Johnson assembles ‘Mordor Squad’ to tackle SNP’s assault on Westminster…
One of the biggest challenges faced by the embryonic campaign to keep the United Kingdom together is the decades-long assault waged by Scottish nationalists – and not just the SNP – against its shared institutions.
It is difficult to make the case for a common government when ‘Westminster’ has been turned into a curse word and the word ‘Britain’ has been banished from your lexicon.
This is one of the things that appears to have finally sunk in over the past few years. One of Theresa May’s early interventions in Scotland was notable for its explicitly stating the need to defend the role of Westminster in public life.
Now Boris Johnson has reportedly assembled what the Press & Journal are calling a ‘Mordor Squad’, as part of a broader effort to get much more pro-active at combating the SNP’s attempts to alienate Scotland from the rest of the nation. Their Daniel O’Donoghue summarises the new approach:
“Ministers will be visiting often, there will be a much slicker operation to present the work of the UK Government in Scotland and the Scots Tories will be “unrelenting” in highlighting the domestic failures of Nicola Sturgeon’s government. The hope is that the narrative will shift away from constitutional politics and stave off another independence referendum, but if not, Westminster will be up to speed and ready to face the challenge.”
We got a flavour of this new line of attack this week when the Conservatives accused Scottish ministers of squandering a ‘Britain bonus’ worth £62 billion since the Nationalists came to power at Holyrood in 2007.
The Scottish Government also provided a telling reminder of what Boris Johnson is up against: the Daily Telegraph reports that the SNP have tried to get any reference to ‘Britain’ or ‘the UK’ stripped out of the nationwide cultural festival Downing Street is planning for 2022. This follows their push to abolish the British Transport Police in Scotland in a long-running campaign to dissolve the bonds of nationhood which hold the Union together – one which has already been successful enough to lead figures such as Michael Gove to shy away from the language of ‘Britain’.
It also highlights once again the folly of trying to replace Westminster governance with an inter-governmental approach when the devolved administrations are not committed to making the Union work, and on that note Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has a piece in the Scottish Farmer explaining why ‘common frameworks’ are no adequate substitute for proper, UK-level control of post-Brexit powers. (As we warned at the time.)
…as Ross takes the fight to the SNP
Meanwhile Douglas Ross, the new Scottish Conservative leader and unofficial ‘Deputy Minister for the Union’, has started the push to shift the focus away from the constitution by unveiling a ‘Scotland first’ economic plan, the Scotsman reports. The paper describes it as “a wide-ranging blueprint that includes plans for a town centre regeneration fund and an overhaul of national economic development body Scottish Enterprise”, and will feature measures intended to help ensure more Scottish Government cash is spent in the country.
Meanwhile Holyrood’s opposition parties have ‘slated’ Nicola Sturgeon after her Government offered up a legislative agenda containing “the lowest number of planned Bills under any SNP government since devolution”, according to the Courier. Instead, the Daily Record reports that First Minister has promised to set out ‘the question, timing, and terms’ of a second referendum on independence – not one of which is in her remit. A high-profile stand-off over the right to hold another vote will help to keep the issue front and centre ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections.
Scottish Labour wracked by rebellion aimed at forcing Leonard out
As Stephen Daisley points out this week, one critical front in any fight to save the UK is the future of Scottish Labour. The party has a key role in winning over left-of-centre voters who might be persuaded to back the Union but cannot bring themselves to vote for the Tories.
Labour’s under-performance at the last general election not only cost it most of the seats it held itself, but also helped to unseat pro-UK MPs from other parties even when their actual vote was up on 2017.
Richard Leonard, their ineffectual Scottish leader, has long been identified as a stumbling block to any revival and this week saw his critics go over the top. At least four MSPs have called on him to quit, according to the Daily Record, with several resigning positions on the Labour front bench to do so.
However their dear leader shows no signs of being ready to go quietly. He has responded by appointing a new spin doctor to sell the Party’s “radical and transformative agenda”, and Labour List reports that his response to the “failed coup” is a mooted ‘change of personnel’ amongst the MSP group.
- Independence is a quack cure for everything – Kevin Hague, The Times
- If, as polls suggest, the party is about to start for the SNP, why are so many leaving early? – Mandy Rhodes, Sunday Post
- The SNP is riding high, but it’s divided over independence – Rory Scothorne, The Guardian
- Scotland is a bigger challenge than Covid or Brexit – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail
- We need time out from independence debate – Kenny Farquharson, The Times
- A bridge to Scotland is a great idea but a terrible proposal – Carl McClean, News Letter