It's Nicola's Fault

By Jim Sillars

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford's outrage at the silencing of Scottish MP's was real and justified. Attempting to outfox the Speaker was procedurally clever, walking out not new - Donald Dewar's Labour did the same after the 1988 Govan by-election, to show they weren't Westminster lackeys.

The Government's failure to make time available for debate on the matter in question, was stupidity, but it has not created a constitutional crisis, which is a good thing, as there could be no resolution in the absence of a majority for independence, and Westminster owning Section 28(7) of the 1998 Scotland Act, secure in its right to rule Scotland; a consequence of the failed referendum vote in 2014.

Let me be blunt: the stand-off between Holyrood and Westminster is primarily the fault of Nicola Sturgeon. No one within the ranks of the SNP is willing to bell the cat. I am. Instead of carefully considering that the Brexit vote created a new paradigm in which the previous triangular power relationship of Holyrood-Westminster-Brussels had given way to Holyrood-Westminster, where the devolved power is, and always will be, the weaker partner, she opted for a catastrophically miscalculated dual strategy: declaring for a second referendum, and implacably opposing the Westminster Government.

Castigating the Tories for a "power grab" of repatriated powers, while acting like a fifth column for the EU in Scotland, has left the SNP in the ludicrous position of demanding immediate powers from Mrs. May that Nicola Sturgeon promises an independent Scotland will hand back to Mr. Juncker.

She failed to see that the Brexit question in 2017 was about the UK and the EU, not Scotland and the EU; the Scottish vote did not create sufficient outrage among "No" voters to turn them in to "Yes" voters. Far from it, in fact many "Yes" voters endorsed Brexit.

The price for the first part of the strategy was paid by the loss of a Holyrood majority in 2016, compounded by huge Westminster losses in 2017. The second leg of that strategy did no favours to the Scottish interest. Given that after Brexit the whole of the UK is to remain borderless, retaining a number of repatriated powers at Westminster for a time in order to work out how they could be devolved within the context of that all-UK trade area, was not "anti-Scottish" just sensible.

Identifying powers, such as fisheries, agriculture and procurement, and timing their transfer north, required discussion and genuine debate between Scotland and Westminster. Hurling the "power grab" jibe at Westminster in an attempt to stoke up Scottish resentment failed except in painting the SNP into an indignant corner.

Attempts to use the Sewell Convention, as though it was an instrument of sovereign power in the hands of Holyrood when, as the Supreme Court pointed out in the Miller case, it is simply a convention, not law, no barrier to the exercise of sovereignty by Westminster, and cannot be used to veto the UK leaving the EU.

Finally, Nicola Sturgeon's recent meeting with EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels seemed little more than a pricey photocall. If the chance to fawn over this EU official wasn't accompanied by a demand that Scotland's right to become an EU member in future, shouldn't be trashed by the EU as it was in 2014, what was the point? Here's a question: what exactly has the SNP Government got out of Brussels for all the cheek kissing, cosying up, anti-Brexit messages delivered there? Nothing.

Repeated strategic and tactical errors on the part of the First Minister have ensured the tone set for negotiations was neither cordial, positive or helpful: the kind atmosphere in which concessions can be made because there is no political "price" to be paid by either side in the final agreement. The Wales-Westminster accord was absent any crowing of "we won." By contrast Scottish-Westminster relations exist in an atmosphere soured, rooted in that original desire for hostility not cooperation.

Now, thanks to these errors, Scotland is at a disadvantage negotiating the levels that will be set for procurement rules to kick in, and the time that will be taken for the fisheries and agricultural transfer.

I am no Tory, but I cannot remember one single hostile speech made or deliberate action taken by Mrs. May that could be construed as an outright attempt to trash Scotland's constitutional position in a fundamental way. Displays of foolish hostility have marked the contribution of the First Minister, to Scotland's detriment. It is time the SNP membership woke up to this and demanded mature leadership based on collective leadership. The latter long missing.

After the Blackford demonstration, we have witnessed many in the Yes movement, and MPs, believing in their own propaganda, with the latter boasting of doing a Parnell in the House of Commons to bring government legislation to a standstill. In Parnell's time, when he held the balance of power between Gladstone and Salisbury, government did not have much control over the Commons. Today is different. A consequence of creating a modern family friendly Parliament with restricted hours of work, with legislation timetabled, has provided government with the means of tight control; and when government and official opposition combine against a minority group both don't like, that control becomes absolute. A Parnell of the 19th century cannot be replicated in the 21st century, so the troops shouldn't be promised what cannot be delivered.

Whatever differences I may have had with Alex Salmond, I acknowledge his high political skills which enabled him to judge how far a constitutionally weak, but morally strong, position could be used to advance a Scottish interest, while keeping good relations with the Westminster power centre with which he had to negotiate. Those skills were there when through carefully crafted political assertions, he obtained from the Westminster Government the right for the Scottish Parliament to hold the independence referendum. Those skills are missing in the First Minister's office now.