By Simon Johnson
2 July 2019
Theresa May is to launch a review of devolution and how the UK Government can strengthen the Union when she makes what is expected to be her final visit to Scotland as Prime Minister on Thursday.
Mrs May is to announce Lord Dunlop, a former Scotland Office Minister, is to lead the review but it will not start until her successor is in place.
In a speech in Stirling, she is expected to warn about the risk to the Union from a no deal Brexit and argue that the UK Government needs a higher profile in Scotland to stave off the independence threat.
Senior Tory sources said she will use the wide-ranging “legacy” speech on the Union’s future to argue that more must be done to ensure Scots realise they have two governments working for them, and not just the SNP administration at Holyrood.
Mrs May wants to send a message to her successor that Whitehall departments must consider more carefully the importance of the Union in their work, and how to demonstrate that to the Scottish people.
This could involve the UK Government spending more money directly on high-profile cultural projects, such as the V&A Dundee, even where it is in devolved policy areas.
It is understood the Prime Minister has also scheduled a special Cabinet discussion on the Union next week amid growing warnings that a no deal Brexit will boost support for Scottish independence.
Her speech comes after Mr Johnson, her likely successor, said he would try and strengthen the Union by ensuring that the “UK gets proper credit for UK policy achievements”, and not just the SNP administration.
In a joint manifesto published last month, Scotland’s 13 Tory MPs urged the next Prime Minister to bypass the SNP government and spend more money directly in Scotland.
They argued the UK Government has a low “cultural” profile north of the Border and urged the next Tory leader to start “investing directly” in Scottish communities.
This could potentially see the revival of a 2015 proposal to brand big money projects, such as the refurbishment or construction of major public buildings, with the Union flag.
Tory sources said it was possible to spent relatively small sums on high-profile schemes to boost the UK Government’s presence in Scotland.
One possible avenue is the proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU structural funding after Brexit for schemes to “reduce inequalities between communities.”
Frustrated Scottish Tory MPs have been pushing for the UK Government to have a more visible presence north of the Border and their complaints have become more prominent in the Tory leadership debate.
But Nicola Sturgeon reacted last night with hostility to the review, saying it was a “desperate act by a Prime Minister who has shown zero respect for the Scottish Parliament in her time in office.”
The First Minister added: “It’s for the Scottish people – not a Tory PM – to consider and decide what future we want for our parliament and country.”
Asked by Conservative Home readers what he would do to strengthen the Union, Mr Johnson promised to “ensure that the UK gets proper credit for UK policy achievements, not just the devolved governments and assembles.”
Mr Johnson pledged to launch a pro-Union marketing campaign to attract international investment by “stressing the success of our unique combination of nations and regions.”
The leadership frontrunner also reiterated his promises to use Brexit to strengthen the “legal underpinnings of the UK single market”, and to “put a dedicated point person in Number 10 to ensure that all policy promotes the Union.”
Jeremy Hunt, his opponent, told a leadership husting in Northern Ireland that the Union had been “taken for granted for too long”.
The Foreign Secretary said the Tories were “complacent” in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, were given a “nasty scare”, but remained complacent afterwards.
He argued the right Brexit can “massively strengthen our Union because it would allow our great country to plow its furrow in the world in a way that is distinctly, uniquely British.”
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