IN one Zoom call, The UK Prime Malingerer has managed to blow up one of the main, indeed the only, argument from opponents of independence that stands any chance at all – albeit a small one of reversing the rising tide of support for independence.
By describing devolution as a disaster and Tony Blair’s biggest mistake – bigger than, it even seems, the Iraq War that cost tens of thousands of lives and left that country in ruins – Boris Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson has finally shredded the only carrot that opponents of independence had left: the vague promise that if Scotland stays subject to the not-so-tender administrations of Westminster, then we could see more wide-ranging devolution and additional powers for Holyrood.
That promise is now as dead as Ruth “don’t call me Baroness” Davidson’s claim to be the voice of the ordinary man and woman in the street. Although not the voice of any of her constituents who turn up expecting her to do a surgery, because you’ll be waiting as long for that to happen as you would be for Andrew Bowie MP to be modest and self-effacing on social media.
Johnson’s comments were received with horror by Scottish Tories, knowing as they do that the SNP are already getting them printed in 72-point bold font on their election literature for May’s Scottish elections. As far as the independence campaign is concerned, Johnson is the git that keeps on giving.
We now have confirmation of what we knew all along, that the Tories despise devolution. They opposed it in the 1990s and they oppose it still – the devolution settlement can never be safe in a UK where voters in England keep returning them to power. The strengthening and deepening of devolution that Scotland was promised in 2014 is in grave danger. Being a part of the UK reduces Scotland to the position of chickens who have to share their coop with a fox.
Johnson’s remarks were followed – after a suitable period of avoiding the media while they hid under their Battle of Britain-themed duvet and gibbered – by Tory politicians taking to the airwaves and social media in an attempt to reverse ferret Johnson’s words. Because apparently when he said that devolution was a disaster and was Tony Blair’s biggest mistake, what that actually meant was that he thinks devolution is great but that the SNP is a disaster – an explanation which could only sound remotely plausible to that minuscule fraction of the population that laboured under the misapprehension that Tony Blair was a member of the SNP.
Borders Tory MP John Lamont, who couldn’t have a lower profile if he represented the Marianas Trench in the Commons, took to social media to opine that it was really the SNP which was the biggest threat to devolution because independence would do away with devolution entirely. Which is surely in the top 10 of asinine arguments ever uttered by a Scottish Conservative. And there is very strong competition since we also have to take into account the Twitter oeuvre of
Murdo Fraser. But John’s comment snatches the top spot since what he is saying is in effect that learning to walk again is a threat to your crutches. And I say that as someone who has very recently learned to walk with crutches.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times is reporting that a government insider has confirmed that Johnson and Gove’s Union task force will seek to make the emotional case for the UK in England as well as Scotland – because No 10 is acutely aware that the argument has to go beyond the economic case that the Union is better for all involved. Although not acutely aware enough not to go making comments which are only going to boost support for independence.
However it must be admitted that for once in his miserable self-serving career, Johnson was actually being honest about devolution. It has been a disaster. For the Conservatives, devolution has absolutely been a disaster. That’s because devolution has allowed people in Scotland to see that, contrary to what we’ve always been told by the likes of the Tories, we are more than capable of governing ourselves. It has taught us that Scotland can make a better fist of dealing with a crisis than the Westminster Government – even one as great in magnitude as the coronavirus pandemic.
Devolution has opened the door to Scotland’s potential and has shone a light on the fears and insecurities that for so long kept us dependent and scared of change. It has shown Scotland that our fears are baseless and encouraged us to open the door even wider and to step through it out into the world as an independent nation.
That’s a disaster for those like the Tories who rely on keeping Scotland cringing and cowering in the dark. Devolution is a disaster in the sense that it has severely backfired on the Unionists. It was devised by Labour as a way of placating the restive Scots in the hope it would make us give up on the goal of independence. But the opposite has been true – it’s only highlighted how devolved power isn’t enough and only full independence will do. We don’t need the crutches any more.
Johnson’s remarks simplify Scotland’s choices. They have flushed out the British nationalist zealots who want the abolition of the Scottish Parliament. They’ve shown us that there is no future for a devolved Scotland within the UK. It’s a choice between independence or defenceless submission to the right-wing, English-nationalist, Brexit excesses of the Conservatives.
It’s not a difficult choice to make, and it is one that Scotland is increasingly eager for. The Union is over, it has been killed by those who claim to love it the most. All that remains is to arrange the funeral. It won’t be mourned.