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Advice to Rishi: School the Scot Nats!



Whenever you speak from the Dispatch Box to a Scottish nationalist MP, please use the opportunity to school them and the world in the correct constitutional relationship. Use our Union frame, not the Scot Nat frame, says Alistair McConnachie of pro-UK Scottish unionist campaign group and think tank A Force For Good (AFFG). (Pic from @RishiSunak Twitter account.)


On the first day of his premiership, Rishi Sunak contacted Nicola Sturgeon. He said, "I wanted to express my desire to work constructively with the Scottish government so we can work together to deliver for the people of Scotland and that is what I plan to do." [1]


A few days later, on 2 November, Mr Sunak told a Scottish nationalist MP, "what people across Scotland rightly want to see is both their governments working constructively together". [2]


This "both governments" rhetoric is a deliberate Scottish nationalist frame. It is intended to "big-up" the SNP and Holyrood. It's intended to put them both on an equivalent constitutional plane as the British Government and Parliament.


Pro-UK folk should avoid using it!


CHANGE FROM EXECUTIVE TO "GOVERNMENT"

Alex Salmond changed the name of the Scottish Executive – officially, but not legally – to "Scottish Government" on Monday 3 September 2007. This was shortly after the SNP took power for the first time in the May 2007 Holyrood election.


He did this because he could.


Due to the upside-down "Devolution Settlement" nobody had thought to write down that he couldn't!


As he has since said, there was nothing "legally" to stop him, as per the video below. We first noticed this video on 5 October 2022, and we're presuming it is from a meeting around that date. Salmond concludes that this is "a small example of political will".



This was a considerable change in language, and it caused people to think of the constitutional relationship in a new manner.


It caused a psychological move away from thinking of Holyrood as a devolved arm of the British Parliament (which it was, and which it remains) and towards a mis-belief that Holyrood was a separate and sovereign entity in and of itself, in an equal and opposite position to Westminster.


This Scottish nationalist name change was subsequently approved by the Calman Commission (Dec 2007-June 2009) which was composed of people who wanted to move the UK towards a more "federal" relationship. Their report persuaded David Cameron to write the name change into law in his Scotland Act 2012 (para. 12).


This has hugely compromised our understanding of the devolved relationship.


1. It changes political perception from the fact of a central British Parliament and Government with devolved arms, to the notion of the UK as already some kind of Federal State with different "Governments" all equal and opposite and competing with each other.


2. It creates an equivalency with the British Government which does not exist in real life – because the SNP administration does not have the independent powers of a "Government".


3. It gives the misimpression that Westminster and Holyrood are in a horizontal and equal political power relationship with each other, which totally undermines and misrepresents the actual constitutional and devolved relationship, as explained by the graphic below.


4. It sets up an unnecessary conflict which gives the impression that this is about "the Scottish Parliament versus the British Parliament"; rather than what it should be about, which is the Scottish Parliament working amicably within the British Parliament's overall ambit, responsibility and guardianship.


5. It gives the wrong impression that it is about "Scotland versus the rest of the UK", when it should be about Scotland working within the UK, for the betterment of everyone throughout our Islands.


6. It normalises the idea of the SNP as an equal and opposite Government to the British Government, which leads people to believe that it should have the same powers.


7. It normalises the idea of Holyrood as an entirely separate and sovereign Parliament, which leads people to wonder why Scotland is not already independent.


For unionists, this was a disastrous political shift in perception. This continued and deliberate misuse of words helps to empower the Scottish nationalists. The least we can do now is to avoid falling into this trap.


Here's how devolution is meant to work:



TWO HEADS ON ONE BODY

To pretend that we have two equal heads on one body is to corrupt the reality of this constitutional relationship.


Every time a pro-UK politician speaks about "Scotland's two governments" or "both our governments" then they are only amplifying the nationalist view of things. They are speaking within a Scottish nationalist frame!


It is also to confound our ability to argue for the Union.


After all, if the SNP really has formed "a Government", then why is it not in control of an independent country? It feeds the false narrative that "it's because we're being kept down".


When possible, we should avoid using the phrase "Scottish government".


It seems a minor rhetorical change, but it has massive implications to the political debate.


What should we say instead?


We can use the term "Scottish administration" or "the SNP administration" or "Holyrood's administration" or "Scottish Executive". That puts the correct constitutional relationship into words again.


This is an essential part of the push-back against separatism!


AT LEAST EMPHASISE THAT IT'S DEVOLVED

Now, Mr Sunak, of course, we understand that some politicians (although not Scottish nationalists), often feel constrained by the rhetorical norms of the day.


And so if you don't want to go the whole hog and start referring to the SNP as an "administration", at least do what you can to emphasise the fact that the SNP "government" is "a devolved government".


At least do what you can to emphasise the correct constitutional relationship!


For example, on 2nd November, referred to above, instead of saying, "what people across Scotland rightly want to see is both their governments working constructively together", you could have said:


"what people across Scotland rightly want to see is their devolved government working with their United Kingdom government and with this British Parliament for the good of us all – wherever we may live in our beautiful Islands." (Just put that last bit in for good measure!)


So please, Mr Sunak, if you are going to continue to describe the SNP as a "government", at least preface it with the word devolved. At least emphasise its correct constitutional nature.


This is important because otherwise we only amplify the Scottish nationalist frame, which is that the SNP has formed an equal and opposite government to our collective British government, and that Holyrood is somehow being denied its rightful powers as an entirely separate and sovereign Parliament.


This encourages people to see Scotland as being supposedly held down by the UK in the manner of some rebellious colony – which is exactly the view that Scottish nationalists are trying to encourage.


You've got the mic, Mr Sunak!


Every time you rise to speak to the Scottish nationalists, use it as a teaching moment. An opportunity to articulate the correct constitutional relationship and to strengthen it for the good of us all wherever we may live in our beautiful Islands.


[1] Simon Johnson, "Sunak rejects Sturgeon's demands for second referendum", The Daily Telegraph (Scottish edition), 27-10-22.


[2] youtube.com/watch?v=_sJKmNpt0jo at 16.15-16.50.


POSTSCRIPT

Lord Frost has put it well:



Excerpt: The new government can start by changing its language. Somehow we have all drifted into speaking as if this country were already a confederation made up of four "nations" that have chosen to work together (but could equally choose differently). When we think like that, we end up having to constantly justify the existence of our country, on a purely transactional basis.

But the UK is a unitary state, not a federation or a confederation. Both the 1707 and 1801 Acts of Union fused the participants into one state in which all were equal, first "Great Britain", then the "United Kingdom", with one sovereign legal personality and one Parliament and government.

For all the noise, that is still the case. The Scottish "government" is not the government of a state in confederation with England. It is a subordinate entity within the UK, with powers granted to it by the UK government and Parliament, and ultimately subject to the supremacy of that Parliament. SNP activists hate it when you remind them of this. All the more need to do so.

David Frost, "The SNP has to be defeated, not appeased",

The Daily Telegraph, 19-8-22 at tinyurl.com/ypp4zwt


And we emphasised this in our weekly live programme "Good Evening Britain" (2-11-22):



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