'A solution to the West Lothian Question'

RISHI Sunak has spent £60 million of the money he says the government doesn't have to create four new government departments.

The cynical among us, which is just about everyone who has even a passing awareness of how the Conservatives operate, cannot help but wonder if this move is not so much about promoting greater efficiency in government but rather about shoring up Sunak's rickety position in his unhappy and rebellious party by awarding cabinet posts to figures around whom opposition to his leadership could coalesce.

The new culture secretary is Lucy Frazer, the MP for South East Cambridgeshire, who made her maiden speech to the Commons in 2015 joking that her constituency was home to Oliver Cromwell who had defeated the Scots at Dunbar and transported hundreds of captured Scots into slavery in the West Indies.

"Now there's a solution to the West Lothian Question," said Frazer to laughter from the Conservative benches.

Collapsing Conservatives

THE magnitude of the Conservatives' problems has been made apparent by an opinion poll giving the lacklustre and deeply uninspiring Labour party of Keir Starmer a 26% lead over the Tories, the highest lead for Labour since Sunak took office.

The poll puts Labour on 50% and the Conservatives on just 24%. If replicated at a General election, this would see the virtual annihilation of the Conservatives as a political force, and according to some calculations reduce their Westminster representation by more than 300 seats.

This puts the Tories in the territory where they could potentially be overtaken in terms of number of Westminster seats by the SNP. You'd need a heart of stone not to laugh.

Of course, should that happen, the by then former MP Douglas Ross would still be insisting that the SNP don't have a mandate for a referendum.

The big test is looming

HOWEVER, the real test for Sunak will come at the English local elections in May, which crucially will take place just weeks after the next round of domestic energy bill rises kicks in.

Expect opponents to focus on Conservative failure to impose a windfall tax on the massive profits of the energy giants, the proceeds of which could go a long way to softening the blow on consumers.

BP has just announced record profits of £23 billion on the back of record high prices in the energy markets, and last week Shell announced profits of £32.2bn. That unearned profit will go into the bank accounts of shareholders while low-income households shiver.

Between now and the local elections, Conservative expectation management will be in full swing, but a poor showing for the Tories will only increase the already jittery nerves of a Conservative party which is close to panic and despair as it is.

We'll see you in court?

The major Scottish story, at least in the eyes of those of us who believe in Scottish self-government, is one which is largely overlooked by an anti-independence media which prefers to focus on yet more ways of telling us why the Scottish Government is really really bad and gives a free ride to a Conservative Government which is hell bent on trashing what is left of Scottish democracy and rendering the devolution settlement impotent.

Alister Jack, the Governor General of the North British territory, finally deigned to respond to Holyrood's Equalities Committee, which had written to him posing 18 questions seeking to obtain more clarity on the precise grounds upon which Jack took the unprecedented decision to employ a Section 35 order to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from receiving Royal Assent and passing into law.

However, Jack's brief response, which was received at the end of January, was, to put it kindly, terse, and utterly lacking in the detail necessary for MSPs to make revisions to the bill which would enable Holyrood to pass a new version that would address the UK Government's objections.

Jack's letter merely referred MSPs to already published material and failed to give any answers to the specific questions put to him by MSPs.

It is hard to escape the impression that the haughty and patrician Jack feels that it is rank insolence for mere MSPs to question the decisions of such an elevated personage as himself. Jack merely instructs MSPs to: "Address it, or fix it, or drop it, or take us to court." Yet he refuses to give MSPs any indications on how they can address it or fix it.

Now the Scottish Government social Justice Secretary Shona Robison has responded to Jack's letter and has noted that Jack has "refused further engagement" with Holyrood on the subject of his veto of a bill relating to a devolved matter which was passed with a cross-party majority of MSPs after a long period of debate and with ample opportunity for consultation.

The British Government had years in which it could have raised its concerns with the Scottish Government, but despite repeated chances it failed to do so. The bill only became a problem for the Conservatives at Westminster after it had passed.

A court battle between Holyrood and Westminster now seems increasingly likely.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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