Divisions over Scotland add to problems besieging the UK

UK PM Boris Johnson

UK PM Boris Johnson.

Photo credit: Aaron Chown | Pool | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Devolution is the granting by central government of a certain amount of self-government, including its own parliaments, to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • A similar referendum took place in 2014 and Scotland voted narrowly to stay within the union.

One thing you can be sure about in this life – any piece of good news will very shortly be overtaken by the bad. And so it has been with government these past weeks.

The British people were elated by announcements that at least two new anti-Covid vaccines had been developed and might be available here by early 2021.

There were also signs that turmoil in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration could be ending with the departure of two contentious advisers, one of whom, Dominic Cummings, was increasingly seen as the Demon of Downing Street.

Even the news that Johnson was being forced to isolate for 14 days (he had been in contact with an infected MP) was of no particular concern since this is becoming commonplace in the UK.

However, Johnson himself disrupted the peace with an unguarded comment about Scotland. In a conference call with a group of his own MPs, the Prime Minister observed that devolution had been “a disaster north of the border”.

Devolution is the granting by central government of a certain amount of self-government, including its own parliaments, to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Tony Blair’s Labour government brought in devolution for Scotland in 1999 with a parliament in Edinburgh. The Conservative party has supported devolution but increasing pressures for total separation from the rest of the UK have disturbed the status quo.

The largest grouping in the Edinburgh parliament is the Scottish National Party, led by Nicola Sturgeon, with 61 MPs against 31 Conservatives and eight Labour. New elections are due next May and First Minister Sturgeon has said that if her party wins, it will seek a referendum on breaking from the United Kingdom.

A similar referendum took place in 2014 and Scotland voted narrowly to stay within the union. There is no guarantee that this result would be repeated.

About Johnson’s “disaster” comment, Ms Sturgeon tweeted, “Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Conservatives say they are not a threat to the powers of the Scottish parliament.”

Nationalist sentiments

A Downing Street spokesman said, “The PM has always supported devolution… devolution is great, but not when it is being used by separatists and nationalists to break up the United Kingdom.”

It is within the power of the London government to refuse permission for a referendum and Johnson has indicated no such permission will be forthcoming. What observers fear is that such a decision would fuel nationalist sentiments in Scotland, forcing the two nations ever farther apart.

 * * *

Britain’s most notorious murderer of modern times, Peter Sutcliffe, aged 74, has died after refusing treatment for Covid-19.

Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, killed 13 women across northern England between 1975 and 1980 by beating or stabbing them. He also attempted to kill seven more.

Sutcliffe spent 30 years in the high-security Broadmoor Hospital and the last four years in prison in County Durham.

The investigation was not the police’s finest hour. Sutcliffe was questioned and released no fewer than nine times before finally being charged because detectives believed a hoax caller who pretended to be the killer.

They also disparaged those of his victims who were sex workers – for which a police statement has now formally apologised, blaming social attitudes of the time.

It is safe to say not a single tear was shed at the news of Sutcliffe’s death.

* * *

Every year, Collins Dictionary experts release a list of buzzwords – prominent words and phrases newly entering day-to-day usage.

No surprise that the 2020 list is dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Lockdown”, “furlough”, “self-isolate” and “social distancing” all feature, as does “coronavirus” itself.

In a wider context, derived from America, the experts highlight the social justice campaign, Black Lives Matter, now widely known in the UK.

* * *

According to popular TV chef Tom Kerridge, Britain’s pubs have been hit hardest of all by the second Covid-19 lockdown. Drinkers, he said, had been deprived of what pubs essentially provide, namely “a warm and friendly place to eat and drink”.

 As to the importance of that, consider the following:

Many serious people tend to frown at the mention of alcohol and no doubt would denounce the following sentiments:

“Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep, whoever sleeps does not sin, whoever does not sin enters heaven, thus let us drink beer.”

“I am a true believer in the people. Given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them facts – and beer.”

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

So who propounded these dubious opinions? The first came from monk and reformer Martin Luther, the second was uttered by Abraham Lincoln, and the last was the belief of America’s great founding father, Benjamin Franklin.




You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.