Scottish Government may regret spending taxpayers' money on grand, unrealistic plans for independence – Scotsman comment

There is a debate to be had about whether SNP-Green ministers have a right to spend public funds on independence planning

After Labour peer George Foulkes attacked the SNP for spending government money on independence campaigning, Humza Yousaf accused him of “trying to shut down” the debate. However, at the very least, there is surely a debate to be had about whether this is allowed under the devolution settlement.

Few, if any, would argue that the Scottish Government is able to declare war on a foreign country. The lines are more blurred when it comes to independence, but schedule five to the Scotland Act states that the matters reserved to Westminster include the constitution, as well as foreign affairs and defence.

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The Supreme Court’s ruling that the Scottish Government does not have the power to hold an independence referendum also casts new light on the situation. Do ministers have the right to spend taxpayers’ money on a question they are not allowed to ask? If so, to what end? It may provide hope to nationalist supporters that their cause is being advanced, but what is actually being achieved for the good of the nation?

Westminster is considering imposing sanctions on the Scottish Government for spending money on reserved matters. While this could highlight the amount of money being wasted, it also risks playing the SNP’s game of constitutional guerrilla warfare. Such a confrontational strategy might go down well with some Brexiteers south of the Border, but it is the sort of fight that nationalists relish and one that could overshadow the serious business of politics designed to improve people’s lives.

So it might be better, from a unionist point of view, to make it an election issue, rather than a constitutional or legal one, at least initially. The SNP are under pressure because of their poor track record in government, with former Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’s blistering attack on Humza Yousaf’s competence as a minister still a judgment he needs to demonstrate was unfair. Spending taxpayers’ money on grand, unrealistic independence plans during a cost-of-living crisis may contribute to the impression of a government putting its own interests above the public’s. Many voters, particularly in the centre ground, are unlikely to be impressed.



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