BORIS Johnson's visit to Scotland has come and gone. It was difficult.
A balancing act full of inevitable paradoxes. Johnson, the self-proclaimed "Secretary of the Union" who has set himself the task of saving Britain, is exactly the man who is at the center of all the measures that are most likely to destroy it.
The challenge for his advisors was not enviable (and probably impossible). A successful trip to Scotland would require the Prime Minister to make his presence felt, but the more Scots felt his presence, the less successful his trip would be.
The Johnson paradox is one of many that the British government faces in dealing with Scotland in a broader sense. How can you address a country's potential as part of the UK while exploiting its potential as an independent country?
How can you convince a people that the EU doesn't want you to pull it out? How do you feel valued while ignoring them on every occasion? How do you tell them that they live in a democracy and at the same time deny them a say in their future?
Maybe you're just lying. But this also brings with it its own difficulties.
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Much of the UK mass media appears to be largely on the side when it comes to being for the Union. Whether this is accidental or intentional may never be finally proven, but there is probably a good reason why broadcasting remains a reserved matter. Should cohesion be promoted across the UK?
If cohesion means presenting English-specific messages to the Scots every day as if they were their own, it is difficult to argue that the broadcasters do not at least make an effort. For years, "national" news about GCSEs and lawyers, as well as NHS trusts, have given familiarity with our neighbors, while equivalent Scottish stories have been presented as "local", giving them a parochial feel. However, reporting is increasingly becoming a double-edged sword for the British state.
The challenge that the British establishment faces in the media today in its approach to Scotland is (like that of Johnson's advisors) unenviable. How can you move a specific line in one country in the UK without accidentally causing trouble in another?
More specifically, how can you tell the Scots that they are too poor to be independent without the English being annoyed at what appears to be paying for us? Especially when we are obviously not even grateful.
BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty raised the question in many minds and asked Ian Blackford in a discussion about government funding: "You wouldn't get anything if you weren't part of the Union, would you?"
The notion that Scotland is a financial burden that the UK government supports from the kindness of its heart has long been blocked – British money is English money and Scottish money is what London is graciously willing to send north.
Given these attitudes, it is not surprising that a recent Panelbase survey for Business for Scotland showed that 49% of English people believe that England should be an independent country. The subsidy junkie narrative is powerful. The problem for the British government, however, is that the wrong country believes it.
Things weren't always that way. Not so long ago, a large number of Scots trembled at the thought of self-government, which made Scotland the only third world country in northwestern Europe.
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We were convinced of our particular inability to manage our own affairs. Or at least enough of us were confident enough to vote on our opportunity to try. It was an ingrained attitude; A blind belief in Westminster and the "national" news told us that only a monumental betrayal of trust could shake.
Then this monumental betrayal of trust came. Then another. Then another. And we started to reassess everything that was said about us and our place in the Union.
From abandoning the vow to seeking Brexit and taking Holyrood to power, the British government has broken the promises it made in its efforts to save the Union in 2014 over the past six years.
Every promise made and every scary story exposed exposes suspicion and increases Scottish skepticism about everything the British government says about anything. The depiction of Westminster's botched handling of the Covid 19 pandemic has hardly helped, as “declarations of success” clash terribly with deaths that make England one of the worst affected countries in the world.
More and more Scots believe that if Westminster says something, it should be taken with more than a pinch of salt. If it promises something to Scotland, not only is it unlikely to deliver, it will likely do the exact opposite of what it said.
Is it any wonder that the British government is determined to oppose a second independence referendum? How will you fight it? If the Scots don't want what they sell, honesty won't win it for them, but they told all their best stories last time. Even if you come up with a tempting new carrot that dangles in front of us, what will it look like for the increasingly independent English taxpayer?
These are some difficult circles, if at all possible, to square them. If the British government is to defraud the Scottish public again and win the next referendum, it must not only overcome its many paradoxical arguments, but also rebuild trust that has arrogantly destroyed it over the past six years. It will require a strategy of absolute genius.
How did Boris Johnson fare in his company in the north? He came to an underpopulated corner of Scotland, patriotically waving a pair of British crabs and begging us to believe that "the Union has never been stronger". Does he honestly believe that?
What's more important, isn't it?