IT’S a measure of how differently Tory MPs view this Prime Minister compared to the last one, that even sacked Cabinet ministers have been likening Boris Johnson to God.

“What the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister taketh away,” sighed Brexit true believer Theresa Villiers after being ejected from the environment and rural affairs ministry.

That celestial glow will fade fast unless he can get a handle on Scotland.

The word in advance was that the Union would be “front and centre” of this reshuffle. It wasn’t. Alister Jack remains as Scottish Secretary and there is no new constitutional superministry.

So we still have no real idea how “Minister for the Union” Boris Johnson plans to shore up the UK.

We know that the UK Government is worried about its visibility in Scotland and the soon-to-be-published Dunlop review into how the different UK administrations work together, has been considering how to change things.

So what approach might the Prime Minister take? There is a constituency within the Conservative Party that believes devolution itself has fanned the flames of independence, that Holyrood is failing voters and that the UK Government should thunder over the Border to reassert its authority.

That may be a beguiling prospect to Tories driven to distraction by SNP anti-Westminster propaganda, but it is based on a fundamental miscalculation. Devolution itself isn’t the problem. Any political offensive by the UK Government perceived as an attack on Holyrood will more likely hasten the end of the UK.

Where the Tories have a point is in identifying the need for a more robust defence of the Union. The UK Government has been on the back foot since 2014.

It’s long past time that someone evened up the contest a bit. SNP grievance-mongering would try the patience of a Yes-supporting saint. Last month, the Shadow Scottish Secretary Mhairi Black attacked an increase in spending on the “zombie department” of the Scotland Office, which she branded “redundant”.

Now, spending there has boomed and you can argue how much the Scotland Office should spend on messaging or special advisers; you can debate the same point for the Scottish Government.

But calling the Scotland Office “redundant”, as if the UK Government has no business having a Scottish ministry, is a bit silly, not to say hypocritical. “Contempt”, “giving up on Scotland”: you can easily imagine the SNP press release if the UK Government were to close it.

Some discussed changes are just a capitulation to common sense. There’s widespread recognition, for instance, that ministers and Whitehall officials in all departments need to be more inclusive of devolved administrations. Well, yeh – obvious right? – but it just hasn’t been happening, resulting in toe-curling SNAFUs like the blithe announcement in 2017 that the UK Government was going to acquire for itself 111 powers in devolved areas following Brexit, without bothering to consult first. It was a highly sensitive issue handled with the tact of an ancien regime monarch.

Ignorance and even resentment about devolution still seem to pervade parts of Whitehall. Some officials still seem to see Scotland as just another region and don’t grasp why it should get special treatment at the expense of places like Yorkshire and the North West, which have larger populations.

All this has made it easy for Scottish Government ministers to portray Westminster and Whitehall as hostile to Holyrood, sometimes with ample justification. So the UK Government recognises the need to raise its game.

But what might worry pro-Union campaigners is the direction this might take. The emerging approach – rejecting out of hand demands for self-determination (indefinitely resisting a second independence referendum) or further devolution (knocking back Nicola Sturgeon’s sensible business-backed Scottish visa plan) and, if the rumours are true, pushing onto devolved territory with direct spending commitments from Whitehall without going through the Scottish Government – has the capacity to backfire spectacularly.

Inconvenient though it may be for Downing Street, Scots like and trust Holyrood more than they do Westminster. The Scottish Government may be underperforming on education and health, but to believe that voters would perceive Mr Johnson as more committed to their best interests than Ms Sturgeon, is wildly optimistic. Given that domestic issues are widely understood by voters as a matter for the Scottish Parliament, increased spending by Whitehall in those areas could even boost support for the SNP.

And how does refusing further expansion of Holyrood power help win people’s hearts and boost support for the Union when 61 per cent believe Holyrood should decide on holding another independence referendum?

In the last few weeks, support for the Union has fallen, but that’s not because of devolution, for pity’s sake: it’s because of Mr Johnson’s own pet project of Brexit. And not just Brexit, but his insistence on pursuing a version of Brexit that rejects pleas by the Scottish Government to stay closely aligned to the EU.

Devolution may not allow for Scotland to veto the will of the UK as a whole, but it does allow for compromise. The UK Government just hasn’t been willing to make any.

Scots’ confident view of themselves as different but very much equal to England has indeed been heightened by devolution, and any strategy to shore up the Union has to embrace that fact, not seek to undermine or subdue it. It can’t be appeased with cash bungs or a constitutional crackdown. It’s a fact, like Ben Nevis, a part of the political landscape.

Scottish Labour recognises this, hence the new-found enthusiasm of many Labour politicians for federalism. That is now the most sensible approach to saving the Union the UK Government can take.

The argument against has always been that there are nowhere near Scottish levels of demand for self-determination in the English regions, but enthusiasm for the idea in some areas has been growing. By the time of another independence referendum, who knows?

Even without English regional assemblies, ending the practice of conflating the UK and English parliaments would be a good start.

It’s no foregone conclusion which way an independence referendum would go. But the way devolution is structured is almost designed to create tension. A better separation of powers could be the basis for an enduring solution.

Being seen to “diss devo”, on the other hand, will only hasten the outcome Conservatives fear the most.

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