Theresa May’s extraordinary speech to the Scottish Conservative conference on Friday did not just lay down the gauntlet to the Scottish National Party (SNP).
She set herself on a collision course with first minister Nicola Sturgeon and everyone who wants an independent Scotland—or even one with strong devolved powers.
May said that powers which are repatriated after Brexit and would be expected to return to the Scottish parliament will instead be held by Westminster.
She added that the 1998 devolution settlement would no longer apply as it would be out of date after Brexit.
It’s not just Scottish people who should take note of May’s speech. It could, and should, lead to mass demands for an independence referendum and protest.
May, who has a bare majority of MPs in the house of commons, said the SNP which has 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs had not faced “democratic accountability”.
In a bizarre section celebrating “the world’s greatest family of nations” she lauded the British Union’s achievements. These included “The Harry Potter books, which were begun in a cafe in Edinburgh by an author from Gloucestershire”.
But the most hypocritical part was where she cited the NHS as an example of the Union’s achievements.
What’s May’s plan?
Firstly, she wants to define the Tories as the one and only party of the indivisible union. May wants to say to everyone who doesn’t like the SNP’s plans that every other party will slither and twist. But the Tories are full square for the United Kingdom.
Council elections across Scotland are coming in less than two months and the Tories are heading Labour in the Scottish polls. May wants to push on with the Tories’ (very limited) recovery.
The Labour party has learnt nothing from its electoral collapse after backing the Union in the 2014 referendum
Secondly, the SNP are now put on the spot. They have no choice but to demand indyref2—another referendum.
Former SNP First Minister Alex Salmond called May’s speech a “power grab”. He added, “This is a prime minister who is attacking the very foundations of the Scottish Parliament and she'll do it to her cost.”
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s deputy leader, said the consequences of May’s stance were very clear.
“If the UK government cannot reach an agreement with the Scottish government to protect our interests in Scotland, there will be another referendum, yes,” he said.
But that won’t happen easily. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, indicated this week that Downing Street would insist on staging any referendum after Britain formally left the EU in 2019 to ensure the Scottish electorate knew what it was voting for.
Unfortunately the Labour party has learnt nothing from its electoral collapse after backing the Union in the 2014 referendum.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale complained that May “has undermined the Union at every turn”. There is no way back for Labour unless it breaks with its pro-Union stance.
It will take a mass movement, on the scale of the one in 2014 and beyond, to force the Tories to concede a referendum and then win it.
It has to be based on militant opposition to austerity and racism, and a fight for a society where people come before profit.
If that succeeds then just as David Cameron was brought down by the EU referendum, so May can be wrecked on the shores of Scotland.