It's time to bury Scottish independence
Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer should both pledge: no more indyrefs.
Boris Johnson is in Scotland. You can tell from the near absence of the Prime Minister on your TV screens.
His ventures to Scotland are carefully coordinated to avoid any contact with actual Scottish people, who are about as keen on the Tory leader as his own MPs are.
It was known from the outset that Boris wouldn't play well north of the border but rather than challenge those assumptions, he has largely absented himself from Scottish affairs, allowing himself to be defined by the SNP and a hostile media.
This undoubtedly hinders his ability to stand up for the Union. It is hardly a testament to national unity when the Prime Minister has to be smuggled into Scotland like a mafia informant being transferred into the Witness Protection Programme.
Margaret Thatcher understood what Boris still fails to: that it is better to be resolute and hated than to stand for nothing and still be hated. Nationalists and left-wingers are going to hate him no matter what, but the Prime Minister gives Unionists little reason to cheer. His only achievement of note in this area, the UK Internal Market Act, was a step in the right direction but only a step.
His fleeting trip to Scotland coincides with reports that the yellow nationalists and green nationalists are drawing up joint plans for another independence referendum. It also comes after several weeks of rank disinformation about how Scottish pensions would be funded if we seceded from the UK.
The separatists are agitating in the hopes that Westminster will do what it has done before: panic and concede yet more political or constitutional ground. David Cameron couldn't go the length of himself without devolving yet another power to Holyrood. The nationalists' howls and threats have regularly been met with weakness and it is weakness they are expecting again.
The Prime Minister should confound their assumptions and meet them with strength. It is essential that Number 10 understands who it is dealing with. Grant a second referendum and, even if the SNP lost again, they'd begin agitating for a third one the very next day. Devolve more powers and they would immediately begin using them the way they use the bevy of powers they currently enjoy: to advance the cause of separation.
The only way to defeat the SNP is to make their entire purpose in politics near impossible to achieve. It's time to toss independence into a locked box and bury it six feet deep.
Boris Johnson has a narrow window of opportunity. Allow even a unilateral, consultative referendum to go ahead — for example, a Holyrood-initiated plebiscite on which parliament ought to have the power to hold an independence referendum — and you risk ceding moral authority to a bunch of constitutional vandals.
The time to act is now. I have previously argued for a new Act of Union but if Downing Street still cannot bring itself to see the merits of devolution reform, there is a course of action open to the Prime Minister that would curtail the threat to the Union in the immediate future.
In responding to the SNP-Green government's separatist scheming, the Prime Minister should follow a legislative remedy with a political one. He should announce that the government will bring forward an amendment to the Scotland Act explicitly reserving to the UK Parliament all referendums, citizen’s assemblies and other consultative exercises related to constitutional and other reserved questions.
Such an amendment should address the concerns previously raised by legal scholars such as Adam Tomkins about an apparent loophole created by the Supreme Court cases on Brexit and prerogative powers which the Nationalists could exploit to hold a plebiscite.
The amendment’s terms should be robust and rigorous, putting beyond all doubt that the only lawful means of achieving independence or consulting the electorate on separation or other constitutional and reserved matters is via the passage of a Bill in the UK Parliament. While they’re at it, ministers should change the rules so that the Scottish Government can only instruct civil servants to carry out activities in connection with independence once the UK Parliament has legislated to permit a referendum on the matter.
When that’s done, the Prime Minister should issue a pledge: that the Conservative party considers the matter of Scottish independence settled and, as long as it remains in government, it will never agree to another referendum. Read my lips: no more indyrefs.
Then he should challenge Sir Keir Starmer to take the same pledge. This would put Sir Keir and the Labour Party in an impossible position, appearing weak on the Union if they refuse and overly hostile to an SNP they might have to rely on to get them into Downing Street if they agree.
That's before taking into consideration the ructions it would cause within Labour's ranks, where the far-left is quite keen on a Scottish breakaway while a number of Labour politicians are less antagonistic towards Scottish nationalism than they are British Unionism.
Sir Keir has been at the top of his game for months now. Shift the conversation onto his stance on Indyref2, with all the nightmare images of a Labour-SNP pact that would imprint on the minds of English voters, and there is a chance to destabilise him. Of course, he could fend off such tactics by enthusiastically embracing the pledge and slapping down the indy-curious within Labour if they get mardy. Nothing would destabilise Labour quite like its first government since 2010 presiding over the disintegration of the United Kingdom.
Now, all the clever people will tell you what a terrible idea this is. They will say it would play into the hands of the SNP. (It would be nice if a UK Government played into their hands by accident for once.) They will say Westminster must be seen to respect the Scottish Parliament, that cooperation and not confrontation must be the way. (It's worked well so far.)
The clever people also assured us that devolution would see off the SNP, that devolving additional powers would make Holyrood focus on bread-and-butter issues, that handing the Scottish Government more control over tax would inject a dose of fiscal reality, that holding an independence referendum would settle the constitutional question. On every matter you care to name since the beginning of the devolution experiment, the clever people have been wrong.
Yet their analysis continues to dominate mainstream thinking about Scottish politics and the constitution. Namely, that the SNP can do as it pleases but Westminster must ask 'Mother, may I?' before it even considers acting in its own interests. That trying to replace devolution with independence is perfectly legitimate but any suggestion from Unionists that modest reform might be required is an attack on the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish people, the memory of Donald Dewar and perhaps even democracy itself. That the answer to the failure of devolution is more devolution.
Boris Johnson has an opportunity to secure himself a legacy as the man who saved the Union and a chance to show Scottish voters — be they for him or agin him — that he has principles and is prepared to fight for them. If he takes the chance, even his opponents will grudgingly respect him. If he continues to be an ideological blancmange, wriggling and jiggling with fear and indecision, no one will respect him.
Take a chance, Prime Minister. Take the pledge.
It's the number we all hope never to have to dial.
Despite the fears it evokes, 999 is also reassuring: if we or someone we love ever needs an emergency ambulance, one call will bring life-saving assistance in a matter of minutes.
That is why new figures on ambulance turnaround times are so alarming. Turnaround times are the gap between arriving at hospital with one patient and being cleared to attend another call-out.
Statistics show maximum turnaround times of almost eight hours at Ayr Hospital, over nine hours at Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock and, staggeringly, nearly 11 hours at the Royal Alexandra in Paisley.
Needless to say, the Scottish Government didn't volunteer these figures. Labour's health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie had to get it out of them using freedom of information laws. Baillie says the numbers are 'incredibly worrying' and 'both dangerous and unacceptable'.
Humza Yousaf should take a break from his role as Minister for Twitter and focus on solving what is a matter of life and death.
You know you're getting old when your childhood becomes retro.
Nineties nostalgia is upon us, with the return of gaudy blazers and neon sportswear and terrible remakes of already terrible films.
Worst of all is John Major's comeback in the irony-free role of pontificator on ethics in politics.
I'd rather have another Spice Girls album.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on February 14, 2022.