PODCAST: What are the upheavals and opportunities of being a Scottish Government Minister? In this week’s issue of Pod Britannia, we meet Alister Jack, who plays a very special role as Boris Johnson.
Alister Jack recently visited Oslo, as part of a tour of the Nordic region to discuss trade strategy, security cooperation and other foreign affairs. The trip was on behalf of England, but with particular emphasis on a relationship in which Scotland and Norway are close to each other – or should be.
British Union is a typical construction. As a country, Britain stands somewhere between a unitary state like Norway and a federation like Germany. In the ‘nations of nations’ England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have varying degrees of autonomy, with their own parliaments and governments. England, the fourth and largest country, is governed only through public institutions in London.
The main reason is the size. With around 85 per cent of the UK’s total population, the UK is much larger than any other island nation. If England were made a federal state, with the equivalent autonomy of its parts plus the general institutions of London, it would be a very skewed construction.
New self-government, old ministerial posts
The self-government model dates back to reforms under Tony Blair’s Labor government in 1997. The first elections to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh were held in 1999. The recognition of Scotland as a distinctive entity has a much longer history. The UK government has a separate Scottish Affairs Minister. The position dates back to 1707, when the Anglo-Scottish Union laid the foundation for what we know as Great Britain today.
In its more modern form, ministerial posts date back to the 1880s. In the 1960s, a similar post was created for Wales. Both ministers have their respective departments.
Meeting with the nationalists
A separate minister for Scotland, ie. What kind of role is that? Her job is to be the voice of London in Scotland and the voice of Scotland in London. Not an easy task when interests clash. Everything becomes more complicated when the Scottish side has its own autonomy and nationalists in government.
Scotland is there today – they have been since 2007, when the SNP Scottish Nationalist Party gained government power. Since then, the SNP has strengthened its position and is by far the largest party among Scottish voters. The referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 was acknowledged to have ended in a 55/45 result in favor of continued British unity. But support for the SNP is at the same level as what Labor had at home in the post-war period.
The issue of Scottish independence has also been brought up again in recent years, following Brexit. The majority of Scottish voters clearly still want EU membership. The open gap between England and Scotland on this issue has been used by the SNP to bring back the issue of independence. Through the pandemic, the party’s Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has used every opportunity to mark his own Scottish path and strategy.
In the minority
Therefore, the government in London has the full right to convince the Scottish people of a future existence outside the European Union, but with continued affiliation to the British Union.
Against this backdrop, there was no easy job at her disposal, Alister Jack who was the Scottish minister under Boris Johnson. He had limited political capital among the Scots. Admittedly, the Conservative Party is the largest opposition party in Scotland. But of the 59 MPs that Scotland sent to the British House of Commons, the Conservatives had just six against 46 of the SNP. The Nationalist Party dominates political debate, and much of the debate is about when and how Scotland can get a new referendum on independence.
The SNP government in Edinburgh has its own vision for an independent Scotland, a small country that will nurture its North Sea identity and be closer to the Scandinavian welfare state. Scottish social democracy is part of this profile. The idea here is that the new neighboring country will act as an equal partner to the policy of the small Nordic nation.
A unifying plan for the guild?
What is the UK Government’s strategy in dealing with north winds in Scotland? In domestic politics, the UK government wields enormous economic power, not least through the pandemic support package.
Alister Jack’s recent visit to Norway provides several examples of how the overall strategy for unionization is internally reflected in the way Scotland is promoted externally. Trade and jobs, political and cultural ties will be promoted for Scotland as part of Britain’s strategy for life after Brexit and the pandemic.
For the Conservative government in London, partnership across the North Sea is about a somewhat different and historically rooted relationship based on London’s position of great power. From this point of view, Scotland’s role is integrated into England. This also applies to military power and security policy, which is manifested by the tragic war that is taking place in Ukraine and Britain’s role in NATO.
In this episode of Pod Britannia, ivind Bratberg, senior lecturer at the University of Oslo and editor of britiskpolitikk.no, interviews Scotland’s British Minister Alister Jack.
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