Tensions between Westminster and the devolved parliaments have been a constant feature of the Covid pandemic. Up in Edinburgh, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made full use of the crisis – hinting constantly at closing the English border and peppering her daily press conferences with pointed jibes at London.
Such actions are of course merely in keeping with the SNP's penchant for power grabs and undermining the Union. In April the party's Holyrood manifesto included a section grandly titled 'global affairs' boasting about their plans to engage with the 'Scottish diaspora' and the establishment of a 'Scottish Council for Global Affairs.'
Foreign policy is, of course, a reserved power for Westminster. But it appears that the nationalist push to cast aspersions on the proper delineation of powers in the UK could well be working. According to a new poll for The Spectator of 1,000 Scots by Redfield and Wilton, no less than 21 per cent believe that the First Minister and Holyrood currently have the 'most power and responsibility' on foreign policy with respect to Scotland.
Two thirds of Scots – 67 per cent – are aware that Westminster does indeed have the constitutional prerogative on this issue though a further 12 per cent still went for 'don't know.' The confusion on who currently has responsibility for which area of policy is implied in other findings too.
Two recent flash points between London and Edinburgh have been the attempted Home Office deportations in Glasgow in May and Scotland's record number of drug deaths in July. Unsurprisingly, some 22 per cent of those surveyed believe Holyrood has more power over immigration than Westminster compared to 67 per cent who believe the opposite. On drugs, nearly a third (32 per cent) say the UK government currently has more responsibility in Scotland while 54 per cent say its their Scottish counterpart.
Such confusion even extends to those areas of policy which have been devolved to the Scottish parliament since its inception. On health some 28 per cent say Westminster has more power – despite the NHS being run from Holyrood since 1999 – while another 22 per believe London has primary responsibility for education, another long-devolved area.
Nearly a third (32 per cent) meanwhile think Boris Johnson has greater control over policing and crime than Nicola Sturgeon (59 per cent) while the latter's press conferences have failed to dissuade the 26 per cent who believe Johnson has more control over Scottish Covid restrictions.
Even high profile scandals about Glasgow Prestwick airport and the Ferguson ferry fiasco have failed to raise awareness about Holyrood's role in the running of transport, with 33 per cent believing MPs in London have more responsibility than MSPs in Edinburgh. Just over half – 52 per cent – agreed that the Scottish government has control over this area – something the relevant cabinet secretary Michael Matheson will no doubt be delighted to hear
Unfortunately for devoskeptics, the lack of public awareness about Holyrood's existing powers appears to have done little to curb enthusiasm for an expansion of this role. A poll on 11 different policy areas found a majority in each of these supported the Scottish government having more power and responsibility than its Westminster equivalent – including foreign affairs which narrowly split 48 - 44 per cent in Holyrood's favour.
Media coverage of the Scottish parliament could be one reason for the lack of understanding about where power lies in Britain. Asked 'Do you read or hear more about Westminster politics or Scottish politics' on the daily news, those surveyed were split with 40 per cent going for 'both equally' and 26 per cent apiece going for 'Scottish politics' and 'Westminster politics.'
Steerpike looks forward to doing his bit to rectify this issue in covering the many mishaps of Nicola Sturgeon's government.