A UNION of equals. Now there is an oxymoron if ever I saw one. Last week’s shocking news headlines revealed that the UK Government plans to break international law in order to achieve the hard-Brexiteers’ wish list on total sovereignty, whatever the collateral damage to binding treaty commitments and the devolution settlement.

The publication of the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill revealed the shocking devolution power grab in all its unsavoury and undemocratic glory, taking a hammer to Johnson’s own Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Irish Protocol and giving Westminster new powers to spend directly in devolved areas such as health, education and transport.

At the time of writing this, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster has demurred on the side of relatively mild rhetoric, only commenting on its lawlessness. This level of betrayal must cut deep for Unionists and their leader, thrown to the wolves by a PM who couldn’t give a toss for their democratic wishes or unwavering allegiance to London.

In the race to the bottom in devolution terms, Northern Ireland has managed to stay top of the heap since that fateful night in June 2016, when the UK voted to leave the EU. The Northern Irish people chose to Remain, and since then, despite a brief confidence and supply dalliance with Theresa May’s Government by the DUP and their fight against threats of regulatory divergence ending in a dramatic loss of influence, Northern Ireland has kept its head above water. Just.

Now, Johnson has turned the tables. Without any polite heads up to Stormont, the Northern Irish Secretary, Brandon Lewis, declared in parliament that it was okay to tweak international law in a “very specific and limited way” to suit their own ends, thereby torpedoing the vital peace process, with the possibility of a hard border back on the cards for the North.

It can’t come as a surprise to anyone that this is not a government that cares about Northern Ireland or indeed any of the devolved nations. Every step they have taken since their triumphant entry to Number 10 has shown this to be the case. For Scots, the Better Together slogan has never sounded more quaint or naive as Westminster bulldozers over every empty promise and hollow assurance that we’d have a place at the table of power if we chose No.

They’re not even bothering to pretend anymore. In this increasingly dis-United Kingdom, there is no family of nations, no historic alliance to protect or nurture. This is governance by stealth and control – so what if they break a few eggs.

Although they may have issued a huge sigh of relief when the 700th Anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath regional celebrations were postponed during lockdown this year and the subsequent swelling of Scottish pride was put on the back burner, Johnson and Cummings cannot avoid the centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland due next year.

HOW Johnson will be able to show face in the North given his contempt for democracy, his lack of commitment to international treaties, his careless attitude to domestic law and his disregard for the Good Friday Agreement remains to be seen. But whatever two-faced pageantry is planned, Johnson’s idea of the centenary as a celebration of the union will ring hollow to many in Northern Ireland, especially younger voters, who wish to move on.

These young people are looking to the far more progressive Republic, which handled the pandemic more humanely and effectively than the UK Government, and holds hope for a better future should the North decide to unite and dissolve the border. As for older voters, the UK Government’s plans to establish a Centenary Forum and Centenary Historical Advisory Panel as part of the 100-year celebrations will be met by caution and vitriol in equal measure by those with clear memories of Northern Ireland’s recent turbulent past.

Listening to Johnson’s disingenuous conviction that the union in Northern Ireland “is something to celebrate … as the most successful partnership anywhere in the world” could be a sentiment similarly disputed by a good many Scots who repeated polls have shown are convinced that being out of this Union would be far better than staying in it. Discussions are already afoot on a United Ireland, while in Scotland, support for independence is rising steadily towards the 60% mark, a vital milestone in the push for a Section 30 Order and the undisputed recognition of the democratic choice of the Scottish electorate.

Anniversaries often focus minds and trigger change. The Northern Irish centenary will fall in May 2021, shortly after the postponed celebrations of the Declaration of Arbroath’s 700th birth date in April and in the same month of May as Scots go to the polls for the Holyrood elections.

We’ll then be well into Brexit, out on a limb with the economy nosediving and essential services grinding to a halt while Westminster tries to hoard our powers repatriated from Brussels.

A perfect storm; a tipping point. Decisions will need to be made. Nelson Mandela said: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

For the devolved nations, it’s just a question of who chooses self-determination over sublimation first.