The National:

WELL, at least, they’ve noticed. The Conservative Government is well aware that, after numerous polls showing that independence isn’t seen as a crazy idea by a majority of voters in Scotland, there is a discussion to be had about the Union, what it means today, and why they believe Scotland should still be part of it.

Former prime minister Theresa May knew that Brexit made the case for the Union more difficult to defend on this side of the Border, so she commissioned a review in the summer of 2019 led by Lord Dunlop, a former Scotland Office minister, as the relationship between the governments on these isles suffered from a lack of communication, co-operation, and more importantly trust.

It would be unfair to slag off a report nobody, except Prime Minister Boris Johnson and perhaps a few of his colleagues in Cabinet, has seen, despite the numerous calls by parliamentarians across the political spectrum to get it published for it to be properly debated and scrutinised.

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You have got to wonder how much of a priority saving or strengthening the Union is when a report completed more than a year ago, supposed to be published in late 2020 as Michael Gove hinted, has been gathering dust somewhere in Whitehall for months.

What we know though, thanks to leaks in the press, is that there are about 40 recommendations supposed to make sure the Union works in a more co-operative way.

To that end, it has emerged that one of the main recommendations consists in creating a “Secretary of State for Intergovernmental and Constitutional Affairs”, to become one of the four great offices of state. A senior Cabinet member acting, if you like, as the principal conductor of the cacophonic orchestra that is the United Kingdom.

Of course, Boris Johnson has already given himself the title of Minister for the Union, as a symbol to show he takes the preservation of the United Kingdom very seriously. It is fair to say though, that it has not worked spectacularly well for him. Who knew that slapping on a title would not and could not begin to bring a response to the obvious deep unsatisfaction in Scotland towards himself, his government, and increasingly, the Union?

I cannot help but find a similarity between the way Scotland is talked about by the UK Government, and how the French government talked about les banlieues, the least affluent suburbs of France’s big cities, when they descended into riots after the death of Zyed and Bouna, two young boys chased by the police in 2005.

For the past 50 years, the suburbs have only appeared in the public and political discourse as a problem to solve, requiring specific schemes to address them. As if the inequalities, the exclusion, the poverty, the violence and the racism were a specific problem that had nothing to do with the rest of the country, when in fact, they were a clear manifestation of decades of poor policies decided by the State.

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Decision-makers failed to understand that the central problem started, quite literally, with the centre, not the periphery. This led to another failure, later this year, to really grasp the despair and the disconnection of young people, exposed for all to see during a live TV debate with voters aged between 18 and 30 on the occasion of the EU constitutional treaty referendum, where President Jacques Chirac, visibly lost and forlorn, said: “I just don’t understand your anxiety and it saddens me.” At least, he had the honesty to acknowledge it.

It is not hard to see the parallel here. It seems the British Government thinks there is a Scottish problem that needs to be solved once and for all, either by refusing a referendum forever after, or, if you are generously minded, to just explain it to them, because “they just don’t understand how good we are being to them”, as if Scotland’s voters were just ungrateful spoilt brats who are merely acting out on a whim.

That is a bit demeaning and doesn’t sound like a winning strategy to rebuild trust across the UK.