Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

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Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Primary Tartan

Article excerpt

Week after week, the limitations of the devolution settlement are laid bare. A few days ago, it was the Mike Tyson affair, when Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, decided to allow the heavy weight bruiser and convicted criminal to climb into the ring in Glasgow without any reference to the politicians of Holyrood. Our MSPs were, predictably, outraged -- despite the fact that the Scotland Act of 1998 makes it plain that immigration is a "reserved" matter (ie, London's business). But Straw did himself no favours. Even loyal Labourites were muttering in corners about his highhandedness. The SNP, of course, was delighted and made as much political hay as it could while the sun shone.

And, as if the SNP had not been handed enough on a plate, along comes the news that London knew that "rogue" GM seeds were sprouting in Perthshire and the Orkneys, without bothering to tell the Jocks. The Jocks are seriously miffed. Outraged might be a better word. Scotland's Rural Affairs Minister, Ross Finnie (Lib Dem), is demanding an explanation from England's agricultural supremo, Nick Brown. Naturally, the SNP has taken to accusing Brown of flouting the "concordats" between Westminster and Holyrood, and is gleefully demanding his head (knowing full well that it will not get it).

Which is tiresome. These cross-border squabbles are beginning to eat into the government's credibility. Labour's leadin Scotland is not all that overwhelming. These gaffes allow the SNP to turn every problem into a constitutional argument. It really is time the ladies and gents who man the London ministries (politicians as well as bureaucrats) took a peek at the Scotland Act to check what they can and cannot do on this side of the border. And even where they can operate in Scotland, they might try to do it with a bit of tact. Otherwise, Alex Salmond's grin can get only wider. …

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