Don’t forget that nearly four in ten Scots voted Leave – Theresa May must ensure their voice is heard

Don’t forget that nearly four in ten Scots voted Leave – Theresa May must ensure their voice is heard

Four Scots in ten voted Leave. That simple fact is easy to forget, given the practically universal pro-Remain stance of Scotland’s political class and the deceptively overwhelming results map. Not a single one of the parties in the Scottish Parliament advocated a Leave vote, and whilst the same is true of Westminster’s major parties at least the Conservatives, and to a much smaller degree Labour, played host to dissentient blocs of MPs who represented what turned out to be the majority view.

On the other hand, only a bare handful of MSPs campaigned for Brexit, and Scotland’s journalists and commentators seemed likewise to be overwhelmingly Europhile. Yet despite this, almost 40 per cent of Scottish voters – more than a million people – voted to break with Brussels, and it isn’t hard to imagine that number being higher had ‘civic Scotland’ more accurately reflected the balance of Scottish opinion.

The result has re-opened the constitutional question, to the extent it ever closed. Learned think-tanks write of a “constitutional crisis”, even though the British Government exercising reserved powers in a way devolved administrations don’t like is not in fact any such thing. Meanwhile, pro-EU Scottish commentators write of their waning affection for the Union and continue to project their feelings onto their countrymen, prophesying a post-Brexit polling surge for separation which is already late and shows few signs of arriving.

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have not been slow to fill this void, setting Theresa May a series of tests which are designed to fail. Already David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has had to visit Scotland to rule out various proposals to turn the UK into some kind of threadbare confederation. He’s right to do so, but it would be foolish not to recognise the downside. Every time this happens, the Nationalists will waste no time framing it as an insult to Scotland, and such mood music could get very poisonous very quickly.

As Alan Cochrane advised in the Telegraph, the Prime Minister must “change the mood music”. She needs a way to engage positively with Scotland without being forced to concede to the SNP’s agenda, whose purpose is to destroy Britain. To do this, May should bypass the ‘Holyrood bubble’ and build a direct relationship with as many of Scotland’s stakeholders in Brexit as she can, especially the massed and muted ranks of Leave voters.

Devolved administrations often have trouble remembering this, especially when they’re led by nationalist parties, but they and the nations they govern are clean different things. But if they and their sympathisers are allowed to monopolise their territory’s representation everybody can get a bit hazy on that point. The Prime Minister should take pains to highlight at every turn that the SNP – and their Greek chorus of Europhile commentators and suborned public bodies – are not the sum of Scotland.

She and her ministers should meet directly with exporters, and with the beleaguered local councils the Scottish Government is set on undermining, and highlight how their concerns are being fed directly into the negotiation process. David Mundell’s reaching out to the Scottish Local Government Partnership is a good example of what this looks like.

There should also be as many meetings with pro-Brexit groups, like the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, as can practically be arranged, and any attending media should be ceaselessly reminded: four Scots in ten voted Leave, and the results map is much more complex than it looks (check out map three in particular). Indeed, the Government should try to contrast this practical, pro-active approach with the impossibilist grandstanding of the SNP, dovetailing with Ruth Davidson’s attack on the Nationalists’ neglect of the day-to-day government of Scotland in pursuit of their constitutional cause.

Scotland is not, despite the apparent wishes of the most ardent devolutionaries, a semi-detached associate territory or confederate: it is an integral part of our country, and May is as much Prime Minister for Scots as for anybody else. She must not outsource her relationship with any portion of Britain to the local devolutocracy, whose agenda is often the break-up of the UK and usually the extension of their own power.

Such a lens distorts reality in both directions. Not only will it present the Government and the wider British and international public with a false view of Scotland, but the Nationalists will seek to cast the worst possible light on the Government’s actions to Scots.

The issue at the heart of the Brexit dispute is the same one that lies at the core of the entire constitutional struggle: the legitimacy of ‘the British’ as a political community. Demands that Scotland be allowed some extraordinary opt-out from the national result, or that it have a veto, formal or otherwise, on reserved policy, amount to the same thing: that the British Government concede that British decision-making is fundamentally illegitimate, and that the reserved powers which give force to it are polite fictions.

Retreating on this point, in the true “more powers!” tradition, might postpone the inevitable reckoning but it will leave unionists without a leg to stand on once Scotland’s economic position improves and we are reliant on positive loyalty to Britain to keep the UK together. So the Prime Minister must prevent the SNP monopolising Scottish representation and strain every sinew to give Brexiteer Scots a voice, for their sake, for her’s, and for Britain’s.