Deidre Brock MP

Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith

the constitutional machinery

if only there was a government with class and confidence in Whitehall rather than a collection of disparate and desperate individuals who act with all the finesse of a tap-dancing wildebeest

Deidre Brock MP

Ah, the constitutional machinery, the frameworks for intergovernmental cooperation – such fond memories of happy days discussing these issues with people on the doorsteps of Edinburgh North and Leith in 2014 – and how engaged they all were with it!

I love a bit of constitutional machinery – I love the way it works so well when governments co-operate for the greater good. It's special, an aggregation which is greater than the sum of its parts, benefits all sides when governments, sovereign in their own rights, none subservient to another and none in a position to overrule another unilaterally. They benefit all of the peoples of their nations by agreeing a way forward.

That's the EU, by the way, a supranational organisation where cooperation between nations delivers benefits for all that no nation could have achieved on their own. They put aside their differences, any petty mistrust they may have of each other, they agree common rules and laws and they tear down barriers. None has the right to impose on another, none can say "we'll keep this power here" or "you don't know enough to do this yourself". That's the difference between confederal cooperation and controlled devolution. It's the difference between sovereignty being pooled only with the consent of individual nations and power devolved being power retained. It's the difference between parity of esteem and patronising guff from a parliament and a government that thinks it is above all else.

Of course, we could have had this debate in a forum where it matters – in the withdrawal bill – if only there was a government with class and confidence in Whitehall rather than a collection of disparate and desperate individuals who act with all the finesse of a tap-dancing wildebeest. The sheer cowardice displayed by refusing to programme properly for debate on devolved issues was as appalling as the contempt shown by the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – of all offices – who made sure he talked away any chance of anyone else contributing on the day before he left the chamber with a smug grin and a spring in his step.

Surely there can never have been a government so tone deaf to such a crucial constitutional debate as the government that decided that would be the way to handle things? When you think back through the list of Prime Ministers who have navigated their way through the parliaments in this building there are some numpties but there are few who would have made such a breathtaking mistake as to allow that contempt to show so openly and even fewer who would not have been advised well by others around the cabinet table of the dangers into which they were placing themselves, their government and the united kingdom they so preciously guard.

But the current Prime Minister, the least able of all recent holders of that office, worse even than Gordon Brown, is poorly advised by her colleagues, ill-advised by her staff and not advised by her Secretary of State for Scotland. For he is posted missing. Not quite absent but most certainly not present. Not engaged in Whitehall on Scotland's behalf but busy in Scotland on Whitehall's behalf. If George Younger were Banquo the current MacBeth would wonder what he was on about. Younger's boast that UK government decisions on Scotland were made in Edinburgh, not London, would never pass the lips of the current Scottish Secretary – his constitutional machinery has broken down.

He is not Scotland's man in Whitehall, he's not even Whitehall's man in Scotland, he is simply Whitehall's voice in Scotland – a dunnerin brass. He is the propaganda man under whose tenure Scotland Office spin doctor spending has gone through the roof, reaching three quarters of a million pounds this year. On his watch advertising spending on social media has become a Scotland Office priority – excluding people who have an interest in Scottish independence from a marketing campaign trying to suggest that Scotland needs the UK more than we need the EU, but including people with an interest in RAF Lossiemouth in a campaign about the budget. Then, of course, there was the entire online advertising campaign that was run entirely in his constituency.

The UK Government talks a lot about Scotland having two governments and how they should work together but there is a chasm between that suggestion that there still is a respect agenda and the reality where a Secretary of State uses his office of state to attack Scotland's government, to denigrate the politicians who are trying to improve Scotland, and to undermine the very fabric of devolution itself. We have seen a sustained and unrelenting attack on the choices Scots have made – none more so than the decision we made to stay in the EU – and we have seen the disregard, the disrespect and the contempt that this UK Government has held those choices in.

Scotland's parliament voted for Scotland's Continuity Bill, Scots MPs wanted to debate the implications of EU for devolved administrations, the Scots Government offered compromise and conversation. At every step this UK Tory Government turned a sneering, contemptuous face away.

The constitutional machinery, the frameworks for intergovernmental cooperation on these islands – they only work if the political will is shown. They only work if there is mutual respect, they only work if they're allowed to work.

They don't work and that is the fault of the Ministers of Whitehall

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

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