When I heard they’d formed a chain at Holyrood, my heart leapt. Finally, someone had taken up my idea of bulldozing the joint and sticking a massive Starbucks in its place.
Alas, not. It was a human chain, forged on Friday by demonstrators who say the UK Government is attempting a post-Brexit ‘power grab’.
The BBC reported: ‘The event was organised by the Hands Off Our Parliament group, which said it aimed to defy Westminster attempts to “undermine devolution”. The group asked people to link hands around Holyrood in a symbolic gesture of protection. And it formed a schiltron of 101 Saltire shields outside the building.’
The schiltron was a military tactic favoured by William Wallace. We really need to get ITV4 to lay off these Braveheart repeats.
It’s perhaps not the strongest argument for a more powerful Scottish Parliament that hundreds of people were able to encircle the building on a weekday and cause no noticeable disruption.
‘Hauns aff Holyrood’ boomed one sign. This was a big deal: people had come all the way from Brigadoon to protest. One woman told reporters: ‘I can’t bear the thought of the powers we have being lost. I think the Continuity Bill going through gave me hope.’
Who are these people who lie awake at night yearning for control over the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive? Who spae the demise of devolution in Whitehall’s retention of farm fertiliser regulations? They not only ‘ha’e faith in Scotland’s hidden poo’ers’ but in Westminster’s hidden poo’er-grab, a daring heist entirely invisible to the rest of the country.
That Nicola Sturgeon is able to gin up grievance over aviation noise management standards is testament to her unmatched facility for rousing a rabble. The First Minister has lost every significant battle over Brexit and last week’s Continuity Bill was her attempt to take back control of the debate.
Although the Tory Government has failed to impress with its handling of Brexit and devolution (more on which later), the Continuity Bill is largely a charade for an SNP administration that has run out of ideas and settled on a scare story as its last best hope.
This blood-curdling tale, Nightmare on Brexit Street, casts David Mundell as a Tory Freddy Krueger stalking Scotland’s constitutional sub-conscious, ready to pounce at any minute and slash the devolution settlement to shreds. It is a desperate gambit but the Nationalists are pretty desperate these days.
The Secretary of State is a diligent minister but I’ve encountered more menacing labradoodles. By all accounts, he has been a congenial and cooperative negotiating partner for Scottish ministers and while some of his Westminster colleagues have not shone in this process, Mr Mundell appears to have sincerely strived for compromise.
The polls still show no traction for the power-grab shtick and Scots continue to report that, while they oppose Brexit, they want Scotland to leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK and they don’t view independence as a viable escape route.
The SNP’s line is myopic for other reasons. They are presenting themselves as guardians of devolution, a radical rewriting of decades of opposition followed by an eleventh-hour conversion. It recalls my old history teacher who used to underline particularly mince assertions in our essays and scribble ‘a bold interpretation of the facts’ in the margin. The SNP’s claim to be the party of devolution is bold indeed. It was, after all, the Nationalists’ 1997 manifesto that declared: ‘New Labour’s scheme for a Scottish assembly is fatally flawed, and will deliver no real power.’
By framing the argument as one of Westminster versus devolution, they associate themselves with the constitutional status quo. Their mission is seemingly no longer independence for Scotland but a more powerful Scottish Parliament. We already have a name for this cause: Unionism. How does Nicola Sturgeon propose to go from smothering devolution in hugs and kisses today to damning it as a failed amelioration of Westminster rule in future debates on independence?
Accusing the UK Government of a power-grab also begs the question of the powers Holyrood already has and what the SNP has done with them in the last 11 years. The floating voter might consult the record and reckon the only power-grab is from the SNP, constantly hoarding more powers from Westminster but refusing to use them to transformative ends.
Undoubtedly, the Nationalists have been helped in the short-term by the deal Brexit Secretary David Davis has cut with Brussels on fishing. Leaving our waters under EU control until 2021 contradicts earlier assurances to fishermen and constitutes a snub of Scottish Tory MPs. They can only steal the SNP’s ‘standing up for Scotland’ mantle if they actually stand up for Scotland. Terse conversations behind the scenes and valiant declarations on Twitter only go so far. A public price will have to be exacted from Downing Street if the 12 backbenchers don’t want to become known as the Dutiful Dozen.
Still, it is an indication of how calamitously the SNP’s Brexit strategy has panned out that an intra-Tory row over fishing is their only victory in nearly two years. The Nationalists started out opposing Brexit in its entirety before settling for a separate deal for Scotland, then for staying in the single market, then for the Norway option.
When the UK voted to leave the EU despite 62 per cent of Scots opting to stay, Nicola Sturgeon said a second referendum on independence was the only way to protect Scotland’s interests. Rebuffed in that demand, she has been reduced to begging for oversight of trawler catches. Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; give him powers over herring stock quotas and he’ll forget all about this independence malarkey.
In the autumn, Sturgeon will deliver a statement on Scotland’s future in a post-Brexit UK. At some point, her long-awaited and ever-delayed Growth Commission will have to report the grim truth about Scotland’s finances. The SNP is drowning and a mythical Westminster power-grab is the leaky raft to which they are clinging for dear life.
Sir James MacMillan will make history next month when one of his pieces is performed in the Sistine Chapel.
The April 22 production of Stabat Mater, a medieval hymn depicting the Crucifixion from Mary’s perspective and set to music by the Ayrshire-born composer, will be the first concert ever live-streamed from the Vatican. For Sir James, whose work is infused with his deep Catholic faith, it is a signal honour but a well-deserved one.
Sir James is acclaimed by classical music aficionados the world over but Scotland’s most accomplished composer doesn’t seem to attract the same renown at home. This, I suspect, is down to politics. Sir James’s Unionism bars him entry to the closed shop of blandly uniform nationalism that is the Scottish arts scene. With a subsidy in one hand and a flag in the other, they put the ‘cult’ in culture.
Never mind. Who needs the approval of Artists for the Scottish Establishment when you have the Sistine Chapel?
Catalan nationalists have told the BBC they want to negotiate with Madrid for a legal independence referendum. Carme Forcadell, president of Catalonia’s suspended parliament, said: ‘We have always wanted to do it the Scottish way.’ Did no one tell her about the poetry? The wish trees? Elaine C Smith? Trust me, Catalonia, you’ve suffered enough.