Amidst all the week’s breathless commentary around Brexit and the Supreme Court ruling, leading on to the predictable Scottish posturing, there was one word that jumped out the television screen at me.
It came from BBC Scotland’s political editor, Brian Taylor, who reassured the anxious nation that Nicola Sturgeon was “genuinely” seeking to obtain the best deal for Scotland from Brexit while also threatening a second referendum on independence.
I am not privy to the insights upon which Mr Taylor based this charitable assessment. It just seemed curious that the alternative possibility was clearly in need of rebuttal - and the opposite of “genuinely” is “artificially”. What an odd situation we are in when that option runs through all the manouevrings of the First Minister - genuine or artificial?
Earlier, the BBC repeated the official line that Ms Sturgeon “reacted angrily” to the Supreme Court ruling about the devolved legislatures not having a right of veto over the triggering of Article 50. More credibly, the Nationalist-supporting Scottish edition of ‘The Sun’ vouchsafed that she was “secretly delighted” by the outcome. So that will be artificial anger and genuine delight?
All in all, it is difficult to avoid the impression that we are witnessing an ongoing game of double-speak in which the real and urgent interests of Scotland are wholly subordinate to Ms Sturgeon’s tactical positioning in pursuit of her sole and unchanging political objective.
Certainly, it is difficult to see how the behaviour of the Scottish Government this week could be seen as consistent with a remotely constructive approach to getting the best possible deal for myriad Scottish interests which will be at stake in the Brexit negotiations – all of which involve real people and their future prospects.
The Supreme Court voted 11-0 to confirm what common sense suggested – that the consent of the three devolved legislatures is not required in order to act upon the instruction of a UK-wide referendum, now subject to the assent of the UK Parliament. Lawyers are rarely unanimous about anything, so the result suggests there was never much of a case to start with.
Ms Sturgeon had months to rehearse her “angry response” without risk of it going to waste. There was no mention in advance of the EU referendum of opt-outs for dissenting nations within the UK. This was a wheeze dreamed up off the back of the legitimate challenge in the High Court, which rightly has succeeded in giving MPs a vote.
The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, was dispatched to do his best with a straight face. He may be on a sharp curve towards learning that pursuit of a political objective under cover of a legalistic façade might please one’s masters but also carries reputational risk. An 11-0 defeat scarcely suggests a finely-balanced argument so much as construction of a platform for grievance.
It was instructive that the Nationalists’ response was not to challenge the ruling on any rational grounds but as a stick with which to beat the whole devolution settlement. Angus Roberson sneered at the idea of Holyrood being “a powerhouse Parliament”. Michael Russell, never to be outdone in the bloated rhetoric stakes, and Sturgeon rushed to gloat that Holyrood’s helplessness had been confirmed.
According to this line of reasoning, all the powers of Holyrood are to be held in contempt because they do not include the ability to veto a UK-wide referendum. Small wonder our devolved rulers show so little interest in the huge range of powers and responsibilities which actually exist, when their vested interest is in denigrating any settlement which falls short of their own constitutional nirvana.
I was one of 1.6 million Scots who voted to remain in the EU. I was also one of the two million who voted to remain in the United Kingdom. There is consistency between these two positions. In both instances, Scotland preferred to be part of something bigger which we perceived to be of value – economically, culturally and on the balance of shared interest. In both contexts, we voted against introspective withdrawal from a generally beneficial union.
Honourably and according to their own perspectives, others took a different view on each question or both. The confidence trick which Ms Sturgeon relentlessly seeks to promote is that the 62 per cent who voted to remain in the EU can be conscripted as fodder for her own separatist cause. There is no such logical, political or, for many of us, personal read-across and it is necessary to say: “Not in our name.”
It is childish to pretend there is a united front in Scotland against leaving the EU. Almost 40 per cent voted that way and most who didn’t are prepared to accept the democratic outcome and make the best of it. It is a brass-necked non sequitur to presume that because a majority wanted to stay in the EU, there should now be a majority in favour of leaving a Union that is much more important to us. That is the basis of Ms Sturgeon’s daily posturing and it is treated with far too much deference. It is nonsense.
In last week’s sound-bite, the First Minister promised to “protect Scotland from Brexit”. If she was serious about that task – which would also involve being less blinkered about the opportunities which the process will offer – then she would abandon here and now the talk of a second independence referendum because it is impossible to conflate the two and, at the same time, be seen as “genuine” about anything.
As long as the Scottish Government’s vested interest lies in demonstrating the perfidy of Westminster and the feebleness of Holyrood’s powers – as so enthusiastically proclaimed this week by Robertson, Russell and Sturgeon – they cannot expect to be trusted by those they need to do business with. Whatever good faith is exercised, they will always betray it when a microphone is put in front of them.
Only the Scottish electorate can call halt to the current soap opera. Scotland’s interests need to be defended rather than used as pawns in another game by people whose article of faith is that they only have to win once – and we wouldn’t hear much then about the perils of a “hard Scexit” or the case for another referendum!