THE contrast between the election results north and south of the border ought to have concentrated the Westminster Government’s attention on the urgency of making sure that the current devolutionary structures are not only defended but strengthened.

The Conservatives' majority allows them – in practice, and for the time being – to resist calls for a second vote on independence. From a Unionist perspective, that demands goodwill, or it risks the SNP’s undoubted electoral mandate hardening (if it has not already) into one for another referendum.

The Chancellor’s announcement of his plans for the UK budget, however, suggests that no consideration has been given to the timetabling difficulties created for Scotland’s fiscal planning. This may be an unintentional slight, but it cannot be seen as anything other than a slight.

The budget delay caused by the General Election may have been unavoidable, but this foul up should have been prevented. Reassurances of advance information, or claims that Holyrood has time between March 11 and its deadline at the end of the financial year to enact its own plans, may be technically accurate, but they look like a blithe disregard for Scotland. English departmental spending and forecasts of tax revenues have implications for the block grant, which might need to be examined and resolved in days, rather than the usual weeks or months.

It’s reasonable of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to describe this as “disrespectful”; even if he can in theory set a budget before the Chancellor’s, he must know it would be foolhardy, and the UK Government ought to have recognised that, too.

Even if one were to accept Chancellor Sajid Javid’s view that the situation is manageable, Westminster’s apparent failure to have noticed the implications for Scottish council budgets – with a legal deadline actually on the day set for the UK budget – is inexcusable. No one – whatever their party allegiance – expects financing and organisation of critical public services to be undertaken blind.

If avoiding this scenario requires a change to the current law (as the Nationalists have suggested), or leads to a greater divergence in, for example, income tax rates, the Tories will have scored an avoidable own goal. It will be impossible to characterise it as an SNP failure, or a power-grab; it will be an undermining of the Union entirely constructed in Whitehall. At the very least, it’s an almighty mess.

The Conservatives’ rediscovery of themselves as a “One Nation” party ought not to mean solidifying new support from the north and south of one nation alone. They have the leeway that comes with a handsome electoral mandate in England, and over the UK when it comes to Brexit. In Scotland the opposite is true.

If they want to improve their position in this part of the UK – indeed, if they want to ensure the survival of the UK – they cannot hand propaganda gifts to their opponents or antagonise the public. It hardly matters whether this is a deliberate insult or carelessness; either is inexcusable. If they have any regard for the Unionist component of the party’s official title, the Tories must start paying attention to the basic realities of devolution.

Right royal cheek

THE Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s notions of redefining their royal and public roles may not be as divorced from reality as Marie Antoinette’s declaration of “Let them eat cake”, but it still looks like trying to have their cake and eat it. The sole justification for the Royal Family’s privileged position is their public role. The prince and his wife may not welcome critical media attention, but it comes with the job – as it did, albeit on a vastly different scale, in the Duchess’s previous career.

Newspapers and broadcasters are not their PR team. They cannot, like film stars, be public figures only on their own terms, with the vapid puffery of glossy magazines and celebrity chat shows. The Queen – whom they have placed in an invidious position – has set an unimpeachable example of stoical dedication to duty. The Duke and Duchess should follow it, or step back completely from royal life.