The National:

“NEVER look a gift horse in the mouth” is probably the instinctive reaction of every Scottish council of whatever political persuasion to the announcement by London of more cash for local projects. Even the most passionate SNP council can hardly object to being given a few extra million for a pet project. But “beware the Tories come bearing gifts”: this gift horse might be the beginning of a Tory Trojan horse strategy!

The initial response of the Tory government to the SNP victory in the Holyrood elections and the renewed demands for Scottish independence post the was one of denying the legitimacy of the Scottish Government to call indyref2 and bluntly saying that Scotland is too poor to go it alone. However, refusals and insults are seldom the way to a person or a nation’s heart and so, apparently under the influence of Aberdonian techno dancer Michael Gove, the new strategy is to “love bomb” the Scots back to the Union. Up until now however there has been little sign of this “love bombing,” but yesterday Chancellor Sunak dropped a very small cash bomb on Scotland, by announcing that in addition to an increase in the block grant paid directly to the Scottish Government several Scots councils will directly receive the sum of £172 million for various Scottish projects, bypassing the Scottish Government as a share of is UK-wide “levelling up” funds.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak 'proud' to bypass Scottish Parliament in levelling-up scheme

The aim of this modest HM Treasury largesse is to demonstrate the alleged practical benefits of the Union to the councils and people of Scotland. Whether an extra mere £176m will make much difference to the feelings the Scots feel for the Union is doubtful. Even if Westminster were to insist that the projects be painted red white and blue and covered in jacks, the sums involved are just too small to make much difference to the finances of local councils or the lives of ordinary people. The £20m given to Aberdeen for building is peanuts compared to the one billion in funds the NE has lost out on with the decision to give the carbon storage project the north east of England with their post-Red Wall Tory seats!

However, there is undoubtedly a danger for the SNP here, should Westminster decide to pursue this ‘cash bombing’ strategy more extensively, which it could if it wanted to. The Westminster Parliament is legally sovereign, and the British Government holds the purse strings to the Treasury. Law and money are a very powerful combination. There is nothing to stop London announcing that it will directly fund a much larger share of councils’ income either by extra funds, or more damagingly, by reducing Holyrood’s block grant. Whilst such a move would undoubtedly provoke howls of protest from the Scottish Government, it might well be more popular in the country. Scotland is not Edinburgh, it Is not even the central belt and the communities of the Borders, the Highlands, the Islands and the North East can all in their own way can feel neglected by Edinburgh.

READ MORE: SNP councils welcome UK levelling up funds designed to 'boost the Union'

It must also be frankly acknowledged that during its 14 years in office the SNP has been a highly centralising and controlling regime. Holyrood has tended to hoard the block grant for itself, diminishing the share enjoyed by local authorities. A striking example of administrative centralisation was undertaken by the Salmond Government when in 2011 it abolished the existing 6 regional police forces and replaced them with one nationwide Police Scotland. Perhaps the Scottish Government should consider devolving more powers and funds to the councils to diminish the impact of London going over their head and engaging directly with the councils?

During his budget speech, Chancellor Sunak announced: “We are, always will be, one family, one United Kingdom.” This is a superficially attractive image but can be used to expose the flaws in the Union. In the “Family of the Union” England is clearly an old-fashioned Victorian paterfamilias who owns all the property and makes all the important decisions. Scotland is his wife. Naturally, Papa England gives his rather neglected wife some “housekeeping” money, but would it not be better for Scotland to be a modern independent woman than a Victorian kept one? As long as Scotland is in the Union England will always have the final say in law and money. We need to take back control.