AS Westminster becomes embroiled in a new sleaze scandal over Boris Johnson’s redecoration of his Downing Street flat, the contrast between the standards of governance at the parliaments of Holyrood and Westminster has never been starker.

The behaviour of senior politicians at both are governed by ministerial codes but the ways in which that code is administered – and indeed how seriously breaches are regarded – is significant.

The current scandal revolves around who paid for renovations at the Prime Minister’s residence, which have been reported to be as high as £200,000. The public grant to be spent on the flat is only £30,000.

A leak by Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings suggested the Prime Minister had planned to have donors secretly pay for the work, which Cummings described as “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended”.

Johnson’s standards adviser Lord Geidt is examining whether he needs to declare any donations but Labour question his independence since the Prime Minister can ignore his findings. Johnson’s previous adviser on the ministerial code, Sir Alex Allan, resigned after the Prime Minister refused to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel after an inquiry found her bullying of civil servants broke the code.

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The Labour Party have accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of breaking the code after a company owned by members of his family and in which he owns shares won a contract to provide services to the NHS. And Boris Johnson’s government has also been accused of breaking the ministerial code by allowing large payments to the Prime Minister and other ministers to be kept secret for up to eight months.

When Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was accused of breaking the ministerial code in her handling of allegations against her predecessor Alex Salmond she faced an eight-hour grilling by a Holyrood Committee.

She was also the subject of an independent inquiry by QC James Hamilton, who found that she had not broken the code. After his findings were published Sturgeon said she would have resigned if she had been found to have done so.

The UK Government only just crept in to the top 20 of “good governance” parliaments when a list was drawn up in 2018 based on the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) report produced by the World Bank – and that was before Boris Johnson. New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Sweden were the top five most highly rates according to the WGI criteria. The UK was 19th.

Since then the UK’s performance has deteriorated because of its handling of Brexit, and particularly the botched trade deal which the Prime Minister hastily put together before the deadline ran out at the end of last year. The results of the deal have been disastrous on British – and especially Scottish – imports to the EU. Scotland isn’t graded separately from the UK but if it were it would certainly be higher than 19th. Let’s look at the six good governance indicators and how Scotland would measure up:

1: Voice and Accountability:

The extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government.

Scotland uses a proportional electoral system which means that an independent Scotland would have an inbuilt advantage over the UK in terms of voice and accountability. For example, in 2017, 47% of people said the Scottish Government was “very good” or “quite good’” at listening to people’s views before taking decisions, whereas only 16% said the same for the UK Government.

2: Political Stability:

Perceptions of the likelihood of political instability and/or politically motivated violence, including terrorism.

The World Bank has reduced the UK’s score to 57/100 in terms of political stability. No explanation has been given but the assumption must be that this is as a result of the Westminster Government’s mismanagement of Brexit. An independent Scotland within the Common Market and Customs Union via EU or EFTA membership would be far more politically stable than the UK.

3:Government Effectiveness: This includes perceptions of the quality of public services, the quality of policy formulation and implementation and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies.

The Scottish NHS – which has operated independently from the English and Welsh NHS from inception – is viewed as a barometer of government effectiveness. The Scottish NHS consistently outperforms other UK health services. We have to use pre-Covid figures here, but all polls suggest the Scottish Government’s handling of health has been far better than the UK’s:

- The percentage of patients seen within four hours at A&E in Scotland in 2017/18 was 91%, England 82.4%, Wales 77% and Northern Ireland 68.7%.

- Healthcare spending in 2017/18 in Scotland was £2368 per person; England £2182; Wales £2324; and Northern Ireland £2320.

- In 2015, Scotland had 4.2 hospital beds per 1000 people, while NHS England had 2.5, Wales 3.5 and Northern Ireland 3.1.

- There are 76 GPs per 100,000 people in Scotland, compared to a national UK average of 60.

A poll carried out by YouGov between November 3 and December 30 last year found people trust the Scottish Government more than twice as much as they do the UK Government. There is, therefore, no evidence that government effectiveness in an independent Scotland would be an issue. In fact, the evidence suggests it is more likely to improve in terms of WGI score and to be more aligned to the values and priorities of the Scottish people.

4: Regulatory Quality:

By adopting EU standards, Scotland would already meet all of the requirements, although some new regulatory bodies would have to be established.

5: Rule of Law: This includes people’s confidence in the rules of society, in particular the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the police and the courts.

Scotland already has its own legal system, which is held in high regard throughout the world.

6: Control of Corruption:

Public power is not widely exercised for private gain in the UK (compared to other developed nations) and it is an improbable suggestion that won’t be the same or even better in an independent Scotland.

Trust in the Scottish Government is generally extremely high. A Scottish Social Attitudes survey published last September and carried out between August 2019 and March 2020 showed that public trust in the Scottish Government to act in Scotland’s best interests was four times as high as trust in the UK Government.

l61% of people in Scotland said they trusted the Scottish Government “just about always” or “most of the time” to work in Scotland’s best interests. Only 15% said the same for the UK government.

l37% of people trusted the Scottish Government “a great deal” or “quite a lot” to make fair decisions, whereas only 12% said the same for the UK Government.

IT should be noted that the governance is not about specific political parties or politicians. Rather, it is about the structure and systems of government that deliver for the people and the trust that those people have in their government in all its forms.

Having said that, it’s almost impossible to imagine Scotland electing a Prime Minister so obviously out of his depth as Johnson, who has been held in low esteem by Scottish voters since he took power. A poll of Scottish swing voters published last October showed 79% supporting the statement: “Boris Johnson is not the leader I want to have for my country.”

In three of the World Bank’s six good governance criteria, an independent Scotland would have a significant advantage over Scotland in the UK. In the other three criteria, there is nothing to suggest that anything is likely to change for the worse with independence.

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The Brexit fiasco has made it clear that the UK lacks the manpower, software and political ability to administer its own borders, customs processing and even to comprehend the issues at the Northern Irish border. This is a far bigger governance issue for the UK than the transition to independence would be for Scotland and the UK Government has failed dismally to rise to the challenge.

Brexit has been driven by an increasingly bullish version of British nationalism which refuses to accept that the UK’s position in the world has changed. The desire for “sovereignty” no longer means an insular, superior outlook which regards those outside our borders with suspicion.

Contrast that vision of the UK with the internationalist vision put forward by supporters of an independent Scotland, who seek to build bridges with our neighbours and trading partners and to forge new links with the rest of the world.

When it comes to governance it’s worth considering what the effect on Britain’s reputation as a well-governed, democratic country would be of Johnson’s refusal to acknowledge Scotland’s democratically articulated support for a second independence referendum. If returning a majority of Yes-supporting MSPs to the Scottish Parliament next week is not considered a clear indication that the country wants another say in its constitutional future what on earth would be?