The Guardian view on Tories and Scotland: beware muscular unionism

NSoris Johnson’s method for protecting the union from Scottish independence is not a secret. He will say no to a second referendum. マイケル・ゴーブ, the Cabinet Office minister, this week confirmed as much, saying he could not envisage circumstances in which the prime minister would yield to any demand Nicola Sturgeon might make for a plebiscite in the current parliament.

The first independence vote in 2014 was arranged by the coordination of Holyrood and Westminster parliaments. An order under section 30 of the Scotland Act was granted, paving the way for referendum legislation. David Cameron understood how dangerous it would be if an English prime minister used Westminster’s legal supremacy to sabotage Scottish National party plans. It would go against the principle of consent on which the union is founded, inflaming the grievance that most drives support for independence – a feeling that Scots lack control over their national destiny.

Mr Johnson may be alert to that risk, but he prefers a different logic: his side cannot lose a referendum that isn’t held. He also hopes that playing for time will expose divisions on the nationalist side. Ms Sturgeon argues that the Scottish government does not need a section 30 order to hold a vote, which is true, although it is unclear what status a pro-independence result might then have in law. Would it be consultative, or constitutionally binding? The first minister might win a court battle on that point, but she would rather not have to risk it. その間, impatient nationalists will agitate for defiant unilateralism.

The Downing Street strategy is not meant to be entirely confrontational. Plan A is to refuse a referendum, but that is coupled with a plan B to make union with England more economically and culturally appealing. The theory is that separatist feeling might be dispelled over time if the benefits of the UK are well enough advertised. The problem is that no one on the Conservative side is capable of making that case credibly, least of all a leader whose supposed charisma has no electoral purchase in Scotland.

A secondary problem is that the Tory political strategy for England is so divisive. Mr Johnson owes his Commons majority to an electoral realignment that brought pro-Brexit voters in former Labour strongholds over to the Conservatives for the first time. In the absence of substantial economic dividends in those areas, Downing Street thinks it can appeal to a certain patriotic sensibility, 使って confected rows over flags, history and race. But that is a distinctly English nationalist agenda, even if the flag it flies is the union jack. The culture war tactics deployed against Labour might have the unintended consequence of defining patriotism in terms that do not resonate for Scots.

Scottish opinion on independence is evenly divided, with a large number who are undecided. It is far from certain that Ms Sturgeon would win a referendum even if it were held, but she can be more confident for as long as Mr Johnson witlessly bolsters her cause with a swaggering kind of muscular Tory unionism that comes across, に スコットランド, as far more English than British.