Remember the respect agenda? You know, way back, when the UK Conservative Prime Minister did what his advisers told him, bit his tongue, visited Edinburgh, accepted the inevitability of a referendum on independence, shook hands with all and sundry and made a big play about the "respect agenda". Scotland as a political entity could look forward to a bright new future, we were assured, a brand new era of being treated as equals by the rest of the UK. Come what may. Ringing any bells?
Almost everybody who worked for a Yes vote, or observed the referendum impartially, would say that the reality of the No campaign was somewhat different, somewhat less edifying and respectful. Few dictionaries include fallacious slurs and constant bombardments of unfounded fears in their definition of respect.
Yes campaigners were "respectfully" called "separatists", "blood and soil nationalists" and even "Nazis". The people of Scotland were going to "respectfully" lose our currency, jobs, health service, pensions, education system, prosperity, etc. In reality though, most of that was made up and spouted by home-grown Scottish Unionists rather than the UK government.
Down Westminster way, the depth of the respect for Scotland, not to mention the other parts of the UK, was trumpeted from the pavement of Downing St. the morning after the referendum, when the Prime Minister addressed the pressing issue of day. No, not how The Vow to the people of Scotland would be fulfilled as soon as possible but English Votes for English Laws.
Some might claim that this lack of respect for Scotland led more or less directly to a record number of SNP MPs in Westminster after the last UK election, but Mr. Cameron – emboldened by his new absolute majority – has pressed on with his somewhat unconventional definition of the term.
Just as the Holyrood election campaign was getting underway, he effectively hijacked it by announcing the Brexit referendum. Lo and behold, once again the 'news where you are' has become just that, an afterthought, as the UK media churns out bile about migrants, asylum seekers, foreigners and poor people’s benefits. When covered at all, the programmes being put to the electorate by the parties in Scotland are pushed way down the bulletins.
Since the Scottish Parliament reconvened, ALL of the main parties had refuse to play the race card. It doesn't really matter whether it is an unintended consequence or deliberate meddling, the fact is that in one fell swoop, Cameron has forced these issues way up the agenda for our election. Respect? Aye right.
The recent Fiscal Framework debate was another classic example. Gideon Osborne came up with the jolly jape of chopping £7 billion off the Scottish Government’s pocket money over the next decade. So respectful was the suggestion that he left it to his office boy, Greg Hands, to negotiate the deal with the Scottish Government – and even Greg went off on holiday.
Fortunately for Scotland, history shows that fighting on too many fronts at once is never the brightest of ideas. Faced with the Brexit campaign, a Tory party riven with internal strife, a tiny majority in Westminster, the need to cover up the dog's breakfast he's making of the economy and a modicum of resistance from Edinburgh, Gideon put discretion first. The respectful £7 billion was reduced several times until he just dropped it.
The technical term is that he "bottled it". The lesson is that the current UK government only respects what it can’t beat and is forced to respect.