To open one constitutional Pandora’s Box may be regarded as a misfortune, to open two looks like carelessness. The collision between Scotland’s independence question and the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union has created great fissures, setting politicians and voters against each other on tribal lines.
The UK government’s latest weapon in the Scottish independence battle will be provided by Brexit. A new pot of cash being established to replace funds currently handed out by Brussels will be administered from London rather than Edinburgh.
The UK government will hand this cash directly to councils and other public bodies, carving Holyrood out of the process.
The thinking is that it will strengthen the Union by showing that the UK government still makes a difference to the lives of Scots. But that shows a great degree of optimism. Almost two-thirds of Scots voted in 2016 to remain in the EU. The SNP’s response that the UK-wide result of the referendum meant Scotland was being “dragged out” of Europe against its will was not easily dismissed.
This proposal to administer funds from Westminster will be greeted with glee by SNP strategists. This is the stuff of power-grabs, of Westminster telling Scots that they can’t be trusted to make decisions for themselves.
UK ministers have a pastel-coloured fantasy of a United Kingdom strengthened by this display of pooling and sharing. It only goes to show how out of touch with the mood of Scottish politics they are.
The SNP has not converted Scottish opposition to leaving the EU into support for independence, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continues to press her case while the UK government lurches from split to crisis and back again.
With its retention of authority at Westminster, this plan to hand hundreds of millions of pounds from the UK government to Scottish organisations – far from strengthening the Union, risks undermining the devolution settlement.