The Daily Telegraph

Union is ‘unstoppabl­e’, May to tell Sturgeon

Scotland can do better in Britain than in the EU if its political role is boosted after Brexit

- By Gordon Rayner Political Editor

THERESA MA Y will make it clear to Ni cola Sturgeon that Britain will be“a more united nation” outside the EU when the two leaders meet today, before the formal Brexit process is triggered.

The Prime Minister will travel to Glasgow where she will meet Scotland’s First Minister and tell her, face to face, that there will be no new Scottish independen­ce referendum while the Brexit negotiatio­ns are ongoing.

Mrs May will describe the Union as an “unstoppabl­e force” whose strength will be “even more important” during the Brexit talks. Then, on Wednesday, she will trigger Article 50.

Before that, she will address staff at the Department for Internatio­nal Developmen­t’s offices in East Kilbride, where she will promise to build “a more united nation” where the interests of the entire Union are “at the heart of ” decisions.

Ms Sturgeon wants to force a second referendum before Britain leaves the

EU, unless Mrs May can secure a special deal for Scotland that will give it access to the Single Market.

Mrs May has made it clear that neither of those things will happen, meaning her meeting with Ms Sturgeon today is likely to be a tense affair.

The Scottish Parliament is expected to vote tomorrow in favour of a new referendum, which will trigger a demand from Ms Sturgeon for a Section 30 order that would transfer the power to hold a referendum from Westminste­r to Holyrood.

The Prime Minister will ramp up the rhetoric over an independen­ce referendum when she tells developmen­t department staff: “When this great union of nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – sets its mind on something and works together with determinat­ion, we are an unstoppabl­e force.

“In those policy areas where the UK Government holds responsibi­lity, I am determined we will put the interests of the Union – both the parts and the whole – at the heart of our decision-making.”

She will say that her intention is to build “a more united nation”, fully respecting the devolution settlement­s but “never allowing our Union to become looser and weaker, or our people to drift apart”.

Emphasisin­g the values of freedom of speech, democracy and respect for human rights, she will say: “This proud shared heritage provides the bedrock of our lives together in the UK, and on that foundation we have built a country where we share the challenges that we face, and bring all the expertise, ingenuity and goodwill we share across this Union to bear to tackle them ....

“So, as Britain leaves the European Union, and we forge a new role for ourselves in the world, the strength and stability of our Union will become even more important.”

An SNP spokesman said: “The next two years will determine the kind of country Scotland will be. So, once the terms of Brexit are clear the people of Scotland should have the final say.

“That’s why the First Minister set out a plan to give the people of Scotland a choice between Brexit and becoming an independen­t country.”

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “We understand the UK Government wishes to discuss Article 50.

“Given we are just days from the formal process of Brexit being triggered there has, as yet, been no discussion with the Scottish Government over what will be in the letter triggering departure from the EU.

“There has been no discussion over how Scotland’s interests will be represente­d, what role the Scottish Government will play in negotiatio­ns, nor which powers [remitted from Brussels] the Tories intend to take for Westminste­r.

“Most worryingly there has been no discussion over how the UK Government intends to manage the financial impacts of Brexit and the consequenc­es for jobs and the economy in Scotland

“There are clearly a lot of areas where we hope the Prime Minister intends to provide answers.”

The spokesman added: “It is appearing that this is another area where a Tory Prime Minister intends to simply dictate the rules and expect people in Scotland to go along with it.”

Early indication­s are that despite dire, doom-laden warnings, Theresa May’s refusal to countenanc­e the SNP’s demands for a second independen­ce referendum has put the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on the back foot. In Scottish politics, this is an unusual, unexpected and welcome developmen­t.

Sturgeon and her ministers have proved less sure of the next steps than their previous rhetoric might have suggested. Leading nationalis­t politician­s such as Jim Sillars, the party’s former deputy leader, have threatened to abstain in a future referendum if independen­ce means rejoining the EU. And up to 30 per cent of the one million Scots who voted Leave last year are SNP voters. In response to these unexpected deviations from the plan, Sturgeon has equivocate­d on whether a separate Scotland would apply for full membership of the EU or whether it would simply settle for a partial form, in which it would be forced to obey all the EU’s rules and pay membership fees but have no say in how those rules are made or the money spent.

Unionists, however, would be wise to avoid any display of triumphali­sm. The polls still show an obstinatel­y impressive level of electoral support for the SNP. And it is never a good idea to underestim­ate the Scots’ capacity to embrace and exploit a grievance.

Now, fully aware of this continuing threat to the Union she genuinely loves, the Prime Minister has moved the senior civil servant Philip Rycroft into the Brexit department to ensure that forthcomin­g negotiatio­ns with the EU do not undermine the Union. While another referendum has been delayed, most still expect it to happen at some point. Best to prepare for it.

At first glance Rycroft faces a virtually impossible task. How to satisfy a Scottish Government actively looking for any excuse to shatter the 300-year-old Union, especially when its best excuse is that three in five Scots voted Remain last year, while the rest of the UK voted Leave?

Yet the UK Government still retains the power to foil Sturgeon. First and foremost, the strategy must be to give those Scottish industries that are potentiall­y most affected by Brexit a voice at the table. It will make the nationalis­ts’ task of fostering grievance that much harder if fishing, agricultur­e, academic and financial sector bodies are listened to and their concerns acted upon.

Then there are the “extra powers”. The Better Together campaign in 2014 over-reacted to a couple of worrying polls in the last days of the campaign by offering vastly more powers for Holyrood if Scots rejected independen­ce. This time round, the offer of more powers can be made from a positive and nondefensi­ve position. Under many and varied EU treaties, Brussels has been given a staggering range of powers that, outside the EU, will come back home. Some of them will be wielded by Westminste­r but others can be repatriate­d to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Fishing and agricultur­al policies are the two most cited examples – especially since they are currently entirely devolved and, unless Westminste­r amends the Scotland Act, will arrive by default at Holyrood on the day Britain leaves the EU. In the Leave campaign, we had great sport last summer asking SNP ministers why, while we wanted Holyrood to run our fishing industry, they wanted Brussels to do it instead. Even if these powers are not wholly devolved, the SNP’s complaints will be undermined by their evident preference for the EU to wield them.

Which means the ball is, unusually, in the UK Government’s court. It needs to play it rather more cleverly than it has in the recent past. There was no need to give SNP ministers the excuse to claim – justifiabl­y – that the First Minister and her team had not been kept in the loop over the Article 50 timetable and on the UK’s initial negotiatin­g position – and certainly no political advantage in doing so.

But if Scottish business interests are heard, if the right powers are devolved, Sturgeon might yet be forced to shelve the entire prospect of another referendum altogether, rather than risk losing for a second time. If ministers focus too much on Westminste­r and too little on the devolved administra­tions, the only people with a smile on their face will be those who wish harm on the integrity of our nation.

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