The Tory leadership campaign is setting the UK up for a protracted showdown between London and the nationalist government seeking Scottish independence, political analysts have said.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the favorite to become the next prime minister, received the loudest applause in Perth on Tuesday, after earlier this month she described Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as a “seeker of attention”.
Having largely ignored Scotland in their initial leadership pitches, Truss and her rival, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, this week stuck to their pro-union positions, unequivocally ruling out a second Scottish independence referendum.
Eight years after Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent to remain in the union, both candidates also signaled a greater willingness to encroach on the devolved parliament’s spending powers.
While his stance is popular with Conservative voters, a minority in Scotland, it risks strengthening support for independence and drew a strong backlash from the Greens, who share power with the Scottish National Party at Holyrood.
“The fact that the two potential replacements for the Prime Minister say that stopping Scotland’s democratic right to an independence referendum is a priority and, worse, that they intend to impose a ‘big brother’-style unity to save the broken union says it all. Ross Greer, Scottish Greens MSP for the West of Scotland, said in a statement.
Sturgeon has argued that London politicians want to weaken devolution, but Scottish Conservative Secretary Alister Jack told the Financial Times this week that he refuted the claim.
“Of all the Tory leadership campaigns I have followed, this has been the most bereft of serious political ideas,” said Gerry Hassan, professor of social change at Glasgow Caledonian University and author of Scotland Rising: The Case for Independence, which will be published next month.
“You have the majority in Scotland feeling like spectators in someone else’s drama. We are going to have a lot of clashes,” Hassan said.
Both candidates promised greater scrutiny of the Scottish government, with Sunak saying Scottish civil servants should travel to Westminster to justify their decisions. Meanwhile, Truss has suggested strengthening the ability of members of the Scottish Parliament to control the executive at Holyrood.
Sunak has criticized Holyrood for avoiding tax cuts and increasing its welfare spending, suggesting the money could have been spent on other priorities.
“That goes against the spirit of the devolution agreement,” said Michael Keating, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Aberdeen, referring to Sunak’s position. “The Scottish Government gets a share of UK resources based on a formula and is accountable to the Scottish Parliament, not the Treasury, for the priorities it adopts.”
Sturgeon, who replaced Alex Salmond as SNP leader after the 2014 referendum, wants another to be held in October 2023.
In October, the UK’s high court is due to hear a case on whether voting can take place without the consent of Downing Street, which has said it is not the right time to review what was supposed to be a “once in a generation” event. “.
At an event organized by the Scottish parliament last weekend, Nicola McEwen, professor of territorial politics at the University of Edinburgh, said Brexit, which was opposed by 62 per cent of Scots, had changed the nature of the debate. about independence.
He added that since the 2016 vote, the UK government had given itself extra powers in the face of opposition from devolved administrations and that this had led to a rise in resentment.
“The UK government has developed a much more competitive approach to devolution,” said McEwen. “Having a deliberate strategy to strengthen the union is fine, but you are more likely to do so if you embrace devolution as part of it, rather than fight and compete against it.”
Jack said the UK government was committed to working closely with its counterpart in Scotland, rather than competing with it, and denied it was trying to undermine devolution.
“We want to work with the Scottish government,” he said. “We will work in harmony with anyone if Scotland’s economy improves.”
A recent public opinion poll of Scots by the research firm Diffley Partnership and Charlotte Street Partners found that a quarter of those polled were more likely to support independence, regardless of who won the Tory leadership race.
However, John Curtice, a leading pollster and professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, warned that the answers could reflect the position of the respondents and their feelings about the candidates, rather than how they would vote in the future.
Curtice said Brexit, supported by both candidates but opposed by most Scots, had transformed the independence debate and tensions between the UK and Scottish governments were unlikely to abate.
According to two polls taken before Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister in July, and compiled by the social research agency What Scotland Thinks, 51 percent of Scots favor the union; a third showed the same proportion for independence.
“The UK government’s view of governments working together seems to be that we set the policy framework and then they implement it for us,” Curtice said. “That is not the view of the Scottish Government.”