HOW much more double-speak can we be expected to take?

I’m not talking about Boris Johnson (yet) but the SNP.

This week, we’ve seen the party’s most senior figures posturing once again as the saviours of devolution, with less than total candour.

Clashes between the Scottish and UK governments often have a melodramatic soapy quality. The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford in particular likes to play it full of blousy defiance, as if Prime Minister’s Questions were a show down in the Queen Vic. This week, Scotland’s answer to Peggy Mitchell fulminated that the UK Government’s plans for powers repatriated from Brussels were “an attack on Scotland’s parliament and an affront to the people of Scotland”.

He presented himself and his party as the protectors of devolution. But they’re not and even Nicola Sturgeon can’t be bothered pretending otherwise. Here’s what she had to say on the matter: “The only way now to protect devolution is for Scotland to become independent.”

Do take a moment to consider the blatant contradiction: to protect devolution we need to do away with it.

The SNP doesn’t want devolution and has actively sought to sow dissatisfaction with it: that’s the reality. But we can hardly expect anything else from the party, given it exists to campaign for independence.

What has been truly surprising about this week’s events is the UK Government’s apparent belief that it can play games over devolution and win.

It is now axiomatic that the Government of Boris Johnson is slippery and unreliable, but its blithe decision to break international law with its Internal Market Bill kitemarks its untrustworthiness, putting it on a new official footing: it tells the world in crystal clear terms that the UK Government cannot even be trusted to abide by signed, sealed legal documents.

Having established this, it expects us all to believe that it can somehow be trusted to respect the devolution settlement.

Well it can’t: that’s beyond question, since the bill itself will pave the way for UK ministers to increase their involvement in devolved areas where they have no place to be interfering.

The bill also stipulates that all nations of the UK must accept goods from other parts of the country regardless of the standards set there. This doesn’t just apply to goods produced in Britain but those imported into the country too. This means that if Scotland doesn’t like what Donald Trump wants to send here, we’ll just have to lump it.

The SNP exaggeratea constitutional rows, sometimes wildly so; we know it does. Well, this time an awful lot of people agree with them.

Voice after voice has been raised criticising the proposed bill. The Labour-run Welsh government describes it as “stealing powers” from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; a Welsh Tory front bencher in the Senedd has resigned over it; the Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee says it will “create new reservations in areas of devolved competence”; Nicola McEwen, co-director of the Centre on Constitutional Change at Edinburgh University says it “all but cuts devolved governments out of the process” of managing UK internal trade; the NFU Scotland says it’s a “significant threat” to devolution.

Wow. Good going, Mr Johnson.

It all begs the question of what on earth the UK Government is thinking. And the answer seems to be this: if you’re going to gamble, then gamble big.

This is a Prime Minister of epic unpopularity in Scotland, who is the architect of a policy, Brexit, that most Scots don’t want and which will damage the country at a desperately vulnerable moment. He and his cronies have watched as the polling numbers for independence have ticked upwards since he came to power.

So with their backs to the walls, in the absence of other ideas, they’ve reverted to type. They’ve decided to be defiant instead of apologetic.

They must think they can buy popularity by distributing funds directly to Scottish communities and that the workings of the UK internal market are far too dry and technical for most Scots to care about.

Presumably they believe that if they just keep insisting that this represents a great big lovely boon for the Scottish Parliament; if they just keep promising like choirboys that they’d never dream of accepting chlorine-bathed chicken onto British shores; if they tell us to take the medicine because it’s good for us, then we’ll do it.

If Mr Johnson were Barack Obama, then maybe this would work, but coming from a leader who has more in common with Silvio Berlusconi, it’s absurdly misjudged.

Why would anyone trust this Prime Minister on anything?

This is the Government that rubbished its own risk assessments on a no-deal Brexit and claimed they were out of date when they were no such thing; this is the Government that illegally prorogued parliament to shut down scrutiny of its flagship policy; this is the Government that confined millions to their homes during lockdown, then let the Prime Minister’s chief of staff away without so much as a slap on the wrist for breaking the rules. This is the Prime Minister who promised he would not abolish the Department for International Development and then did exactly that, the Prime Minister who has u-turned so many times he doesn’t know which way is north.

They’ve miscalculated, badly. They’re ignoring Scots’ liking for their own parliament and their deep mistrust of Mr Johnson.

UK Government figures have argued that if they did not impose the rule of mutual consent on trading standards and relied on reaching consensus with the other nations of the UK, then it would effectively give any one nation the power to threaten potential future trade deals. Giving Scotland (or Wales or Northern Ireland) that effective veto could be said to short-change voters elsewhere in the UK.

But again, there wouldn’t be a problem if the UK Government could just be trusted to insist upon high standards when concluding trade deals. They say they can, but no one believes them.

And so we’re left with one government claiming to champion devolution when it really wants to end it, and another claiming to be beefing it up when it’s really undermining it.

Welcome to 2020. Don’t expect next year to be any easier.

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