FIRST THEY COME FOR YOUR PARLIAMENT....

The Scottish Tories, 13 of whom sit in the Commons, 31 in Holyrood, enjoy a remarkable amount  of media attention in relation to their modest numbers. Much of that, of course, is courtesy of their leader, Ruth Davidson, who had the great good sense to have her maternity leave whilst her party nationally demonstrated how many ways you can commit political hari kari yet still claim to be in power. (Not to be confused with being in government about which not much can be done at the moment.)

But while their Scottish leader's speech (of which a rehearsal was thoughtfully released thanks to an open mike) will doubtless be analysed in some detail tomorrow, I think we might usefully listen instead to the fringe conference contribution from Michael Gove. Born inn Edinburgh, raised in Aberdeen, he repaired after Oxford to London and latterly became an MP for a Surrey seat.  Since which time his interest in matters Scottish has not been particularly apparent, except on those occasions in areas like fishing and farming, where he is happy to remind  us that Westminster is ever sovereign, devolution nothwithstanding.

But this time he ventured further into that relationship. At a Fringe meeting he suggested that the rule preventing the UK government spending money in devolved areas of policy - areas over which the Scottish Government currently has control - was past its sell by date. He told  his audience that he saw no reason in areas like culture, agriculture etc that there should not be the ability to spend money channeled through Westminster rather than Holyrood "for projects that will strengthen the union".

Mr Gove was once Secretary of State for Education in England. A memorable time when every single teaching union -  including the Naiontal Association of Head Teachers - passed a vote of no confidence in his policies. Now, although his remit is the environment and rural affairs, he is obviously nostalgic for his former brief.  Indeed he can think of no reason why Scottish education should be left to the Scots. Conceding that "the department of eduction deals primarily with schools in England", he wanted to ensure in future that any initiatives carried out in Scotland via Westminster "are badged as UK government."

Oh we know about that one Mikey. Like when Scottish produce - and Welsh for that matter - is wrapped up in a Union Jack disguising its area of origin.  Like when the British Tourist Authority is deemed more knowledgable than visitScotland.  Like when Scottish cultural initiatives are stuck in British pavilions because it give us more bang for our buck. Aye. Right.

And the following breathtaking  sentence also fell from his lips: "The Scottish government is very good at using money that it gets from Westminster to claim it is delivering - actually it is the UK government that is providing this and leading the way on budgets."  Wow. We're well used to English commentators feeding the myth that the Scots are subsidy junkies, without apparently able to use basic arithmetic to calculate the Scottish tax take in relation to the block grant. Or, for that matter, to take account of the money which pours into the treasury from areas like oil and whisky. 

But for the same mythology to be used by a UK government minister who well understands how the equation works is little short of outrageous.  Till you remember of course that this was also the man who stood proudly in front of the Brexit bus promising hundreds of million for the NHS as part of the divident from leaving and losing our largest existing market - as opposed to the fantasy future deals still eluding the globe trotting Liam Fox. (But I forget, we do seem to have some kind of memorandum of understand with the Faroes and maybe the Swiss. And let's not forget Lichstenstein.)

The serious point behind all this is that Gove, like many of his colleagues, is intent not on bolstering devolution, not on building on it, but diminishing and diluting it.  Let's not forget the wheeze to "repatriate" powers from Brussells to London which are currently part of the devolution setttlement if Brexit goes ahead.  Let's not forget Chancellor Philip Hammond's recent comment about how well the Jocks do out of his department "though precious little thanks we get for it."

These men are not to be trusted. And if you imagine for a nano second that the likes of Boris Johnson gives more of  a fig for Scotland then you really do have to start taking more water with it.  This UK government is not just shambolic, but dangerous with it. Not content with dragging Scotland out of the EU against its democratically expressed will to stay, not content with shutting Scotland out of the negotiating process over the proposed exit, they now have set their sights on reeling in such powers as we do have over domestic affairs.

Meanwhile the Scotland Secretary (can there ever have been a more redundant role?) assures us that we don't have his permission for another referendum. Tell that to the tens of thousands of  folks who turned out today to remind him and his chaotic cabinet crewmates that uppermost in their minds is not the thoughts of chairman Mundell.