BORIS Johnson is considering setting up a Royal Commission on the UK constitution, which could look, among other things, at Scotland’s place within the Union, senior Conservative sources have suggested.
With some Tory insiders privately conceding that the Prime Minister could not “just say no” on Indyref2 in the face of an SNP majority at the Holyrood election in May, it is thought a commission would help buy time for the UK Government.
Indeed, it committed itself to launching within the first year of coming to power ie by last December a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to look in depth at issues such as the relationship between government, Parliament and the courts, the role of the House of Lords and access to justice for ordinary people, pledging to “come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates”. It is thought, one possibility is that Mr Johnson could now also include Scotland’s place in the Union in this review.
The PM is said recently to have appeared sympathetic to the idea of a Royal Commission with one supporter telling The Times: “This is not just because of Scotland but because of Brexit and even Covid. They’ve shown that the wiring of the UK needs updating.”
But a Royal Commission could take years to come to any conclusions; Harold Wilson noted how “they take minutes and waste years”. The former Labour premier set up 10 while in Downing St. The already pledged commission in the 2019 Tory manifesto would be a less controversial route.
However, Whitehall insiders poured cold water on the idea of a Royal Commission. One senior source told The : “Our focus is on fighting Covid and economic recovery and not on rearranging the constitution.”
When asked when the Government would establish it, Mr Johnson’s spokesman told a daily media briefing: “That’s not something we’ve announced. I don’t have anything on it for you. But it remains the case the Minister for the Union, the Prime Minister, remains fully committed to deliver for all parts of the UK.”
The battle against Covid has pushed back a number of plans. The unpublished Dunlop Review on strengthening the Union has been on the PM’s desk since December 2019.
Earlier this week, George Osborne, the former Chancellor, admitted that the No campaign victory in 2014 “looked like it had put Scottish nationalism back in its box for a generation”.
But he accepted this was no longer the case. Noting how, post-Brexit, Northern Ireland was “already heading for the exit door” and towards a united Ireland, Mr Osborne argued if Scotland became independent, it would end the Union and mean the UK would “become another historically interesting case study in how successful nations can perform unexpected acts of national suicide”.
In an article for the London Evening Standard, the former Cabinet minister said the answer to Mr Johnson’s problem was simply to refuse to facilitate Indyref2, stressing: “It’s the only sure way you won’t lose one.”
Noting how the night when he and ex-PM David Cameron waited for the result of the 2014 poll result was easily the worst he ever had in Downing St, Mr Osborne explained that because a vote at Westminster was the only legal path to Indyref2, then Mr Johnson should simply not have one.
“Whatever the provocation,” he added, “just say no Boris and save yourself a long anxious night in Downing Street.”