Daily Archives: November 18, 2020


Where are the Praetorian Guard When You Need Them? 122

Here is Boris Johnson writing on devolution in 2001:

OCH aye, it’s the New Jerusalem! It’s a land of milk and honey they’re building up there in Scotland, laddie. They’ll nae be doing with your horrid Anglo-Saxon d e v i l-t a k e-t h e-h i n d m o s t approach. No, they’re just more socialist than us sour-mouthed Sassenachs.

They want to spend on the puir wee students, provided, of course, that they are poor wee Scottish students, not English ones. They want to shame the tightwads in the Treasury by spending on the puir wee Scottish teachers – in fact, they’ve given them a pay rise of 21.5 per cent over the next three years, far more than the English teachers are getting. And now, just to show how much generally nicer they are than the English, they have decided to spend, spend, spend on the puir wee old folks who need someone to help them open a can of beans.

In the teeth of opposition from the Treasury of what is still laughably called the United Kingdom, the Scots have decided to pay for free personal care for the elderly. Yes, that means all of us, folks. Even if we have assets of more than £16,000, we will be entitled not just to free nursing care – changing our dressings, putting our drips in – but to everything connoted by “personal care”.

If we are so lucky as to live in Scotland, it won’t matter that we could well afford to pay for someone to run our baths, or tie our shoes. There’ll be none of that business about reaching for our own wallets. Not in Scotland, Jimmy.

The BBC have been in overdrive spinning away that Boris is actually a great fan of devolution, and we should all apparently understand that naturally he says entirely different things to different audiences. In fact there is no shortage of evidence that Boris Johnson’s expressed view that devolution is a “disaster” is his genuine view. His premiership so far has all been about the extreme centralisation of power not just in Whitehall but in No. 10, of which more later.

The latest Tory ploy to claw back powers from Holyrood to Whitehall has been the Internal Market Bill. It is more notorious for openly and declaredly breaching international law, but the seizure of regulatory authority by (let us be blunt) England across a broad range of economic activity is just as significant. The Tory response has been, aided by a complicit media, simply to deny that what is happening, is happening.

But Boris’ declaration of war on devolution makes that approach more difficult. It also queers the pitch for the Gove strategy to head off Independence by false promises of more powers for Holyrood. This was done famously with “The Vow”, which promised Scotland the strongest federal parliament in the world. Referendum over, the opposite happened. All the signs are that the people of Scotland already are not stupid enough to fall for that trick again, but Boris has made it impossible for the unionists to even try.

If the Tories offer Maxi Maxi Devo-Maxi Maxi Max again, who will now believe them?

I am strongly of the view devolution has run its course. Undoubtedly it brought great benefits to Scotland. Free personal care for the elderly, no university tuition fees, free prescriptions. It also strengthened the sense of national identity and faith in Scottish competence in self-government.

But after a time, the cumulative effect of Tory austerity and spending cuts over years and years erodes services beyond the ability of even the most competent devolved administration to mitigate them. You then fall into the devolution trap, where you become the body that imposes the cuts, and takes the blame for falling standards, which are caused by the Treasury in London. The time comes when gradualism has achieved all that gradualism can, and it is time to break free from the devolution chrysalis and spread the wings of Independence. That time is now.

In his talk to the Northern Tory MP’s, Johnson called them his “Praetorian Guard”. That chimes with me, because I had been fretting about my inability to write anything useful about developments in Westminster politics. These defy ordinary political analysis, and bear more relation to the account of the courts of Roman emperors by Tacitus than anything that ought to happen in a modern western democracy. There were no great questions of public policy that led Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings to resign. There are vital decisions pending on a basic deal with the EU, but that was not the dispute – in fact nobody in No 10 seems to care about that one way or the other. What the great spat was about, was dinner party jostling for personal advantage among people with names like Allegra, Dominic, Carrie and Dido. Various individuals were “in tears” or “felt disrespected”. The good of the people who are being governed features nowhere at all in the insider accounts of what is happening at the top of the UK government.

It is understandable why Johnson thinks of himself as a Roman Emperor; he governs like Nero. The National Audit Office report yesterday listed £10.5 billion worth of contracts for NHS supply awarded without any proper tender. Many of these were to firms with no history of supplying medical equipment, chosen by the personal influence of MPs and Ministers. It is unsurprising there is so much personal jostling for influence, and the Civil Service has been effectively and deliberately barred from its customary role in decision making, when self-enrichment by corruption has become the primary aim of Westminster politicians.

Boris Johnson appears to have forgotten that the most common death met by Roman Emperors was murder by the Praetorian Guard. I could think of five such Imperial deaths – Wikipedia lists 13! Now where are the Praetorian Guard when you really need them?

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