Stephen Daisley Stephen Daisley

Boris could make devolution reform his legacy – if he has the ambition

Today marks two years since Boris Johnson accepted Her Majesty’s invitation to serve as her fourteenth Prime Minister. His tenure was meant to be all about Brexit but so far has mostly been about Covid, yet the invisible theme running under it all is the constitution. Britain is almost a quarter-century on from the legislative devolution experiments in Scotland, Wales and London, which leeched power away from Parliament and created rival seats of political authority to Westminster. Scotland is where devolution has taken its most aggressive form and where it has done the most to undermine the Union, parliamentary sovereignty and even the continued existence of the United Kingdom itself.

Two years in, the Boris era has brought modest relief from the policy of ever-weaker Union. The government has embraced direct investment in Scotland, as some of us argued for it to do, and aims to reassert Westminster’s authority in limited but important ways through the Internal Market Bill. For a Prime Minister with the biggest Tory majority since Margaret Thatcher, however, this is an underwhelming output. Meanwhile, the separatists are on the march. The SNP government in Edinburgh incorporated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law, thus creating legal obligations on the UK gDovernment, which has chosen (under Labour and Tory administrations) not to place the convention on a statutory footing. Whitehall only belatedly grasped the implications of Nicola Sturgeon’s actions and the matter is now before the courts.

It is possible to forgive the Prime Minister for being neglectful or cowardly, but another potentiality is harder to excuse: that he lacks the ambition or vision

This is of a piece with Sturgeon openly pursuing her own foreign policy, even though foreign affairs is reserved to Westminster, and exploiting the institutions of devolution to bring about Scottish independence, even though the country was assured that creating the former would vanquish the threat of the latter.

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