The Cabinet Office has refused to disclose whether the Union policy implementation committee, which is supposed to oversee the UK government’s strategy to counter the independence movement in Scotland, has ever met since its creation in July 2022.
Committee announced amid reshuffle
The committee was announced as part of a cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who appointed himself as the chair and Michael Gove as the deputy chair. The other members of the committee are the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary, the Northern Ireland Secretary, the Scotland Secretary, and the Wales Secretary.
The committee’s remit is to “oversee the implementation of all aspects of UK government policy relating to the Union” and to “ensure that the UK government delivers for people in all parts of the UK”.
However, the Cabinet Office has not revealed whether the committee has ever convened or discussed any matters related to the Union, despite repeated requests from The National, a pro-independence newspaper in Scotland.
Growing support for independence
The lack of transparency from the Cabinet Office comes amid growing support for Scottish independence, as recent polls have shown a consistent majority of Scots in favour of leaving the UK.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), which leads the devolved government in Scotland, has pledged to hold a second referendum on independence if it wins a majority in the next Scottish Parliament election in May 2023.
The UK government has rejected the idea of granting a legal consent for another referendum, arguing that the 2014 vote, in which 55% of Scots voted to remain in the UK, was a “once in a generation” event.
However, the SNP has claimed that Brexit, which was opposed by 62% of Scots in the 2016 referendum, has changed the circumstances and given Scotland the right to choose its own future.
Criticism of UK government’s approach
The UK government’s approach to the Union has been criticised by some experts and politicians, who have accused it of being counterproductive and undermining the devolution settlement.
Professor Michael Keating, a leading scholar of Scottish politics, has said that the UK government’s strategy of “muscular unionism”, which involves spending more money and displaying more symbols of the UK in Scotland, is unlikely to persuade Scots to stay in the UK.
He has argued that the UK government should instead engage in a dialogue with the Scottish government and respect the devolved competencies, as well as recognise the diversity and asymmetry of the UK.
Similarly, Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, has said that the UK government’s “power grab” over devolved areas, such as the internal market bill and the UK shared prosperity fund, is damaging the Union and driving more Scots towards independence.
He has called on the UK government to respect the democratic mandate of the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament, and to agree to a Section 30 order, which would allow a legally binding referendum on independence to take place.