Lord Dunlop: PM should build ‘Union of Co-operation’ to strengthen UK in 21st century

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BORIS Johnson should seek to build a post-Brexit, post-Covid “Union of Co-operation” across the United Kingdom, Lord Dunlop has insisted, as he denounced the SNP drive to hold another independence referendum this year as “profoundly wrong-headed”.

The former Scotland Office Minister sets out in a paper for the Policy Exchange centre Right think-tank his prospectus for a strong and successful Union in the 21st Century, which some might regard as an expression of exasperation with the Prime Minister.

The Tory peer’s report on strengthening the Union, commissioned by Theresa May in the final days of her premiership, has been gathering dust on Mr Johnson’s desk since December 2019, some 15 months ago; publication is finally expected before Easter.

In his paper for Policy Exchange, marking the launch today of its Future of the Union Project, Lord Dunlop seeks to put forward the “progressive Unionist” case for a renewed UK following its departure from the EU and its recovery from the pandemic; dubbed by the SNP’s Pete Wishart yesterday as “cuddly” Unionism.

The former minister dismisses Nicola Sturgeon’s contention that in refusing to sanction Indyref2 the PM is denying Scotland’s right to democracy but, rather, he insists it is the “plain common-sense and the responsible thing to do”.

He noted: “The idea that government resources should be diverted from the task of recovery to conduct what would inevitably be another costly and divisive referendum will strike many as a profoundly wrong-headed ordering of priorities with potentially damaging consequences not just for Scotland but throughout the UK.”

Lord Dunlop says to succeed in building a Union fit for the 21st century requires “first and foremost the right governing attitude and tone”.

He explains: “The UK is the world’s most successful joint venture in which England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have always played their full part. The UK must continue to look and feel like a shared endeavour as we go forward.

“A country, where the man in Whitehall accepts he doesn’t always know best and devolution isn’t regarded as a disaster. A country, in which minority voices are heard and taken account of. A country, whose very diversity fuels its dynamism.”

The Scottish peer argues that devolution is an “unfinished, not a failed, project” and says the Covid crisis, while showing how devolved administrations have distinct areas of decision-making, has also illustrated how each of the four nations depends on one another to be effective.

He says the need to consult one another and to find agreement has never been greater but decries the fact the resilient architecture, to manage inter-governmental relations within the UK to match a 20-year dispersal of power, has not been established.

The former minister calls for a re-vamped and enhanced Intergovernmental Council as it is “part of the essential glue that binds together the United Kingdom”.

While he argues there should be a “taking forward” of devolution in England, Lord Dunlop warns against the creation of a fully federal state with an English Parliament, which, he warns, “far from securing the Union, risks irrevocably de-stabilising it”.

Instead, he recommends the creation of an English Regions Forum to complement the machinery of intergovernmental relations for the devolved nations.

And the peer calls for greater devolution across Scotland, building on the UK Government’s City Deals programme.

“That’s why I’ve recommended to the Prime Minister a new co-operation fund to promote even greater joint working between the UK and devolved governments, which responds to locally identified priorities and acts on areas of common concern from preventing drug abuse to tackling our productivity challenge and climate change.

“After all, while we should value as a country what we are able – as a result of devolution – to do differently, we should also take care not to squeeze out what we can and should be doing together.”

Calling for a “Union of Co-operation,” the Scot says it is intended to “encompass not just co-operation between the UK Government and devolved nations but also between central and local government and within local government”.

Lord Dunlop stresses how the SNP Government in Edinburgh should be working to make devolution work across Scotland.

“Working together at a time of crisis should be a no-brainer; that’s a natural human instinct, even if it’s against the deeply ingrained political instincts of SNP leaders,” he declares.

And quoting US President Joe Biden that “’with unity we can do great things,” the peer adds: “A practical, open, generous, forward-thinking and inclusive Unionism will always triumph over narrow, ideological, exclusive and divisive nationalism.”

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