TWO years have passed since Boris Johnson became leader of the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister of the UK, an eventuality which I distinctly remember being laughed off by Better Together during the 2014 independence referendum campaign as “nationalist scaremongering”, along with the possibility that Scotland might be taken out of the European Union against its will.
And yet, here we are. Johnson has managed something that until very recently was thought to be impossible. He has been an even worse Prime Minister than the three who went before him.
Gordon Brown wanted power for power’s sake. He spent most of his political career plotting and scheming to get himself into 10 Downing Street but once there he proved he had nothing to offer except his own overweening ambition. David Cameron breezed through his time in office with a casual and arrogant disregard for the consequences of his actions.
Theresa May (above) was hidebound, lacking in compassion and empathy, and would not listen to anyone beyond the Brextremist backbenches of her party. She displayed a shocking contempt for democracy, doing her utmost to sideline and marginalise Parliament, and refused to change course even after losing her majority in the Commons in a disastrous snap election.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson combines all the worst attributes of the three and adds significant character flaws of his own, not the least of which is his propensity to avoid the truth on an industrial scale and his indulgence of sleaze and corruption.
He’s the worst possible Prime Minister at the worst possible time, presiding over a UK where his government’s dithering, delays and mixed messaging have led to the highest Covid-related death toll in Europe combined with the worst economic impact. Yet throughout it all he has refused to be diverted from his pursuit of the hardest possible Brexit, in the process threatening to rip up agreements already reached with the EU and trash international law.
As he does all this he is aided and abetted by a Cabinet of incompetents and charlatans, some of whom give every impression in their television appearances of trying to suppress the urge to blink vertically.
Now he is throwing away the gains made by the NHS in the vaccine roll-out programme by precipitously opening up England and abolishing all the restrictions that keep Covid infections at bay even though large parts of the population remain unvaccinated. Infections are expected to surge above even the already high levels that make the UK among the world’s worst when it comes to virus infections per capita.
And throughout it all Johnson’s hypocritical little helpers in the Scottish Conservatives complain and stamp their feet at any mention of an independence referendum, citing the need to concentrate on tackling the pandemic even as they demand that Scotland follows meekly in Johnson’s footsteps and abolishes all remaining restrictions and measures that keep the virus in check.
You can be quite certain, however, that if Scotland was to follow England’s lead and end all mask wearing and social distancing measures, any surge in Covid infections that were to result would be blamed by the Conservatives on the Scottish Government and the SNP.
However Johnson does at least have one notable achievement to his name. He has ensured that just like the decade exactly 100 years ago, the 2020s will also go down in history as the Roaring Twenties, although this time it will be because of all the screaming.
The situation in which Scotland currently finds itself is far worse than even the worst predictions of the most pessimistic independence supporter in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum, and this in a nation of people who enjoy nothing more than carefully examining the silver in order to find the cloud.
Far from the stronger and more entrenched devolution that we were promised, the Conservatives are intent on hollowing out the devolution settlement and to marginalising and undermining the Scottish Parliament. All of these things they are doing without even the pretence of obtaining the consent of the people of Scotland and their democratically elected Parliament, in direct opposition to what they themselves promised the people of Scotland in order to secure a No vote in 2014.
It should be obvious by now that the destruction of the devolution settlement is the logical endpoint of the Brexit that the Tories are determined to impose on us all. For the Conservatives, Brexit means the restoration of the absolute power of the occupant of 10 Downing Street. That means the power of the House of Commons to hold the executive branch of government in check must be neutralised as far as possible. It also means that any other source of power in the UK with its own democratic legitimacy and electoral mandate must be rendered impotent. The Conservatives will not permit the devolved governments to mount any effective challenge to the whims of the Prime Minister.
The Conservatives know that trying to abolish Holyrood outright would generate a political backlash that would only strengthen the independence movement in Scotland. Instead, they will continue on the path of incrementally grabbing back powers from the devolved administrations, sidelining them and undermining them.
That’s a path that they’ve only just got started on. Just in the past week we have seen the power grab of the so-called UK Shared Prosperity Fund and the sidelining of Holyrood as Westminster announced that it would press ahead with freeports in the teeth of the Scottish Government’s opposition.
Devolution is facing death by a thousand cuts and the Conservatives have only just begun. They have far worse in store for Scotland as we shall see after Westminster sits again after its summer break.
That makes it imperative the Scottish Government, the SNP, and the Greens get moving on an independence campaign as soon as Holyrood returns after its summer break. If they wait much longer then very soon there will be no effective Scottish Parliament or government left, just a hollowed out shell which the Conservatives can ignore with impunity.