Sunday Best: I've got a theory
A round-up of Sunday's key stories and things you might have missed this week.
S’up, fellow philosophy enthusiasts (inebriated or otherwise)?
This week brought the news that Lord (Mark) McInnes of Kilwinning, the director of the Scottish Conservative Party, will be moving to Downing Street as Boris Johnson’s new special advisor on Scotland. McInnes is a seasoned political operative who managed the Scottish Tories through the lean years as well as happier times more recently.
His appointment is being welcomed by Tories on either side of the border. A Conservative MSP tells me:
It’s good news. He’s very political with a feel for the pro-UK electorate in Scotland like none other, as well as understanding the Nats’ gamesmanship. I also reckon Boris will listen to him, and frankly the lack of any serious Scottish presence in No 10 has been a disaster over the last 18 months.
While a UK Government source says:
Great appointment. He’s very, very smart, has a deep understanding of where public opinion is on things and what can shift it. Always been great to work with.
However, no one is quite as cock-a-hoop as Ruth Davidson, who told the Times:
Mark is really tuned in across Scotland, he understands voters, he understands people who are in the moderate centre ground that are going to decide any future independence referendum, people the pro-UK side needs to reach. But it’s only a good hire if the prime minister and other ministers listen to him and take his advice. The thing about Mark is he’s not ideological. He will do what works. Sometimes that might be slapping the SNP down and sometimes that might be hugging them to death.
In case it wasn’t obvious what she was getting at, the former Scottish leader explained McInnes would be motivated ‘by what will move voters and be the right thing to do’ instead of engaging in an ‘alpha male stand-off’ in which Downing Street gets tough with the SNP government at Holyrood. McInnes, she averred, would be ‘a voice of sense, of sanity and middle Scotland’.
This chimes with another Tory parliamentarian’s characterisation of McInnes’s new posting, telling me:
A good appointment, a victory for the voices of reason over the headbangers. Less talk of ‘muscular Unionism’ now. Mark is politically very astute (as the key strategist in 2014), has a total grasp of Scottish polling & opinion, and is well connected across the political scene.
I suspect this latter reading is the correct one and that the window of opportunity for convincing Boris Johnson of the need to reform devolution has now closed. Those of us who see the risks inherent in allowing the SNP to act beyond the powers of the Scottish parliament, and especially to push ahead with a second independence referendum without the okay from Westminster, have been arguing for a new Act of Union. Although mischievously characterised as an attack on — or even abolition of — the Scottish parliament, this legislative change would in fact strengthen devolution in its original purpose as a sub-national legislature created by Westminster to make law and policy on devolved matters, all without being hijacked by nationalists as a platform for achieving secession.
I had no expectation of victory in this debate so I’m not surprised Number 10 has apparently chosen the road most-travelled and decided to go along to get along. The noises we are now hearing, coinciding with the McInnes appointment, suggest the Cameron-era ‘respect agenda’ is to be served up, reheated, as the new dish of the day. Given this strategy brought us a referendum that came perilously close to dissolving the United Kingdom, two tranches of additional powers for Holyrood, and no discernible gain for the Union in political standing, public opinion or constitutional integrity, forgive me if I don’t get out the bunting.
If this is the path Number 10 intends to go down, then it has to begin from first principles (something Boris Johnson has never shown much interest in). I’ve pointed out many times that the Tories, having opposed the creation of the Scottish parliament in the first place, have no philosophy or theory of devolution. The SNP does. For them, devolution is a stepping stone to independence. Labour and the Lib Dems do, too. They say devolution is the answer to the supposed ‘democratic deficit’. Since returning to power in 2010, the Conservatives have effectively maintained Labour’s policy without really buying into the philosophy behind it.
Continuing in this fashion will only lead to more drift and bring with it more errors of the sort Cameron repeatedly made. If Downing Street is going to buy into the notion that it cannot govern all of the UK, only the parts that Nicola Sturgeon will allow, and that it must be forever on a hair-trigger trying to avoid constitutional rows with the SNP, then the least it could do is come up with a Tory theory of devolution. Some principles, drawn up by a trusted team of Unionist thinkers, that explain in Tory terms what devolution is, what it’s for, why Tories are for it, and where it’s heading. Establish a philosophical framework for Conservative devolutionism and you place whatever this and future Tory governments do on a sounder, more coherent footing.
I’d rather see the Union strengthened but, if that’s no longer an option, at least let’s have an end to devolution drift.
The top stories from across the media.
I understand a footballing event is occurring.
I’m just glad the government isn’t sending any mixed messages on this matter.
The lengths you have to go to to get a signal on Virgin Mobile.
Stories that might have slipped your attention.
The Open Society Foundations will also be chipping in. That should get the Soros conspiracy loons frothing.
Grim stuff from Priti Patel’s detention regime.
Guardian journalists who back trans rights are unhappy about an off-message editorial in sister paper the Observer.
Stories to file under ‘yeah, there’s gonna be a row about this’.
More trouble at t’Corporation.
More pressure for the PM on financial support to Universal Credit recipients.
I mean, he’s not wrong.
It’s a small world after all
News from the international scene.
Covid-19 continues to spread in Australia’s most populous state.
The so-called Pay for Slay policy benefits militants and their families if they are jailed or killed murdering or trying to murder Israelis.
Incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro suggested the vote could be postponed earlier this week.
That’s just, like, your opinion, man
Op-eds, interviews, and general stuff that makes me go ‘ooooh’.
Eric Kaufmann on the True North origins of wokeism.
How the pandemic is changing people’s attitude towards the role of the state.
Emma Graham-Harrison on why life is about to get a whole lot worse for Afghan women and girls.
Everything I wrote this week. And this was after the ‘C’ key fell off my laptop. (Yes, keys can fall off. Who knew?)
The First Minister’s many failings during the pandemic. My Scottish Daily Mail column.
SPOILER: The Tories aren’t planning to sell off the NHS.
My thoughts on Dominic Cummings’ claim that Boris Johnson would like to scrap Holyrood.
My sketch of a bizarre Nicola Sturgeon press conference with an eye-popping question from a journalist.
Why I’m supporting England in the Euro 2020 final.
Yeah, that’s weird
Concerning further evidence that this timeline might not be quite right.
See what happens when you don’t tip your Just Eat driver?
WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL GOING INTO THE WOODS? DID NONE OF YOU SEE THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT???
Imagine the fine.
Quote of the week
‘Going by recent media coverage, you could be excused for thinking that the Scottish government has completely failed in their handling of the Covid crisis. However, given that the current increasing numbers are starting to plateau, do you think that the criticism of the work done by you and your colleagues is entirely fair?’
— Scottish journalist to Nicola Sturgeon during a press conference
Today would have been the 105th birthday of Gough Whitlam, and if that seems like wishful thinking, the former Australian prime minister, who died in 2014, lived into his 98th year. Whitlam spent three turbulent years in the Lodge, from 1972 to 1975, and is remembered for his left-wing reforms — and for the controversial manner in which he was removed from office.
Unable to pass his money bills through the Senate, Whitlam’s premiership was plunged into a constitutional crisis that lasted until November 11, 1975, when Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the government and commissioned opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as prime minister.
In a scene of high drama, Kerr’s secretary David Smith read the prorogation proclamation from the steps of Parliament House, adding ‘God save the Queen’ for good measure. Whitlam’s response became one of his most-quoted lines: ‘Well may we say “God save the Queen”, because nothing will save the Governor-General.’
No less memorable was the 1972 Labor election song, ‘It’s time’. It captured both the enthusiasm for Whitlam and his impatience to set about changing Australia.