The National:

A TEACHER at Eton once wrote to Boris Johnson’s parents saying:

"Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility …: I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else."

The comment was no doubt perceptive when written but quite extraordinarily, whilst most irresponsible young people grow up and accept the obligations that adulthood imposes upon them, it seems that Boris Johnson never has. If he had remained editor of the Spectator this might not have mattered. Unfortunately, he became the UK’s Prime Minister, and in that role it matters a great deal.

The publication of a plan to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol this week is evidence if that. Johnson signed that protocol with the European Union. No-one else did. He won an 80-seat Westminster majority by claiming he had a great, easy to deliver, "oven-ready" deal with the EU on Brexit.

The National:

Lord David Frost, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier after agreeing the Brexit deal

Scotland did not believe him then, but a great many did. Scottish concerns have been justified. Either the renunciation of his own deal shows it was none of the things that he claimed for it or it shows that he still thinks that he "should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else". Alternatively, it just shows that he thinks he can play politics by a different set of rules altogether.

This alternative option is worth thinking about. I suggest that it’s not that he thinks there are no rules or obligations. I am charitable enough to suggest that he knows that there are. I am assuming that degree of human development has not passed him by. Instead he thinks he can change those rules and obligations not by changing the law, treaties, or regulations that are the usual stock in trade of the political processes of change, but by instead simply grinding his opponents down by persistent non-compliance to the point where, whatever the rules might say, something else happens in practice.

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So, taking Northern Ireland as an example, he thinks he can live with the rule that there is an Irish Sea border but by simply ignoring it and by refusing to enforce the Treaty obligation with regard to it that he signed he thinks that he can grind the EU down to the point where they will simply tolerate his abuse. As a result he thinks he will get what he wants, which is a border in name only.

Grinding down opponents

He is doing the same to Scotland. By ignoring the Scottish Government’s wholly reasonable objections to Westminster’s freeports, and by seeking to impose them instead, he is spearheading a policy of simply grinding Scotland down to the point where he thinks that whatever devolution agreements say, and whatever the powers of Holyrood might be, people will eventually be ground down too - to the point where it is accepted that Westminster can do whatever it likes in Scotland.

There is not a shadow of a doubt that the EU will not accept Johnson’s plan for the Northern Ireland protocol. It cannot do so without giving the UK unfettered access to the EU single market without the obligations of membership, so it has to say no. I am sure it will impose sanctions on the UK as a result. It will, however, choose them with care: measures attacking the City of London are the most likely to avoid popular backlash.

READ MORE: Freeports: UK Government to sideline Scottish Parliament and spark row

I think Scotland should take note of that. Lines have to be drawn in the sand. Freeports might be an issue to do that on. Candidly, they’re an economically bankrupt idea. Worse, around the world crime is the only economic activity that they seem to encourage. The Scottish plan for greenports is markedly superior as result. At least there is a sound logic to them.

What now? 

Devolved government has a better solution than Westminster, in other words. What Holyrood has to do in that case is fight back. The war of attrition on Scotland that Johnson is running has to be resisted. This means calling it out. It means saying no. It means fighting in the courts. It means continually reminding the people of Scotland that their will is being over-ruled. And it means keeping on, and on, at this.

Johnson intends to wear his opponents down until the rules no longer work. Scotland must not accept that. It’s sheer bloody mindedness has to be brought into play. On that it can outdo Johnson, by a long way.