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Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.
The Prime Minister did well to challenge Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to stretch Scotland’s legal powers to a new law allowing, amidst less contentious matters, rapists to serve their sentences in women’s prisons.
Whatever happens next to the SNP, more people in Scotland think their Parliament in Westminster was more in line with their views than was Holyrood, and more have cause to reflect again on the benefits of the Union they voted for as recently as 2014.
Of course this doesn’t mean the Union is now safe; the SNP will surely regroup and pitch again for popular support to split us apart. But the Nationalists will need to rethink their strategy,.
With a second referendum ruled out for now by the Government and the Opposition, and Sturgeon’s bid to hold her own blocked by the Supreme court, the electorate may ask them instead to use the considerable powers to actually govern Scotland afforded them by the devolution settlement.
Voters may become thus more critical of the SNP’s failure, in government, to translate more money per head for health and education in Scotland than in England into better service and outcomes. (The SNP will presumably rethink their legislation on gender matters, at least.)
Rishi Sunak should draw an important conclusion from this. When your opponents are doing things that are wrong, you should stand up to them and offer an alternative way forward.
It was bold to challenge the SNP for exceeding the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Official advice doubtless urged caution and negotiation, not confrontation. But given the nature of the opponent, this was never going to work; Sturgeon would never collaborate with the British Government. She wished to caricature and criticise it, and upstage it in Scotland.
The best way to make the case for the Union is to govern well and understand the mood of those being governed. There has always been a majority for the Union in Scotland. Pandering to those who would break the country up will not win over those committed to independence – but can alienate those who are natural allies on this issue.
Fresh from this success, the Prime Minister should understand the same dynamic exists in his negotiations with the EU. Like Sturgeon’s Edinburgh, Brussels is not a friendly partner.
Some on the EU side have said that they see annexing Northern Ireland as the price the UK has to pay for Brexit, and their maximalist interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol is how they plan to do it.
They ignore the first Article which stresses the supremacy of the Belfast Agreement. That treaty makes clear no major decisions can be taken in Northern Ireland without the consent of the Unionist, as well as the Nationalist, community.
The EU’s attempt to place border controls between Ulster and Great Britain, and wish to impose all new EU laws on the Province even though they have no voice or vote in their creation, does not have the support of Unionists.
Sunak should therefore end the talks with a hostile EU and finishing taking the NI Protocol Bill through Parliament.
Not only would this would give the Union another lift, it may also unlock a sensible shift in the EU’s negotiating stance, both on trade and, more importantly, over who governs Northern Ireland.
It makes no sense to impose barriers to trade between Ulster and the mainland. A British supermarket should be able to send a pack of sausages to its Belfast store as it can to its Liverpool store without the EU demanding health certificates, electronic data, and customs declarations as if it were foreign trade.
Devolution is not always good idea. It was Labour’s idea of how to stop halt the growth of Scottish nationalism, and it backfired horribly.
Instead of assuaging separatist sentiment, it gave the SNP a great platform to use (and abuse); instead of using their new powers to address their purported grievances, they used the Holyrood megaphone to blame everything that went wrong on insufficient powers. In the end, the Nationalists got closer to independence than almost anyone expected thanks to the profile, power, and resources the Scottish Parliament afforded them.
Conservatives should believe in true devolution: devolution of power to individuals, leaving them more of their own money to spend and imposing on them fewer rules and regulations. More government flows from more layers of government. More government means less individual freedom.
Meanwhile England has never been offered devolved rule, leaving the Union hopelessly unfair and lopsided.
Nor has it never wanted to be split up itself into regional government, whether elected or not. Sunderland would rather be governed from London than from Newcastle, Liverpool does not welcome the supremacy of Manchester, and Exeter does not look to Bristol.
The danger of elected mayors representing millions of people is that if they belong to a different party to the government of the day, they can use their position not to improve their local areas but to campaign mercilessly against Westminster.
Rather than making things better they can, as have the SNP and Welsh Labour, redirect the blame as they try to advance the cause of their own party, their career within their party, or indeed accrue more power in their current position.
They can make bad decisions with their money and powers then blame the government in London for the predictable poor results. They may have a different view of how to improve their area and spend their time fighting over the right approach with a central government that will always have more legal power and more money.
Sadiq Kahn, for example, has not improved law and order (though the police answer to him) and fails to run Transport for London well. But he is always ready with views on how to conduct national economic or even foreign policy.
Meanwhile in London, he seeks to impose restrictions on car travel in boroughs that never wanted him; those borough themselves elected look to the Government for help.
The message of the last few days is a positive one for those of us who want to save the Union and are sceptical of more layers of government. A majority of people do not want to pay more for more politicians, only to see them set out to divide the country as they pursue their own agendas.
The SNP cannot take for granted the idea that most want the Scottish Parliament to do more and more, raising taxes and inventing new laws.
All those in Scotland who want to stay as part of the UK – under the same King, using the same money, enjoying the protection of the same Armed Forces – will be happier for the departure of Sturgeon, and will surely hope (but perhaps not expect) that a chastened SNP will tone down its divisive words and deeds under a new leader.