TIME TO WATCH OUR BACKS AND DEFEND DEVOLUTION

They came, they saw, they wittered. With that irritating sense of entitlement, that perennial uncomprehending smugness, the Tory triumverate came north to tell the natives what was wrong with their politics. First the blessed Theresa, as ever closeted in a carefully stage managed setting, reprised her current favourite number "The Precious Union".

Such a precious union that she has spent the 3 years since the Brexit vote ignoring the component parts of the UK from a great height. Ignoring the deliberations of the forums designed to facilitate cross border discussion and deliberation, ignoring the paper produced by the Scottish Government on negotiating a future relationship with Europe, and ignoring the fact that Northern Ireland  a) also voted Remain and b) had no functioning government and c) whose business community was completely at odds with the views of the DUP with whom Mrs May did an expensive deal to keep her in post.  What was precious to Mrs May over the last three years was saving her own skin. That went well.

Her latest wheeze is a review of the devolution settlement with an unelected,  Tory lord at the helm, apparently forgetting that such a review had already been offered to her by the joint ministerial council a year ago, and, tellingly forgetting to mention this initiative to the Scottish government or parliament till it was already set up and selectively leaked.  Consultation? Respect? Partnership? Pause for hollow laughter. 

Then the terrible twins.  A gig in Perth as part of world tour of, ahem, 16 local conservative associations whose entirely unrepresentative membership gets to choose the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  An electoral anomaly, a democratic farce, and an outrageous way in which to conduct the business of the UK PLC. (And would be for any party, before the amalgamated association of tribal trollers get their laptops fired up.) 

Both Boris and Jeremy felt it incumbent upon themselves to re-iterate the May mantra that they would not "allow" a second vote on Scottish independence.  This level of arrogance we are used to. But there is a sub plot in action and we need to pay very close attention.

Jeremy Hunt, in an interview with STV's Colin Mackay, manged to convey the view that he would hold the First Minister to account for those things for which she was responsible. The big ticket things like Scotland's roads. While he, as PM, would look after matters like Scotland's constitutional future. As would befit his office. It had loud echoes of that moment when Tony Blair was heard to suggest that a Scottish seat of government would be rather like a parish council. A useful sop, but not to be confused with a source of serious policy. Meanwhile the bold Boris indicated he would cast his legendary forensic eye over the block grant to determine if it was being spent in the "right" way.  

This matters. This matters a lot. In recent weeks and months Michael Gove has been on manoevres over the future of Scotland's finances.  He makes constant references to the need to let the Scots know that their financial arrangements are as a result of Westminister benificence. He wants spending in Scotland branded in that way, in much the same manner as the union flag is now littered over produce emanating from Scottish businesses. (Bad enough when applied to berries from Angus, and our bottled national drink but reaching its apotheosis last week when applied to items featuring a hielan' coo. The Highland Show now has a stall featuring more union flags than the Mall at a Royal wedding.)

Now this would be concerning enough were it merely an attempt to airbrush the Saltire out of the commercial equation, but there is dirtier work afoot.  We have already had a flavour of it with the bid to ensure that post Brexit powers will come back directly to the Westminster government, even those powers which pertain to areas currently administered by the devolved administrations.  Powers over areas like agriculgure and fisheries where there is a self evident and major Scottish interest.  Now a more sinister ploy is being floated which would see money from Westminster for specific projects sent to Scotland but not via its parliament. Money which Westminster would provide, but which they would also and only direct to those prepared to sign up to Westminster oversight and control.

It's not difficult to discern how this could blow a hole in the entire devolution setttlement. Westminster could, by the back door, insist on a direction of travel in areas like education, health and the aforementioned agriculture and fisheries sectors  which would be in direct contradiction to the policies of our elected parliament. A London based piper would call the tune, directly undermining devolution. 

So you take back powers already devolved, using Brexit as the alibi, then you re-shape the policy landscape in your own image arguing a merely  pragmatic need for UK wide regulation.  Be afraid, folks, be very afraid.  At the very moment we are understandably  focussed on the most propitious time  to move to full independence, the Govite tendency is sawing away at the very foundations of the current limited autonomy we enjoy. 

Time to tell the unlikely lads to get their tanks off our lawns.