NICOLA STURGEON, one of the most divisive politicians of her generation, overlooked three salient points when she pre-empted the triggering of Brexit’s Article 50 by setting out her draft timetable for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Scotland’s First Minister neglected to mention that the SNP don’t command a majority at Holyrood; that any new referendum will require Westminster’s approval and that there’s no public appetite for a rerun of the ‘once in a generation’ vote that the nationalists called, and lost, as recently as September 2014.
This only serves to intensify, still further, the competing pressures confronting Theresa May as she prepares to formalise the start of Britain’s divorce from the European Union. As the PM said sternly: “Politics is not a game.”
Though Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has now stated his opposition to a second independence vote, he said last week that he was “relaxed” about the issue and has intimated that he won’t oppose the move if the SNP, aided and abetted by the Green Party, gets its way in the Scottish Parliament.
What a sorry state of affairs when the fate of the Government – and the United Kingdom – is left at the mercy of the changing whims of an Opposition leader who cannot provide a semblance of the unity that this country requires.
If Labour falls into line with the SNP, it might be very hard for the Tory leader to resist a referendum and she will have to hope that economic arguments persuade sufficient scots to back the status quo, even though Ms Sturgeon seems intent to hold her vote before the Government has concluded its negotiations with the EU. And this is before Northern Ireland’s future fate is added to the mix. Mrs May’s task of securing the best deal for the whole country would be hard enough with her political opponents pulling in the same direction. It’s just become even more thankless because of those leaders who now seek to divide and rule.
The cost of ‘churn’
IF A major private sector company had 48 chief executives in 30 years – and 28 different strategies over the same period – it would be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of a lack of consistency or continuity.
Yet precisely this has happened with further education policy. According to a landmark report by the Institute for Government, colleges have been subjected to 48 Ministers, 28 pieces of legislation and three over-arching industrial strategies in the past three decades.
Given that not one of the newfangled quangos set up by meddling ministers has ever lasted more than 10 years, it’s little wonder that there’s insufficient funding for the overhaul of vocational skills that is now a belated national priority as a consequence of Brexit.
The consequence, says this much respected think-tank, is that students and employers are faced with a confusing and ever-changing set of qualifications, with no certainty that current benchmarks will exist a few years down the line.
Yet, while this ‘churn’ might appease those ministers who feel the need to justify their appointments before being shuffled off to a new role, it means vital money is going to waste on structural change when the priority should be the needs of those students who need a solid set of qualifications in order to enhance their future career prospects.
If there’s one lesson for Theresa May’s government, it’s the need for a robust – and properly funded – college sector with clear requirements on the type of courses offered. The Prime Minister has just one chance to get the right structure in place and she can’t afford to fail this test.
Respect for all
THE proximity of Brexit, and the prospect of a divisive second referendum on Scottish independence, provides the backdrop to the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message in which she articulates the twin themes of respect and understanding.
The Commonwealth has always been close to Her Majesty’s heart and this year’s message could not have been more profound, or pertinent, when set in the context of current events. “The cornerstones on which peace is founded are, quite simply, respect and understanding for one another,” she said. “Working together, we build peace by defending the dignity of every individual and community.”
Though the Queen is above politics, let’s hope this is in the spirit in which talks on Brexit – and the future of the United Kingdom – are conducted. After all, trade with Commonwealth countries will be even more important when Britain leaves the EU.