COULD Theresa May’s final trip to Scotland turn out to be the most misguided ever made by a British Prime Minister? It is certainly looking that way.

Earlier this week, senior political journalists were told the PM’s last-gasp trip north would reveal news of a review into the workings of devolution.

Now of course we all know it’s far too late for that; it’s unacceptable to let an unelected member of the Lords review any aspect of democracy and serial power grabs and deaf ears over Brexit planning mean no-one believes Theresa May gives two hoots about “our precious Union”. And yes, it’s perfectly obvious that the timing of her final Caledonian outing is not remotely coincidental but a deliberate attempt to spike the guns of her arch enemy Boris Johnson ahead of tomorrow’s Scottish hustings.

We were not born yesterday.

But although the Prime Minister’s devolution review was completely underwhelming, it was duly reported in yesterday’s papers and on the BBC’s website. Naturally, Fluffy declined to give more detail on Radio Scotland, likewise Andrew James Dunlop, Baron Dunlop, the anointed Devolution Review Maestro himself. The unelected so quickly become the unavailable. Again, nothing particularly unusual about that.

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To be fair, the equally unelected UK Scotland Office Minister Ian James Duncan, Baron Duncan of Springbank, did take to the airwaves, for a few minutes, to confirm the fact and scope of the review. You might well have missed it.

So, imagine the surprise amongst political hacks and the weary, watching Scottish public when Ian Blackford raised her impending announcement during Prime Minister’s Questions, only for Theresa May to snap back: “There IS no review of devolution.”


The Scotsman’s political correspondent Paris Gourtsoyannis (who broke the story on Tuesday night) tweeted: “Definitely a mess of a media strategy.”

That’s putting it mildly.

So, what is occurring?

Has Theresa May’s devolution review already hit the buffers, or is it so miserably limited and disposable that “review” seems too grand and overpromising a description?

This is the most likely explanation. According to the Number 10 press office yesterday, Theresa May has no plans to review the actual devolution settlement. She won’t be asking anyone to poke into the efficiency of structures at Holyrood. Instead, she will steam ahead with a pointless exercise to check that UK government departments work in the best interests of devolution. Whoop, whoop. That’s a bit like supermarket ads promising price checks – as if those naughty old prices somehow go off and raise themselves when the nice people who decide on prices are snuggled up in bed.

If Whitehall departments do obstruct the smooth functioning of devolution, which party, which government and which politicians engineered those clashes, glitches and unworkable divisions of powers? Indeed, how will the Westminster machine even determine what constitutes obstruction and which constraints are nonetheless in “the best interests of devolution”? If this is how Theresa May hopes to carve out a legacy, she’s veered further off the rails than anyone beyond Number 10 could ever have imagined. And will her successor have the slightest interest in making this timid wee review actually happen?

Not a chance.

Theresa May’s proposed devolution review comes hot on the heels of a report by the Common’s Scottish Affairs Committee which concludes that 20 years of devolution have brought relations between Westminster and Holyrood to their lowest ebb, just as Brexit demands the highest levels of goodwill and co-operation. Sounds a bit like the statement of the obvious Theresa May is planning. But the main recommendation isn’t.

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The MPs’ report questions the usefulness of the Scotland Office in Whitehall, headed by Scottish Secretary David Mundell. No wonder Fluffy was keeping his head down yesterday.

And no wonder the Prime Minister is feeling a bit coy about talking up her own review, when a similar piece of work lies waiting for response.

So, let’s suspend, for a moment, the desire to laugh like drains at the Inspector Clouseau-like incompetence of a Prime Minister who thinks the fig leaf of a bureaucratic review can block the stream of voters flowing steadily towards Yes. Let’s overlook the ludicrous taunts about the SNP trying to distort the PM’s message when all polling evidence shows the Tories’ own disastrous record on austerity, welfare and Brexit are the recruiting sergeants for independence.

Let’s not get too het up about Theresa May’s half-hearted, parting shot, because the levels of Tory double-think are set to get much worse.

Far from trying to make sure UK departments “work in the best interests of devolution” the Tory leadership front-runner Boris Johnson has repeatedly raised the stakes, suggesting in the past that the Barnett Formula (used to calculate Scotland’s block grant) should be scrapped.

But with Perth hustings staring him in the coupon, the politician who described Scottish funding levels as “deeply inequitable” and “a kind of present” from England, knows he must change tack. Fast.

Let's give Boris his due. He might leave it till the very last minute, but when the penny drops, Boris acts. Now the man who once claimed that a pound spent in Croydon was worth more than a pound spent in Strathclyde has proclaimed that he will keep the Barnett formula – not only that, he will add “Minister for the Union” to the Prime Minister’s official job title and set up a new Number 10 unit to “sense-test and stress-test” every policy for its effect on the Union. Wow.

But does his Damascene conversion contain the slightest shred of sincerity?

Ask the Tories conducting focus groups across Scotland who are finding that “views on Boris are fixed, negative and could push independence over the line this time”, according to Daily Record Political Editor David Clegg.

Jeremy Hunt will doubtless swap his Irn-Bru and fish supper for a Glenkinchie malt and smoked salmon mousse before reaching Perth. But he may yet have to explain how the Union can be put before Brexit “every time” while retaining the option to implement the no-deal Brexit which will certainly end it. And who knows. Some brave soul in tomorrow’s hustings may have the courage to repeat the killer question asked by a Conservative host in Carlisle and highlighted in an excellent video by Sarah Mackie. How can he or the Blessed Ruth Davidson maintain that the Scottish Government has no mandate for indyref2 when it was in the manifesto that won them a majority of seats in the last General Election?

Strangely enough, it could be despairing Scottish Tories who pose the tough questions sections of the Scottish media hesitate to ask.

Theresa May’s desperate dash north and her pointless devolution review simply confirm what we already know – public opinion in Scotland is steadily shifting towards independence. That’s why the British Government won’t publish the results of its secret polling north of the Border. That’s why progressive Labour politicians, like the respected former minister Malcolm Chisholm, are breaking cover to point out that Brexit and the continuation of the Conservative Government make independence inevitable, whoever is leader.

The tectonic plates are moving, and there’s nothing the travelling Tory sideshow can do to stop that now.