Given the SNP’s ultimate ambition, it is no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon wants Scotland to control as many aspects of life north of the Border possible. And given Boris Johnson’s opposition to independence, it’s no surprise that he will seek to prevent this from happening.
However, this dynamic is driven by party politics and is not one necessarily aligned with the best interests of the people they both serve. If relations between Holyrood and Westminster are reduced to nothing more than petty squabbling and attempts by one side to score points against the other, the practical business of good government will suffer.
Shortly after the Scottish Government launched a proposal to create a Scottish visa to help migrants move to Scotland, but not the rest of the UK, the Home Office ruled out the idea, saying immigration was a reserved matter and that it was developing a points-based system which would benefit “the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland”.
“Westminster says no” may become something of a theme over the coming years as the SNP will keep asking similar questions – in full knowledge of the likely answer. It is a tactically astute move and Johnson and co may need to consider how this plays out in the court of Scottish public opinion.
However, there are some encouraging signs that, beneath the grandstanding, both sides realise they need to work together for the greater good.
The UK Government’s points-based system, due to come into force next year, is likely to award points for people who wish to work in particular jobs where there is a shortage in Scotland. And Nicola Sturgeon stressed the Scottish Government’s new paper was “deliberately designed ... to open up the discussion about the detail of how this will work within a UK framework”.
If politicians in Edinburgh and London are sensible enough to compromise where necessary, then it should be possible to meet Scotland’s particular need for migrants.
That this issue is not simply a proxy row for independence was made clear when former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together campaign in 2014, called for the UK Government to consider giving Scotland powers over immigration after Brexit.
Amid the sound and fury of constitutional debate, Scotland has practical problems that need practical solutions.