Like it or not, the causes of Scottish self-government and independence are both in intimately linked to the fortunes of the SNP. We only have a devolved Scottish Parliament because the Labour party was concerned to fend off the electoral rise of the SNP. Equally any loss of support for the SNP in an election will be spun by the British nationalist parties and their friends in the media as ‘proof’ that Scotland doesn’t want independence. They will do so no matter what is happening to support for independence in opinion polling or whether there is an increase in support for any other party that backs Scottish independence.
The Conservatives have always been hostile to the idea of Scottish self-government and only refrain from a full frontal assault on the devolution settlement because they fear that if they do so they will boost support for the SNP and for independence. Instead they resort to sleekit attacks on devolution, passing legislation to allow Westminster to intervene on devolved matters and pretending that by doing so they are, in the words of Michael Gove, ‘augmenting devolution.’ Naturally the Scottish media colludes in this undemocratic charade because for the most part its priority is to stave off independence and so it refuses to defend Scottish interests within this UK it is so determined to keep Scotland a part of because it fears boosting support for independence if it criticises the actions of Westminster.
What the Conservatives have refrained from until now is proposing to roll back the powers of the Scottish Parliament and removing powers that Holyrood has and giving them back to Westminster. Although many of them might wish to abolish Holyrood entirely, the Scottish Tories for the most part know better than to admit this in public, as it’s electoral Kryptonite for them. However most Tory voters in Scotland would like to see the abolition of the Scottish Parliament, and there can be little doubt that the Tories would jump at the chance to do so if they thought that they could limit the electoral damage to themselves and avoid creating a boost in support for the SNP and independence.
According to an opinion poll carried out by You Gov in May 2021, only 20% of voters in Scotland would support the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and the reimposition of direct rule from Westminster, but that 20% is not evenly spread across the Scottish population. 34% of those over 65 would like to abolish the Scottish Parliament as would 37% of those who voted Leave in 2016. But by far and away the largest group which wants to see the abolition of the Scottish Parliament are those who voted Tory in Scotland in 2019, a shocking 59% of whom would vote to abolish the Scottish Parliament if there was a referendum on the subject. That figure ought to be deeply concerning to the 80% of Scots who do not want Holyrood to be abolished as the Conservatives have no compunction about using their Westminster majority to impose their will on Scotland even though they are unable to obtain a democratic mandate from the people of Scotland at the ballot box.
It’s no secret that many Tories deny the status of Scotland as a nation. Alister Jack, the Conservative Viceroy of the North Britain territory, said last year that he dislikes the phrase ‘four nations’ to refer to the constituent parts of the United Kingdom as in his eyes the United Kingdom is the political expression of a single ‘British nation’ which has Scotland as one of its regions.
So it should come as no surprise that arch-Brexiteer David Frost, who was Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator, has leapt on the current travails of the SNP as providing an opportunity to claw back powers from Holyrood and to reduce it to what he sees as its ‘proper’ status, that of a glorified county council. In an article for the Telegraph, Frost proposes that should the Conservatives win the next UK General Election they should undo important parts of the devolution settlement. In particular he mentions stripping the Scottish Parliament of its limited tax raising powers and ensuring that the Scottish Government can have no international representation.
Naturally Frost made no mention of winning support for these proposals from the people of Scotland, but then why would he, the entire point for the Conservatives of undermining, undoing, or abolishing devolution is so that they no longer have to pretend that they care about the opinions of voters in a country which has refused to give the Conservatives a majority since 1955. The Tories will use every lever at their disposal to undermine devolution and to neutralise a source of power and authority that they cannot control. They will not hesitate to weaponise the current difficulties of the SNP in order to further their centralising Anglo-British nationalist agenda. This will make it more difficult for the Scottish Government to protect vulnerable Scottish households from the damaging effects of Conservative policies and will undermine the legitimacy of a mandate for independence obtained within Scotland.
The Scottish Tories have rushed to disassociate themselves from Frost’s article, something which we can safely file under ‘they would say that wouldn’t they.’ They have denied that they have any plans to claw back powers from Holyrood, but then this is also the party which swore blind that it regarded Scotland as a much loved partner in a family of nations, promised to institute a ‘respect agenda’ and never to make any changes to the devolution settlement without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament only to go on to unilaterally introduce a number of measures allowing Westminster to by-pass or sideline Holyrood. The only reason that the Scottish Tories have disavowed Frost’s proposals is because he has said out loud something which many of them think in private but which they do not want to get out for fear of the electoral damage it might cause them and the potential it has to boost support for independence.
However if the Conservatives win the next UK General Election and the SNP suffers losses on the scale of those it endured in 2017, then the Tories most assuredly will embark on an all out attack on the powers of the Scottish Parliament no matter what they say now. If Labour wins that election and the SNP lose a significant number of seats then Starmer’s already weak proposals for devolution will be watered down even further rendering Holyrood incapable of resisting the Conservatives the next time that they take power at Westminster, as they most assuredly will eventually. But the very best Labour can offer is a respite from Conservative rule, sooner or later England will vote Tory again and will proceed to undo everything Labour did. This is why it is vital for anyone who believes in meaningful Scottish self government to continue to support the SNP.
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