The view of Westminster from here in Scotland is a grim one. While the UK is, understandably, focused on the turmoil befalling Theresa May’s Government, we in Scotland are looking to our own administration in Holyrood for some semblance of leadership and normality.
Holyrood and Westminster could not be more different right now. One seems to be, to use the words of Scottish Conservative critics of First Minister Sturgeon, “getting on with the day job”, while the other seems to be tearing itself apart from within the executive. One can only look at this state of affairs and wonder if Mrs May’s mishandling of the Brexit crisis is laying the groundwork for a second independence campaign north of the border.
To understand where I am coming from, cast your mind back to a simpler time: 2014. One of the key criticisms of the Independence cause from Unionists was that Scotland was not overlooked or shut out of decision making at Westminster. Rather, it was a valued and equal member in the partnership of nations we call the United Kingdom. When it came to the Europhilic SNP wishing to pursue EU membership as a new country, the Unionist campaign drove home the point that Scotland’s place in Europe was only secure as part of the UK, which was also a member. Roll on 2019 and we are looking at a very real “no-deal” scenario; those promises are ringing in the ear of every Scot. Like a relationship on the rocks, Westminster told us that things would be different this time. They’d change.
The relationship metaphor continues, in that the promises never materialised. Everyone in the UK is at the mercy of a hobbled PM whose diplomatic inexperience is plainly seen and whose entire premiership is simultaneously threatened by ERG ideologues and DUP radicals. To us in Scotland, this seems far from representative. Hence why such a substantial block of our Westminster seats (35 of 59) are occupied by the SNP who, while not being quite to everyone’s political taste, seem to be putting up more of a fight as opposition parliamentarians than the Labour party.
With this, we look inward to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. Here, the SNP dominate. But what may come as a surprise to some is that the Scottish Conservatives are currently the second largest party. More interesting still is that, by and large, the hostility that can be seen between the SNP Westminster group and the UK Government is not nearly as fervent in Edinburgh. Rather, there appears to be a breakout of pragmatism in Holyrood that our English counterparts should seek to replicate. At its centre is a concept which should, but sadly does not, dominate the Brexit debate in Westminster: The National Interest.
A recent report from the Scottish Finance and Constitution Committee said that a no-deal Brexit is 'not in the national interest' due to the potentially detrimental impact a slowing of economic growth would have on Holyrood’s ability to generate tax revenue. This may reek of scaremongering, but consider that the committee in question has more than its fair share of Conservatives (including former Scottish Deputy Leader, Murdo Fraser). This, coupled with the Remain Campaign’s charisma machine north of the border, Ruth Davidson’s public support for EU membership and distancing from the DUP “confidence and supply” arrangement shows a clear disconnect between the Tories in London and in Edinburgh. No party in Holyrood is outwardly in support of a no-deal Brexit, or seem to even tolerate the idea of one, so there appears to be a vague sense of solidarity in that no one is entirely happy with the state of affairs down South.
It isn’t all sunshine up here though (not that we see much of it anyway). The Scottish Government has been thrown into ‘Civil War’ recently over the mishandling of a criminal case levelled against former First Minister Alex Salmond. The drama stemmed from an alleged meeting between the former FM and current FM Nicola Sturgeon, where it is unclear what was said or discussed but which nonetheless resulted in the investigation into Mr Salmond’s alleged sexual harassment being deemed ‘unlawful’. The SNP membership is hard to pin down as it is such a wide-tent organisation with elements of Liberalism and Conservatism showing themselves in policy from time to time. The real division of note currently is between those who came to prevalence under the Salmond period and those who found their feet under Sturgeon. It is perceived by some elements of the Scottish press that those who fall in those respective camps are feuding out of a sense of loyalty to their leaders. In reality, this is only a half truth. The SNP is exceedingly pragmatic and the party and will be able to separate the criminal case of a former leader from their main policy goal: Scottish independence.
Despite potentially administration-ending crises north and south of the border, the Scottish administration’s political skill has shown up its English counterpart. In the mishandling of the Brexit process and frightful lack of authority within her own party, May is only strengthening the argument that the Holyrood parliament is able to run its own affairs, handle its own crises and make a go of independence. Sturgeon can negotiate with and command the respect of European leaders in a way May has taken for granted and now appears to have forgone in favour of party appeasement. Surely this shows that the Scottish administration is not only able to lead Scotland past Brexit but is ready to lead us sensibly into the future.