Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon always insist on Westminster respecting the devolution settlement, but there’s never much suggestion that they should do the same and defer to London on reserved policies.
How else, for example, could there be such a thing as ‘Scottish Government France’?
In fact, as this FOI request from March reveals, this French outpost is part of a network of eight the Scottish Government maintains, with others in Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, Ireland, the USA, and (cheekily) London.
It’s also, with a budget of £545,000, one of the cheapest. Brussels, the most expensive, has one of over £2 million, and the network overall ran to almost £7.6 million in 2019/20.
According to the Scottish Government’s latest budget, the purpose of all this duplication is for their representatives to “develop their influence and strengthen their relationships” in key nations. This includes promoting Scottish business and tourism, but also (as the budget given to Brussels makes plain) trying to woo international support for Scottish independence.
It is short on high-profile successes. The main dividend of the SNP’s outreach to Beijing — which has an obvious incentive to break up one of the key nations of the western alliance — ended up with the Scottish Government embroiled in a scandal over links to firms accused of corruption.
Opposition parties accused Nationalist ministers of trying to ‘tippex’ the involvement of China Railway out of the coverage of the controversial deal, which was also attacked by Amnesty International, as well as downplaying the role played by Brian Souter, a high-profile Scottish businessman and SNP donor.
But failure never discourages the demand for powers. Now the Nationalists are demanding “unfettered and unconditional access” to the entire British diplomatic network, in order to undermine British diplomacy and promote their own international agenda.
At the same time, they are duplicating DfID’s old role with a £10 million International Development Fund and a Humanitarian Emergency Fund, all whilst demanding more money from London to address bread-and-butter issues at home.
In doing this, the SNP are undermining Britain’s global position at just the moment the Government is trying to re-establish it post-Brexit. If Boris Johnson is serious about re-asserting Westminster’s rightful prerogatives, he could do worse than explore ways to limit, or prohibit, the duplication of reserved functions by devolved administrations.