Why Boris Johnson should appoint Ruth Davidson as Secretary of State for Scotland - Euan McColm

There is a curious faction within the pro-independence movement that believes the way to persuade sceptics to join their cause is through relentlessly inconveniencing them.

These Bravehearts reckon that disruptive city centre marches win hearts and minds. They believe doubters may be turned if only they are exposed to a sufficient number of Saltires.

But while those who participate in such events may imagine themselves attending a modern-day gathering of the clans, they look to the rest of us, well, a bit weird.

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The majority of us have lives to be getting on with while marchers do their marching. And while they are perfectly entitled to take to the streets, those who bring traffic to a standstill on a Saturday afternoon should accept that they may be considered colossal pains in the a**e.

Boris Johnson has also been urged to appoint Ruth Davidson (pictured) as Secretary of State for Scotland. Picture: Getty Images
Boris Johnson has also been urged to appoint Ruth Davidson (pictured) as Secretary of State for Scotland. Picture: Getty Images

There is, however, no reasoning with the committed marcher. Tell him that he’s wasting his and your time and he will tell you that you fear the unstoppable tide of nationalism, that you’re running scared from democracy.

And so pro-independence matches will continue to take place and to change nothing.

We should brace ourselves for an increase in activity in this area.

Kenny MacAskill, the former SNP MP who recently defected to Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, has issued a rallying cry to members of the Yes movement, urging them to take to the streets to secure independence.

This new push is required, said MacAskill – echoing the sentiments of Salmond – because of the failure of the SNP to take the initiative. The Yes movement risks missing out on “an historic opportunity” to achieve its goal because of “inaction” at Holyrood.

Before May’s Holyrood election, Salmond said a vote for his Alba Party would create a “super-majority” for independence. He and his colleagues would ensure the SNP remained focussed on staging and winning a referendum.

When it came to it, voters returned no Alba MSPs and so Salmond and his acolytes such as MacAskill must agitate from outside Holyrood.

Nicola Sturgeon could do without this, right now. For one thing, poll after poll shows that the majority of Scots believe the priority for the SNP Government must be on dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath.

No number of marches and rallies is likely to change that. On the contrary, might voters consider holding marches and rallies rather reckless, right now?

Beyond the matter of the pandemic, there is the stubborn fact that no matter how many people gather to wave flags on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, Sturgeon doesn’t have the authority to hold a referendum.

The power to run another vote on the constitution resides with the UK Government and while Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to refuse to countenance indyref2, nationalists won’t have a second chance to break up the United Kingdom.

However, unionists who believe that the UK Government’s continued refusal to play ball on the question of a referendum is a long-term solution are kidding themselves.

The SNP’s authority on the referendum issue was undermined in May by the party’s failure to win an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament. But the party came damned close and there is every possibility that it might get the numbers it needs at the next election.

The 2014 referendum followed an election that saw the SNP win a majority at Holyrood. If the party can repeat that feat, could whoever is then Prime Minister continue to refuse to entertain the idea of a vote?

And mightn’t the Tories’ refusal to discuss the matter provide the fuel Sturgeon – or whoever is leading the SNP in 2026 – needs to win that majority?

The Conservatives at Westminster have, so far, been completely uninspiring on the matter of the Union. A blunt “no” to indyref2 and clunky pledges to stick a few Union flags on Scottish projects funded by the UK Government don’t add up to a sophisticated campaign.

The former leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson is soon to take a seat in the House of Lords. She is no fan of Boris Johnson, but, if the Prime Minister has a lick of sense, he will do all he can to engage her in the battle to save the Union.

Davidson was responsible for the Conservatives’ revival in Scotland and she remains a popular figure with Scottish unionists. In Davidson, Johnson has a valuable resource. Not only does she understand the concerns of the pro-UK majority, she understands Sturgeon.

Sure, the SNP will dismiss her as an unelected member of the Lords. They will question her right to “dictate” to Scots. But they’ve been doing that ever since she announced her decision to accept a peerage last year and the sky has not fallen in on her.

Davidson remains the Conservative Party’s most accomplished defender of the Union and she might bring some depth to a pro-Union campaign that, right now, seems devoid of inspiration.

Sturgeon could do without agitators own her own side demanding she set in motion plans for a referendum she has no legal right to hold. But MacAskill, Salmond and their supporters are not going to derail the independence campaign. Sturgeon remains the authority figure and her strategy will out.

This being so, unionists need to be smarter than they currently are. They need to display an understanding of Scotland and they need a high-profile figure who deflects attention from Boris Johnson, whose very existence is a gift to the SNP.

Independence will not be won by nationalists taking to the streets. But nor will the Union be saved by Boris Johnson insisting he knows best.

A good start for the Prime Minister would be the appointment of Davidson as Secretary of State for Scotland.

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