Sir Bernard Jenkins MP, chairman of the Commons’ Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, ventured onto BBC Radio Scotland this week to elaborate upon their report on “Devolution and Exiting the EU”. I fear that Sir Bernard was an innocent abroad.
Faced with quotes about “power grabs” and the like, Sir Bernard plaintively pointed out that none of this was in the report and suggested his interviewer should read it. Rather, the quotes were drawn from pre-spun press releases emanating from predictable sources.
The report is a decent piece of work but over-influenced by the evidence of academics who spend their waking hours musing over constitutional conundrums and regard devolution as a laboratory in which to apply their theories. This approach tends to overlook the harsh realities of politics.
A case in point is the suggestion the Scotland Office’s existence should be reviewed because, in theory, relationships could be between the devolved administrations and Whitehall departments. This should be resisted by anyone with Scotland’s interests at heart.
The Nationalists want rid of the Scotland Office in order to diminish the UK Government’s presence in Scotland. For the rest of us, the value of a specifically Scottish seat at the Cabinet table when issues of critical importance arise is as important now as it has always been. It would be madness to surrender it to satisfy a constitutional theory.
When devolution was introduced, its architects envisaged a happy world in which governments of similar hue would work constructively together. The Scotland Office was given too little status and no budget which is why it has found it difficult to pull its weight in Whitehall. That is the issue which should be addressed in reviewing its role.
The report is right to say the workings of devolution should be reviewed after 20 years and in the light of Brexit. So long as the reviewers remember that no amount of theorising can deal with the politics of those who will hold any devolution settlement in contempt and and see it only as a stepping-stone to their own end-game.