I was thoroughly bemused a few hours ago by the muted reaction from Nick Eardley of the BBC to the extraordinary news that Boris Johnson has appointed Robin Walker, the MP for Worcester, as Minister of State at the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland (formerly known as the Scotland Office, and in pre-devolution times as the Scottish Office). "A snub for Scottish Tories?" asked Nick, as if the only significance is that Ruth Davidson might be mildly embarrassed. What this decision actually does is rip up decade upon decade upon decade of precedent and tradition. God knows when the last time was that an MP representing an English constituency was appointed to the Scotland Office or Scottish Office, but I certainly can't recall it happening within my lifetime. The universality of Scottish appointments was what always distinguished the Scottish Office from its Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts, which were often full-on colonial outfits manned by English MPs. In "Raj" terms, the Scottish Office was like an Indianised civil service - the appointments may have been made by a Prime Minister in London, but nevertheless individual Scots were in charge of the domestic government of Scotland. That's why we can look back to a period long before devolution and recall iconic Scottish politicians calling the shots: Tom Johnston during the Second World War, Willie Ross in the 60s and 70s, and Donald Dewar in the late 90s.
What makes the selection of Walker even more bizarre is that the tradition of only appointing Scots was even maintained when there was only one Scottish Tory MP in Westminster. The Scottish peer Lord Dunlop filled the breach as David Mundell's sidekick when Mundell was the entire Scottish Tory parliamentary party. And yet now that Boris Johnson has got 12 Scottish Tory MPs to choose Alister Jack's deputy from, he's ignored them all, and he's ignored all the Scottish Tory peers. Some people are putting this down to concern that the Scottish Tories may be wiped out at the next general election. That's good as a taunt, but makes no sense if taken seriously: if a Minister of State were to lose their seat at the election, it would be the easiest thing in the world to just replace them. No, this is Boris making a statement. He's saying that London owns Scotland, and that he sees no reason why Scotland should be governed any differently from Worcestershire or Hampshire or Nottinghamshire. The mind boggles as to what this portends for devolution if Boris has a longer tenure in office than most of us expect.
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Just as an aside, this means that neither of the men now running the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland actually has a recognisably Scottish accent. Alister Jack appears from his biography to be 100% Scottish born and bred, but presumably owes his plummy accent to his education at Glenalmond. This may be a good way to appeal to traditional Scottish Tory voters, but I'm not sure it's going to do much for the working-class unionist voters that Ruth Davidson has been courting over recent years (ie. the "Rangers vote").
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I'm hoping we might get an independence poll in the next few days, just to see if the No Deal revolution at Westminster over the last 72 hours has shifted the dial. You might remember that there was a Yes surge in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, and that it quickly faded. We'd never even have known it had happened if opinion polls hadn't been commissioned at the correct moment. I hope the history books won't be left in the dark about Scotland's instant reaction to the events of the last week.