The greatest danger to the current government is the state of the Union, I say in this week’s edition of the magazine. Prime Ministers can survive many things but not the break up of the country they lead.
Number 10’s position is that there won’t accept a Scottish independence referendum in this Parliament. Given that no legal referendum can take place without Westminster’s consent, this means there won’t be one. But this position will come under huge pressure if the SNP win an outright majority on a pro-IndyRef2 platform in next year’s Holyrood elections.
The next skirmish between Westminster and Holyrood will be over the internal market bill. The SNP will claim that the UK government is attempting a power grab; they know that if they can make it Nicola’s government versus Boris’s they’ll win that argument in Scotland’s court of public opinion. In fact, the bill is a sensible measure about ensuring that Scottish doctors can still work in England and vice versa after Brexit and other such things. But the UK government has failed to properly make this argument. One exasperated Scottish Tory complains of a ‘sheer lack of attention. We don’t roll the pitch’.
It is not as if the UK government doesn’t have material to work with. In a letter to Mike Russell, the SNP’s minister for Brexit and the constitution, Michael Gove points out that Alex Salmond’s prospectus for independence in 2014 argued that the free circulation of goods within the UK would be maintained if Scotland voted Yes.
Amid a grim series of polls, one of the few consolations for Unionists is that proper attention is now being paid to the issue in both Westminster and Whitehall. This is as welcome as it is overdue. But it must be maintained if the battle for the Union is to be won.