Could this be the deceptively thin but darkly portentous end of a metaphorical wedge? We know that the British political elite are motivated to seek, contrive and exploit every opportunity to undermine the Scottish Government. Devolution itself, initially intended as a device to kill the cause of independence “stone dead”, latterly has been reshaped as a political and economic weapon wielded against the SNP administration.
Powers over such things as taxation and welfare have been transferred to the Scottish Parliament, not for the purpose of further empowering the Parliament or improving Scotland’s governance or enhancing our democracy, but as a complex of political and fiscal traps designed to make life as difficult as possible for the Scottish Government and force the SNP administration into implementing unpopular policies. The British parties would then reap the benefit of the SNP’s declining electoral fortunes without the need to improve their own appeal to voters.
To work effectively, a tax/benefit regime must function as a coherent, integrated system. Having partial control over disparate bits of that system is just about the worst imaginable arrangement. Having control divided between two administrations operating in increasingly divergent political cultures and under very different sets of priorities, is a form of fiscal madness. Unless, of course, the intention is that the whole thing should fail, with blame for said failure being heaped onto the shoulders of the Scottish Government.
It is surely a source of huge frustration to the British political elite that the SNP administration has so adroitly managed to avoid the worst of these political and fiscal traps. Thanks to the efforts of people such as John Swinney, Derek Mackay and the remarkable Jeane Freeman, the newly devolved powers over tax and welfare have been deployed in such a way that the Scottish Government’s reputation has been enhanced rather than destroyed, and the SNP’s popularity with the electorate remains undiminished.
But the imperative to force failure on Scotland remains. So it is that, to give but one example, Police Scotland was long denied VAT exemption so that the British media could trumpet endlessly and gleefully about the ‘crisis’ facing the service and its always imminent bankruptcy.
So why wouldn’t the British establishment’s first thought in the situation under discussion not be to seize the opportunity to create a problem for the Scottish Government? At the very least, they get a chance to accuse the SNP administration of pursuing another ‘grievance’ against the UK Government. As if simply labelling it a ‘grievance’ invalidated the complaint.
I’m not suggesting that Theresa May invited Trump to visit just so Police Scotland would be hit with a massive bill. Although, on the basis of all evidence, it would be foolish to discount the possibility of any manifestation of political insanity. But it is more probable that, like so much of what the current UK Government does, this situation was totally unplanned and completely unforeseen. Nonetheless, it seems the first thought on encountering the situation was to use it as a means of damaging Police Scotland and, thereby, the Scottish Government.
It’s a matter of attitude. And the British establishment’s attitude towards Scotland is one of increasing hostility. An ethos has developed within the apparatus of the British state that regards an aggressively uncooperative stance towards Scotland as the default. This is not accidental. This is an ethos which has been purposefully fostered by a British political elite eager to roll back the experiment of devolution which has failed both as a means of halting Scotland’s march to independence and as a weapon against political forces which presume to challenge the established order.
The real story here is, not a £5 million bill being foisted on Police Scotland despite all considerations of precedent and basic fairness, but the fact that this sort of behaviour is now standard operating procedure for a British government determined to bring Scotland to heel. It will only get worse so long as Scotland remains in a political union which gives British politicians the means and the licence to treat us with utter contempt.
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