NOTHING has thrown the UK Government’s real attitude to Scotland into such stark relief as the return to the Tory front benches of one David Cameron, the former prime minister responsible for calling the historic first referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.

Way back then it seemed simple. The SNP had won a majority in the Scottish Parliament despite an electoral system designed specifically to make such an outcome impossible. As a result, Cameron agreed to the Scottish Government’s request for a referendum and the outcome would be decided by a simple majority, either Yes or No to independence.

It would not be accurate to describe the run-up to the vote as respectful and straightforward. There were plenty of dirty tricks from the Better Together side, from pretending the UK Government could stop an independent Scotland using the pound to a whispering campaign suggesting pensions would be at risk. Then there was then Tory Scottish leader Ruth Davidson’s (below) uncanny ability to know the result of a postal vote – a No vote vastly in excess of the percentage at polling stations – before it was announced.

The National: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Ruth Davidson MSP Scottish Conservative Holyrood Leader today during Covid-19 social distancing First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament Holyrood on February 25, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by

But at least there was an acknowledgement of the demands of democracy, and a “love bomb” campaign signalled at least the pretence that Scotland was considered a much-loved partner in a union it could “lead rather than love”.

Such language is unimaginable as Cameron returns to the fray in the middle of a cynical Westminster attack on even devolution – an attack he has joined with a ridiculous assault on Scotland’s attempt to have even a minor role in shaping its own relationship with the world. How did we get from 2014 to here? How did the Tories go from paying lip service to democracy to challenging in court decisions made by members of all political parties at Holyrood?

The UK Government has been emboldened by a series of key moments and now believes it can do exactly what it likes without fear of reprisals, or at least reprisals which would give it pause for thought. The first of these was the decision by the Supreme Court to rule that the Scottish Parliament could not under the present devolution settlement legislate to hold a second independence referendum.

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Westminster could, of course, modify the reserved powers of the Scottish Parliament, as it did in 2014. However, since neither the Tories nor Labour have expressed any desire to do so, both believe that simple mathematics rule out the referendum route to independence.

You can argue the point but the fact remains that Westminster believes it can stop a referendum and that belief has encouraged it in a determined effort to roll back the powers of devolution, in other words, to put Scotland very firmly back in the box it came close to escaping in 2014.

It had already seized control of the £937 million set aside for post-Brexit “Levelling Up” projects in Scotland, effectively shutting out the Scottish Government from the decision-making process.

However, it was the issue of gender recognition reform that provided the opportunity for the most brutal attack on not just devolution but on the independence movement.

I’ve watched with increasing bewilderment as the move to improve trans rights for a tiny minority of people in Scotland has been weaponised against some of the most victimised and vulnerable communities in the country.

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Others will disagree with this description of events but surely not with the principle that the decision on the issue should be taken in Scotland, by politicians in the Scottish Parliament.

And those politicians decided last December by a significant majority – 86 votes to 39 – made up of MSPs from all the main parties to approve measures to reform gender recognition rules.

The resulting controversy gave Westminster the chance it had been waiting for. It correctly calculated that measures to stop the reform would not be universally opposed and may indeed be welcomed in some quarters.

And so it has proved. I must admit to finding it baffling that independence supporters can celebrate Westminster undermining the Scottish Parliament in such a blatantly cynical manner.

It’s inconceivable that an individual will agree with every decision taken in an independent Scotland but surely that’s hardly the point. After independence there will be many big decisions to take.

Should we scrap the monarchy? What will be our currency? How will we most fairly redistribute wealth? How can we welcome refugees to harness their talent to best serve the country? Those decisions will be best made by those who live here.

Are we seriously suggesting we have the ability to legislate for all those questions but not for gender reform? It just doesn’t make sense.

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But then, nor does the attitude of the Scottish Labour Party. Their group of MSPs, including leader Anas Sarwar (above), back the reforms, or at least they did until Keir Starmer “voiced concerns” way back in January. As far as I can make out – and the Labour leader’s addiction to flip-flopping makes it hard to be clear – Starmer would not remove the Westminster block on the reforms his MSPs voted for and no longer supports gender self-ID.

Where is the outrage among Labour members in Scotland at this outrageous show of disdain for this country and its representatives?

Hats off to Duncan Hothersall’s expert dismantling on what used to be Twitter of Westminster’s argument that it must block Holyrood’s reforms because of its impact on UK equality laws. But, really, social media should be awash with Labour fury at being let down by their hopeless leader.

Supine acceptance by Scottish Labour and too many Yessers has done nothing but encourage Westminster to step up its hatred of devolution, this time led by none other than David Cameron in his new guise as UK foreign secretary.

So incensed is the former PM at Humza Yousaf’s (below) temerity at meeting a few international leaders without a Foreign Office staff member to keep him in line that he’s threatening to – gulp! – withdraw co-operation.

The National: First Minister Humza Yousaf said the ruling showed devolution was ‘fundamentally flawed’ (Robert Perry/PA)

Personally, I think it was a mistake for the First Minister to have anything to do with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan but reservations over his behaviour and human rights record have nothing to do with David Cameron’s reaction.

Westminster wants to make sure Scotland doesn’t get ideas above its station and expresses its own opinion on matters such as the treatment of refugees and the Gaza situation. Or even worse … independence. That might generate more headlines like this week’s “EU sees Scottish Government as very reasonable and reliable”.

God knows where that might lead. The presence of a Foreign Office official at meetings held by the Scottish Government is a matter of control, pure and simple.

Lesley Riddoch yesterday wrote that Cameron’s petulant and petty outburst had been criticised by even non-indy commentators, which is certainly a welcome development.

But Westminster’s attacks on devolution have been enabled by the lack of anger and action north of the Border. Some independence supporters have even suggested Holyrood should not appeal against Westminster’s gender recognition reform block. This is madness which would only encourage more and wider attacks on devolution.

And make no mistake, a failure to defend devolution moves the prospect of independence further away. Already Westminster is preparing to impose anti-strike legislation which Scotland’s Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray warns does not respect devolution.

We need to send a clear message to Westminster: hands off the powers of the Scottish Parliament. We will do everything in our power to defend them. We need the ability to take more of our own decisions, not fewer. If you think you can stop us winning that ability, you are absolutely wrong. It’s up to us to make them believe it.