A former senior Public Servant who played a key role in the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union says more devolution of power across the UK is needed if the Government at Westminster is to turn the tide on rising support for Scottish independence.
Philip Rycroft (pictured), who retired from his role as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union in March 2019, said the centralising instinct of the UK Government was putting strain on relationships with the devolved administrations.
In an interview with the Global Government Forum, Mr Rycroft suggested mistrust had led to a failure to fully embrace devolution and the pursuit of a “so-called muscular or assertive unionism”.
“There needs to be a proper devolution of power and responsibility to the appropriate level in England, as well as to the devolved parts of the UK to preserve the union and build more effective public services,” Mr Rycroft said.
A recent poll put support for Scottish independence at 58 per cent, the highest on record.
The poll found the most convincing arguments in favour of independence were Scottish people wanting to take a “very different political direction to England” and that “Westminster Governments cannot be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests”.
Mr Rycroft said accepting differences in the way that things were handled across different parts of the UK was crucial in retaining good working relationships between the Governments, but the COVID-19 pandemic had demonstrated a lack of trust.
“Far from being a crisis that has united the four Governments in a common approach, it has become one in which the devolved Governments have been able to portray themselves as acting outside the frame of the UK Government,” he said.
“It has become divisive.”
He also expressed concern that the UK Government was undermining the Public Service and “weakening the structure of our democracy” and suggested a review of the UK’s constitutional arrangements.
Edinburgh, 21 October 2020