Alex Massie

Secretary of State for Scotland delivers message to Scotland: sod off

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Interesting, though unsurprising, interview in today's Scotsman. Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Scotland, tells the paper's political editor Hamish Macdonell that there's no need for any talk about new powers for Holyrood. Move along now, please. Nothing to see here.

Mr Browne delivers the standard Labour ministerial line: we'll have a consultation and "listen" to all views but our mind is made up. So what's the point?

Score this as another victory for Alex Salmond. Wendy Alexander, the likely new leader of the Scottish Labour party, is understood to want a review of the devolution "settlement". It would be a surprise if she were not. She is a creature of the Scottish parliament, not Westminster. Like any bureaucracy or legislature, Holyrood has a natural desire for growth.

Any split between Westminster and Holyrood Labour is good news for Salmond. On a trivial level it is always entertaining - and good for troop morale - to see Labour fighting one another. More importantly, a north-south split in the Labour party further strengthens the growing consensus that the devolution settlement is not only not set in concrete but that it's inadequate for purpose too. (As it, in fact, is - especially on the revenue raising side of the ledger).

If that consensus continues to develop momentum (as I suspect it will, though Salmond may be smart enough not to run too fast too soon) then the political landscape is painted in nationalist hues. That then allows Salmond and his allies to put Unionists on the defensive: if the assumption that greater powers are a good thing becomes the default position then it's those who disagree with this who have to persuade folk why the status quo is manifestly superior. The burden of persuasion is shifted from nationalism to Unionism; the debate is framed in nationalist terms.

Unionists' - or those favouring the status quo, since there are Unionists happy to devolve more power -  problem, in turn, is to find an answer to the question "If we can do this, why can't we do that?" that doesn't patronise Scots or treat them as incompetents or children. Scotland You're Crap is not  - or should not be - good enough.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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