Robert Conquest’s third law (which may not have been his third law) says that the behaviour of any bureaucratic organisation is most easily explained if one assumes it has been captured by enemy secret agents. This maxim often comes to mind when I read about the UK government’s latest wheeze to ‘save the Union’. Ministers’ new ideas are invariably the same idea they’ve been having for a decade now: devolution has failed, let’s have more of it. The Tories have already transferred more powers to Holyrood twice, in 2012 and 2016, and both times we were assured that doing so would subdue the separatists. And that was the last we heard of the SNP.
As a recovering devolutionist, I can hardly reproach others for sharing in the delusion but it is remarkable, after so much evidence to the contrary, that it continues to hold sway over ministers and civil servants. This is what ultimately dissuades me from the suspicion that Whitehall has fallen under the direction of the SNP: if it had, it would be a damn sight more ruthlessly effective.
Bloomberg News claims to have seen a memo outlining potential strategies for pushing back against the SNP’s drive for Scexit, which will be turbo-charged if Nicola Sturgeon wins, as polls predict she will, a landslide victory in next May’s Scottish Parliament elections. The 21-page analysis is reportedly the work of London-based public affairs firm Hanbury Strategy and is said to suggest, originally enough, devolving more powers to the Scottish parliament. If ‘co-opting the EU into demonstrating that there is no viable pathway to renewed membership’ for Scotland doesn’t work (and I can’t imagine why not), Westminster should surrender yet more financial powers and control over immigration to Holyrood.