The Party is trying to undermine a UK-wide project
What to do about Nicola Sturgeon? The question looms large over the Government’s agenda as it gears up for COP26.
Alex Massie, writing in the Times, warns of the dangers of trying too hard to minimise the First Minister’s role:
“There is a fine line, however, between putting Sturgeon in her place and this being seen to snub Scotland as a whole, not simply its first minister. Scottish Nationalists are always, and irritatingly, happy to conflate party and country; it is a mistake for unionists to do likewise.”
Perhaps. It is certainly true that being too hostile to the First Minister risks offending Scots who either voted for her misfiring ministry or are heavily invested in the rights and dignity of the devolved administrations.
But the Government also has to face the reality that too many enthusiasts for devolution, federalism, and various permutations thereof seem loathe to confront: that Sturgeon is not a good-faith partner in the United Kingdom, and desperately wants it to fail
As far as COP26 is concerned, the broader nationalist movement has not been shy about their intention to try and use it as a platform for promoting independence, and the Scottish Government differs from them more in presentation than priorities. Indeed, planning for the event has been dogged by clashes between Holyrood and Westminster from the beginning.
Should we accept this as simply one of the “certain obvious consequences” Massie suggests attend organising an event in Scotland?
No, we should not. Because the more we allow the SNP to set the terms for the operation of the British state in Scotland, the more we erode the foundations upon which a properly functioning Union must rest.
The problem is obvious: if giving a platform to the separatists becomes a condition of hosting international events in Scotland, that creates a perfectly reasonable pressure to host fewer such events in Scotland. But that reduces the UK’s footprint north of the border, de-normalises Scotland’s place in the UK, and thus bolsters the long-term prospects of independence.
It’s another version of the dilemma over major investment which I’ve written about previously. Strategic spending obviously boosts the UK, but it is also supposed to produce a long-term dividend for the UK. Taking a ‘relaxed’ approach to a second referendum thus creates a powerful disincentive to siting new assets, such as the British nuclear fusion programme, in Scotland.
Two decades of devolution have created a state where the central government has in too many cases, and for too long, denied itself the power to operate effectively. It is wishful thinking — at best — to pretend that the gridlock, duplication, and dysfunction this creates is “a feature, not a bug”.
COP26 falls within the purview of the UK Government, which must be able to act as such on its own terms throughout the UK. If the SNP want to make a meaningful contribution to its success, they could start by cleaning up Glasgow.