Andrew Willshire

How Boris can beat the SNP at their own game

Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images

The re-election of a pro-independence majority to the Scottish Parliament shows that the next five years will be dominated by the quest for a second independence referendum. Conventional wisdom is that the Scottish Parliament will pass a Bill legislating for that referendum, daring Westminster to strike it down, making the separatist position more powerful, like a constitutional Obi-Wan Kenobi.

This may be how things play out. Another option, of course, is that any interested party could refer the legislation to the courts as being ultra vires. However, it would still present a risk that permission to hold such a referendum would be given, putting Westminster on the back foot once again.

But there is a third way: start the independence negotiations.

The Achilles’ heel of the Nationalists is their preference for deliberate obfuscation over the financial situation in Scotland, their incompetence in running public services, and their avoidance of policy detail. The 2014 White Paper, with its fanciful oil revenue projections, has been utterly discredited. Asking Scotland to vote again, effectively blind to what they were voting for, would be a crime.

The Achilles’ heel of the Nationalists is their preference for deliberate obfuscation over the financial situation in Scotland.

Boris Johnson should say that, as Prime Minister for the entire United Kingdom, responsibility rests with him to ensure that tragedy doesn’t befall any part of the country as a result of the actions of devolved administrations. It could be fairly pointed out that the whole country has learned from Brexit that negotiations after a vote are difficult and that it would be unfair for Scottish voters to be expected to vote for such vague promises. But he realises that such a sensitive and emotive topic should not be led by him or any other Westminster politician. Instead, he will set in motion the process of creating a joint Scottish independence White Paper, mutually agreed by the two governments.

He should also stress that he and his government cannot be expected to spend large amounts of his time on negotiations as a result of a decision in just one region.

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