse which will house some 3000 civil servants from a whole raft of government departments. It will also, drum roll please, contain “the first UK cabinet room outside London.” Somewhere for Johnson, Hancock, Williamson, Patel, Gove et al to park their bahookies when discussing which new manner of beads to offer the troublesome natives. As they say in my home town: haud me back.
It is not paranoia to regard this as a gross intrusion into Scottish private matters. Not, as Priti Patel might infelicitously phrase it “ an invasion of migrants”, but nevertheless a real and present danger to the cause of independence. There are other harbingers of control freakery.. An “essay” in the Spectator magazine has called for a new Act of Union to quell any thoughts of the Scots getting ideas above their subservient station. Lest you imagine for a moment this would be in recognition of the Scots’ demand for real autonomy let me summarise. The author calls for sovereignty to reside exclusively at Westminster; the notion that Holyrood is permanent should cease, as should the convention that Westminster should not interfere in devolved matters.
In fact the whole basis of the devolution settlement should be turned on its head with everything reserved to London which is not newly devolved. Reserved to London, naturally, would be anything regarding elections or referendums. Oh, and by the way, Holyrood would not be able to spend as much as 5 pence on anything reserved. Pretty much anything at all. The writer of this tosh imagines his envisaged Act would “be met by the full force of hysterical self-pity and imagined oppression that the Scottish establishment can muster.” You better believe it, sunbeam.
These matters are straws in a wind to which we are not paying nearly enough attention. Together with the fetish for plastering goods and services with the union flag they are part of a very serious campaign to halt the onward march to self determination. This is why some of us get a mite anxious about the “keep the heid” “steady as she goes” mantras. Sure there are some bampots and hotheads who prefer kneejerk invective to strategic thought. (On which matter stunts like Stewart MacDonald MP’s gratuitous sideswipe at Common Weal are frankly pathetic.”.)
But it behoves us at this critical juncture to take note of the fact that nobody in the Unionist camp is doing any of this steady as she goes stuff. They are straining every sinew to sell the joys of Scotland being joined at somewhere less useful than the hip to the UK. That’s what all this branding, ministerial day tripping, and UK Hubs is about. Another such UK government hub is under way in the dear green place. The “enemy” is not at the gate, it is building its own castles on our turf. The tanks are already parked on the lawn. We simply cannot afford to be outflanked at this crucial juncture. When Holyrood passed a continuity bill to try and protect devolution from the consequences of Brexit, Westminster re-wrote the Withdrawal Bill to pronounce our legislation incompetent. Scottish MP’s were then given a whole 19 minutes to debate the consequences in the Commons.
We know too that already devolved powers are being repatriated from Brussels to London rather than Edinburgh. We know that we’re effectively locked out of the trade negotiations which will impact one way or another on so many of our core industries. Meanwhile the relationship with Europe, freedom of movement and all the things we voted for four years ago come to a crashing halt in just 18 weeks time. If anyone thinks that Westminster is going to deploy the Marquis of Queensberry rules with this fight for independence then they are suffering from amnesia or terminal naivety or both.
We need to prosecute our case by every and any means available. The People’s Action on Section 30, at the time of writing was not far off its £155k fund raising target. Its mission is to go to court to assert that Holyrood has the right to mount a legal referendum with or without the nod from Westminster. Meanwhile Greg McCarra of the Scottish Independence Foundation has proposed what is essentially a new Claim of Right urging those who believe we should – at the very least – be allowed to determine our own destiny, to make sure that demand is voiced loud and clear both from believers and from those agnostics who see the simple justice of the proposition.
This is a moment for all available hands to every possible pump if we’re not going to be rolled over once again by a Westminster driven juggernaut intent on squashing the life from the independence movement. It’s not a time for factionalism, or self indulgence or petty points scoring. We need maximum effort and collaboration.
It’s also the moment we need to remember that the price of independence is eternal vigilance.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL ON AUGUST 17TH