Invoking Section 35 isn’t so much a new and shocking development as merely the latest phase in a process which was foreseen a decade ago and more. It has been evident since 2007 that the British state regards devolution as a failed experiment. What was supposed to kill the SNP ‘stone dead’ had instead empowered the independence movement, resulting in the British parties losing their grip on Holyrood. The Scottish Parliament was no longer in the ‘safe pair of hands’ that was British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). The worst fears of British Nationalists were realised when Alex Salmond became First Minister.
If the British establishment got a fright in 2007, they were absolutely horrified by the 2011 Scottish Parliament election in which voters broke the system which was supposed to ensure no party could achieve a majority. Not, as many suppose, to keep the SNP out. The SNP back then was not considered capable of becoming a threat. Ensuring permanent coalition or minority administrations was a way of keeping the Scottish Parliament weak. It was at least as important to ensure that the Scottish Parliament never became a power-base from which BLiS could challenge Westminster as it was to stop the ‘Nats’.
Prior to the 2014 referendum, some commentators were prepared to defy the prohibition on negative campaigning and warn of the potentially dire consequences for the Scottish Parliament of a No vote. That the ‘rolling back’ of devolution didn’t happen sooner and faster is entirely down to the upheavals in England’s politics as a faction led by Nigel Farage used media-generated antipathy toward the EU as device to gain power. Again, long before the EU referendum in 2016 some commentators broke away from the near-exclusive focus on the potential economic consequences of Brexit to urge greater consideration of the constitutional implications. Implications which are now being played out.
Devolution was only permitted to happen on the strict condition that the Union would not be put in jeopardy. From a British perspective, the experiment had been little short of a disaster. Holyrood had to be reined in. Fortunately, the drafters of the Scotland Act had built-in some safeguards as way of appeasing those who set their faces against any concessions to the annexed territories. Safeguards such as Section 30 – which allows the British to alter at will the list of reserved matters, and Section 35 – which as we have seen demonstrated, allows the British to veto any legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament.
Preservation of the Union is and always has been a prime imperative of the British state. It was obvious that they would go to any lengths to keep Scotland. For them, this was an existential battle.
As it was for Scotland. There was never any possibility of a limited response by the British state to the increasingly troublesome ‘Scottish problem’. Once the rolling back and reining in started, it would not stop. There would be an irresistible urge to go for a ‘final solution’. The answer was to lock Scotland into a new ‘reformed’ Union imposed with neither consultation nor consent. The annexed territory of Scotland would be fully incorporated into a new ‘Great Britain’ modelled on largely imagined past imperial glory.
For Scotland too, this is an existential battle.
Not that you would get any sense of that import and urgency from the behaviour of the SNP/Scottish Government. The impression given by the Sturgeon administration is that it is quite unaware of the existential nature of Scotland’s cause. Even now, as the malign intent of the British state becomes apparent to more and more people, Nicola Sturgeon continues to treat each new incursion into Scotland’s politics by the British state as a separate and isolated incident rather that part of a series of actions leading to a very obvious conclusion.
The British state’s annexation of Scotland is now all but complete. Alister Jack is the man chosen to complete the task. Andrew Tickell’s description of the man could almost have served as his application for the job. Alister Jack is not acting like a governor-general. He is the Acting Governor-General of North Britain.
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