There is no majority for separation but it's in the SNP's interest to provoke a fight about principle - John McLellan

Readers will remember the outrage which greeted Boris Johnson’s attempt to prorogue Parliament in 2019 and when both the Court of Session and the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful, Parliament reconvened.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 7:00 am

There was outcry last September when Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Brexit protocols would be broken unlawfully “in a specific and limited way”, not least from Conservatives concerned about Britain’s international reputation for upholding the law.

Read More

Read More
Alba MP Neale Hanvey brands former SNP Westminster colleagues ‘toxic, aggressive...

It’s not just out of high principle that strict government adherence to legality is critical, but because the UK’s place as a global trade and financial services centre rests on a strong legal system to honour contracts and settle disputes. Undermining the rule of law, therefore undermines the basis of the services economy.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

All Under One Banner Independence March in Edinburgh, 2019. Picture: Lisa Ferguson/JPIMedia.

For the same practical reason, any thoughts the Scottish Parliament’s new SNP-Green majority has of running an independence referendum in defiance of UK law is a non-starter, but also why they should have no qualms about any legislation which could be illegal being tested in the Supreme Court.

It already looks very unlikely it would ever get to the point where the UK Government blocked a vote ─ as many others have pointed out if Edinburgh Council can hold a congestion charge referendum, the Scottish Government can hold whatever it likes ─ but without UK agreement it would just be a big, flawed survey.

But all this is just a parlour game because there was a very big survey last week in which 63 per cent of the electorate participated, and for all the talk of mandates, the fact is 51 per cent voted for pro-UK parties in the constituency ballot.

Given not all SNP and Green voters want independence, last week confirmed there is no majority for separation and an unready SNP isn’t about to call one, but it’s in its interests to provoke a fight about principle. All it amounts to just now is the right to decide not to hold one.

Recent surveys have illustrated how support for independence remains vulnerable to economic argument and the weakness of the currency question, so with a diminishing chance of victory this is a manufactured row which prioritises the movement, not the removal of uncertainty vital to a recovery we are told is the SNP’s priority.

So too is the anger about the UK Government’s intention to invest directly in Scottish infrastructure and services aimed at the home crowd, not the 73 per cent of people who want better co-operation between Scotland and the UK Government, according to an election day survey by ex-PM Gordon Brown’s thinktank Our Scottish Future.

Whatever Scottish voters might think about Boris Johnson, that survey shows they are perfectly capable of setting aside personality if they think it is in their best interests. Preferring Nicola Sturgeon as a national figurehead is not the same as approving of corrosive division for the sake of political advantage.

Libertarian yes, but Boris Johnson is not the free-market, small-state buccaneer as his detractors seek to portray, but an old-fashioned, New Deal interventionist who is determined to harness the low cost of government borrowing for his levelling up agenda, much to the discomfort of many traditional Tories.

More visible UK investment in Scotland might not turn the Yellow-and-Black Wall blue, but it will help ensure the barrier between Scotland and England separation would create is never built.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.