Well-known Unionist commentator Alex Massie amusingly told Radio 4 yesterday:
“If you were to say to me that there will be a referendum in say 15 years’ time, I would probably, if pushed, expect Scotland to vote for independence,”.
Some might have been surprised to hear Massie concede that Scottish independence is likely, although they might query the timing (*). Ironically the tipping point where support for independence hits a consistent majority is being brought much closer by the current Conservative leadership contest, and independence support will increase regardless of whether Truss or Sunak gets the keys for number Ten.
Tipping point approaching for Scottish independence
A poll released yesterday showed that around 20% of voters said that either Sunak or Truss as PM would boost their support for independence. Only 35% of voters said they were firmly opposed to independence and that would be unchanged by the contest. That’s no surprise judging by their lacklustre hustings performances in Perth last night.
Candidates vie to undermine the devolution settlement
The candidates both made clear that they plan to continue Boris Johnson’s policy of deliberately undermining the devolution settlement and both tried in vain to hide their profound ignorance of Scotland, its culture, politics and history. The debate was chaired by STV’s Colin Mackay who said it was:
“a scary job interview…but not as scary as a general election, which is how we used to choose our Prime Ministers”.
Sunak on bypassing the Scottish Government’s spending powers
Mackay asked Sunak if he would “by-pass Holyrood for some spending”. Sunak replied:
“We have already started that and we will do more of it.”
Sunak condemned several times what he called “the civil service policy” of “devolve and forget” when it comes to Scotland. That apparently refers to respecting the devolution settlement and allowing Holyrood to run the policy areas for which it is legally responsible.
Liz Truss effectively said there is no democratic route for independence for Scotland
Truss said that the 2014 referendum was “a once in a generation” event. Mackay mentioned the seven-year gap mandated for Northern Irish referenda and that Brexit and Covid had changed the background. He asked:
“For many people outside this room, 2014 feels like a generation. Is there a democratic route for Scotland to change its future? Is there a democratic route?”
“At the time of the referendum, it was agreed by the SNP that it was a once-in-a-generation referendum. I believe in politicians keeping their promises and Nicola Sturgeon should keep her promise.”
Liz Truss changed her mind on Brexit – why can’t the Scots change their mind on independence?
Mackay asked this question and Truss replied that she had respected the will of the people to leave the EU. She said she had been worried about disruption. But, she said, in a barefaced lie that is contradicted by authorities such as the UK’s Office for National Statistics, and the experience of many exporters and importers in Scotland, that:
“There has been no disruption [from Brexit]”
Truss boasted of trade deals she has done with Australia and New Zealand that threaten Scottish food producers by giving away all protections for Scottish and UK farmers and food producers against lower welfare imports – in a manner reminscent of “the great betrayal’ of 1921.
Sunak sneered at Scottish state education
Rishi Sunak told the audience that education was one of his family’s core values – his parents sent him to an elite private school. He then proceeded to sneer at Scottish state education. He failed to point out that Scots children from the poorest backgrounds are overwhelmingly more likely to attend University than those born south of the border.
Truss plans to rip up ECHR – she may not know it is the bedrock of devolution
Liz Truss gave a particularly wooden presentation with odd pauses. She talked of the UK’s economic difficulties, without mentioning the part Brexit plays – until she moved on to the “opportunity” to rip up EU legal protections for human rights and the environment. Liz Truss may not know that the European Convention on Human Rights was devised by a Scottish lawyer and is the bedrock of the devolution settlement, representing what many once regarded as shared British values.
Truss proclaimed her determination to get rid of ECHR because it might prevent the UK government from deporting asylum seekers to countries like Rwanda. She said she was determined to expand this controversial policy to include more refugees and more third countries.
Truss displayed weak understanding of the causes of the energy crisis
On energy, Truss promised to get rid of the ‘green levy’ – this supports insulation and investment in renewables. It is Scotland’s renewable energy providers who supply the cheap power the UK relies on – and they could supply even more of it if the sector had not been starved of adequate investment. Onshore wind is many times cheaper than gas.
Yet Truss proclaimed “we have to use our gas” to solve the energy crisis. What could she mean by this? Gas extracted from the North Sea is the property of the multinationals who extract it. It is sold to the UK’s privatised national grid at world prices – currently the equivalent of oil being $380 a barrel. Extracting slightly more gas would not lower world gas prices – it would just make more money for energy companies.
Sunak and Truss may not know that 75% of voters supported devolution in a referendum
Neither Sunak or Truss appear to know that there was a referendum in Scotland 25 years ago next month in which 75% of voters supported devolution. They also do not seem to know that, while in English law and tradition, sovereignty rests with the Westminster Parliament, in Scottish law it lies with the people, in a tradition established in 1320 with the Declaration of Arbroath.
Scottish Unionists despair of this desperate duo
On that same BBC lunchtime bulletin yesterday, presenter Jonny Dymond commented in response to a clip of some of the pair’s blunders that:
“There must be some Scottish Tories who hear those comments from Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss and just want to jump off a cliff, aren’t there?”
*Listen to Massie’s comment here – 29 minutes in, closing a report from the BBC Scotland editor James Cook. However, some would argue he is simply running the Tory trope of ‘Yes, you can have independence but not yet’. Pushing the referendum down the road is a desperate tactic – they hope the Yes movement will give up and go away, because they fear they would lose one now.