General election: How victory for Boris Johnson may spark real constitutional crisis – Ian Swanson
Conservative politicians have already spoken about the Westminster government interfering in matters currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament, writes Ian Swanson.
WE’VE got used to surprise results when the country goes to the polls. The last three general elections have defied predictions about their outcome, as did the 2016 EU referendum.
This time the polls have shown the Tories ahead throughout the campaign, albeit with some narrowing of the gap.
It’s still possible that a late boost for Labour leads to an upset and denies Boris Johnson an overall majority. But what if, when the polls close and the votes are counted on Thursday night, it turns out the pollsters were right after all and Mr Johnson is handed five years in No 10?
He has promised to bring his Brexit deal back to the Commons before Christmas and it will be passed because all his MPs have signed up to back it.
That will pave the way for negotiations with the EU on our future trade relationship, but Mr Johnson has insisted agreement must be reached by the end of the year and ruled out any extension of the deadline, which many believe means we will take us straight back to a ‘no deal’ scenario.
But the other big constitutional issue which has played a big part in this election, Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK, could also become a major flashpoint.
If the Tories are in charge, Nicola Sturgeon has none of the leverage she hoped to exercise over a minority Labour government to secure another independence referendum.
That does not mean she will drop her demand for Westminster to give Holyrood the power to hold a fresh vote. The SNP is likely to gain seats in the election and it has fought it on a clear call for Scotland to be allowed to decide its own future.
Although an opinion poll published at the weekend suggested support for independence had dipped, the prospect of Mr Johnson delivering his Brexit deal and running the country until 2024 will probably change that fairly quickly.
Although devolution left responsibility for the constitution with Westminster, the unwritten understanding – which David Cameron recognised when he agreed to the 2014 referendum – was that if the Scottish Government won a mandate for a referendum the UK would enable it to happen. But Mr Johnson has declared he will not allow a referendum under any circumstances.
Ms Sturgeon claims she already has a mandate from the 2016 election and has said she wants Indyref2 next year. That is looking unlikely, but if the SNP gets a fresh mandate for a new vote in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, the scene will be set for a showdown.
The Nationalists have also warned they believe a “power grab” is under way, with Tommy Sheppard accusing the Tories of trying to undermine the Scottish Parliament. Michael Gove has spoken of changing the rules so the UK Government could spend money on matters which fall within Holyrood’s remit.
When Theresa May was Prime Minister she also signalled she wanted the Westminster government taking a much closer interest in issues north of the border.
She complained Whitehall had been too ready to “devolve and forget” and argued ministers should “unashamedly assert” their responsibility for the whole of the UK.
If Indyref2 is blocked despite the SNP winning a mandate and the UK government begins to interfere in devolved matters, there could be a real constitutional crisis on the cards.